Deciding to arm a group of Kurdish fighters in Syria has caused a rift between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who considers the Kurds, known as YPG, to be a terrorist group.
Trump approved the Pentagon’s plan to arm YPG in their fight against ISIS. The approval comes just as Erdogan is scheduled to arrive in Washington DC on Tuesday. No doubt Erdogan will try to change Trump’s mind.
“This will be the dominant issue in the meeting,” according to James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Turkey now at the Washington Institute. “The Turks see the presence of a YPG statelet in the north of Syria that has been given one way or another support or legitimacy by the United States as a threat.”
U.S.-Turkish relations have been going downhill since the end of the Obama administration, when Erdogan demanded that the United States immediately extradite a Muslim cleric living in rural Pennsylvania after he’d staged a failed coup attempt in Turkey and was told to wait for the legal process to play out.
Plans to arm the YPG were being considered by Obama in his last weeks in office, but he ultimately left the decision to Trump. Erdogan’s government is outraged, because it considers the group to be terrorists connected to outlawed Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.
Last month, Ergodan won a referendum vote that gives him extensive new powers, and Trump was reportedly the first and only western leader to congratulate him on that, giving the Turkish leader hope that our two countries will forge a better relationship. However, that plan now seems unlikely as the Pentagon plans to arm the YPG for a battle to retake Raqqa–a move which the Turkish prime minister has deemed “unacceptable,” and the foreign minister considers to be “a threat.”
Still seeking a “new beginning,” Erdogan said on Wednesday, “I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately. I will personally express our worries in a detailed way when we talk with President Trump on May 16.”
He added, “Right now, there are certain moves in the United States coming from the past, such as the weapons assistance to the YPG. I actually see this U.S. visit as a new beginning in our ties.”
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