As Bi­den flies to Turkey to re­pair dwin­dling sen­ti­ments, Ankara showcases its strong ties with Kur­dis­tan

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

As much as Turkey has tried to steer clear of the Syr­ian civil war and the bat­tle against the Is­lamic State (IS), it has found it­self at the cen­tre of the con­flict in one way or another. Turkey has found it­self em­broiled in the con­flict with the flood of mil­lions of refugees, an ex­ten­sive IS oil smug­gling net­work and flow of for­eign fight­ers and arms across the bor­der.

At the same time, Turk­ish re­la­tions with the United States have de­te­ri­o­rated rapidly. Re­la­tions may have cooled with in­creas­ing harsh rhetoric set­ting the tone but Turkey re­mains cen­tre stage to the bat­tle against IS as well as the even­tual quest to top­ple Bashar al-As­sad.

This week US Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den flew into Turkey with the aim of reach­ing a com­pro­mise and patch­ing ties. Pub­lic smiles and up­beat tones aside, pri­vately the talks be­tween Bi­den and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu will be any­thing but straight for­ward.

After all, this is the same Bi­den who caused heated con­tro­versy with sug­ges­tions that Turkey helped Is­lamic fight­ers seek­ing to de­pose As­sad, which fast turned into a did-he or did-he not apol­o­gise farce.

Bi­den and Davu­tolgu struck a con­cil­ia­tory tone at their press con­fer­ence and played down dif­fer­ences stress­ing their re­la­tions as long-time al­lies.

The ques­tion re­mains as to whether Bi­den can achieve real com­pro­mise. Turkey has in­sisted that it’s al­ready an ac­tive part of the coali­tion against IS but US knows it can sim­ply do a lot more.

Turkey has reser­va­tions about sup­port­ing Syr­ian Kur­dish forces in Kobane, la­belling them as ter­ror­ists, while con­versely they have be­come one of the only re­li­able US part­ners in the fight against IS.

Talks with Er­do­gan are likely to be much tenser. Er­do­gan has shown that Turk­ish in­ter­ests come first re­gard­less of any in­ter­na­tional back­lash and he has be­come some­what un­pre­dictable in na­ture, pur­su­ing an in­de­pen­dent for­eign-pol­icy.

Whilst Er­do­gan may work with the US it will cer­tainly not bow to any pres­sure nor is he afraid of any fall­out if his de­mands are not met.

Turkey de­mands are clear. The US must have a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy that also deals with the re­moval of As­sad. Iron­i­cally, the IS em­anated from As­sad-fu­elled Syr­ian con­flict, but the US is far from will­ing to re­place him in the tougher fash­ion de­manded by Ankara.

US has in­sisted its hands are al­ready full with fo­cus on the re­moval of IS in Iraq and Syria but for Turkey this is just more foot-drag­ging from the US be­liev­ing that the road to de­feat­ing IS runs through Da­m­as­cus.

Un­less there is real com­pro­mise on the part of the US, Er­do­gan has al­ready warned that the Turk­ish po­si­tion will not change. “From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and train­ing and equip­ping - all th­ese steps have to be taken now," Er­do­gan said in mid-week. Be­fore reit­er­at­ing a common stance «The coali­tion forces have not taken those steps we asked them for. ... Turkey's po­si­tion will be the same as it is now."

With­out meet­ing the main Turk­ish de­mands, com­pro­mise may be small and in­ef­fec­tive. For ex­am­ple, after US of­fi­cials vis­ited Turkey in re­cent weeks, there is al­ready an agree­ment to train and equip ap­prox. 2000 mod­er­ate Syr­ian fight­ers. Previ- ously, Turkey al­lowed 150 Iraqi Kur­dish Pesh­merga to cross into Kobane.

None of th­ese are real game-chang­ers when Turkey’s im­mense mil­i­tary might is at a view­ing dis­tance from the Syr­ian con­flict.

US will con­tinue to reach out to Turkey, in re­al­ity it has lit­tle op­tion but to keep Ankara on-side as they re­main key ac­tors even with a grow­ing feel­ing of an­i­mos­ity and re­luc­tance. No im­age summed up the down­ward spi­ral in re­la­tions bet­ter than that of three Amer­i­can sailors from the USS Ross been hooded and roughed up by an anti-Amer­i­can mob in Turkey.

In knowl­edge of the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tions with the US and the in­ter­na­tional out-cry at the per­ceived lack of Turk­ish ac­tion over Kobane and the bat­tle against IS, Turkey has tried hard in re­cent days to em­pha­size solid re­la­tions with the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion and also a Bagh­dad who un­der the rule of Nouri al-Ma­liki saw in­creas­ingly frosty ties with Ankara.

In re­cent months, there has cer­tainly been a patch­ing-up of ties be­tween Ankara and Bagh­dad with prospects this week after talks with Davu­to­glu and Iraqi of­fi­cials of Turkey train­ing Iraqi forces. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter, Haider al-Abadi is also sched­uled to visit Turkey next month to seek fur­ther nor­mal­i­sa­tion in ties.

In a re­cent visit to Er­bil, Davu­to­glu, un­der­scor­ing the close strate­gic and eco­nomic re­la­tions with the Kur­dish Re­gion, stressed “Turkey will pro­vide support through any nec­es­sary means for the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion’s se­cu­rity”.

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