Following yesterday’s news that the White House had radically changed its strategy involving Syrian military intervention, and that it had decided to provide weapons to Kurdish militants in the region, we were curious to see just how livid Turkey would be when it inevitably responded to Trump’s announcement. One day later we got the answer when the Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik was quoted by Reuters that the U.S. decision to provide weapons for Kurdish militants in the fight against ISIS “is a crisis” and warned it would not benefit the United States or the region.
Isik also said that Turkey should not be expected to support any potential operations in Syria involving “terrorist groups” which leaves open the question whether Turkey would prevent the US from using the critical for the region Incirlik air base, which is also ground zero for many US combat missions involving ISIS. As expected, Turkey urged the United States on Wednesday to reverse the decision, saying every weapon supplied to the YPG militia constituted “a threat to Turkey”.
The decision to supply arms to Kurds would have “consequences” and a potentially “negative result” for Washington, warned Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Wednesday.
“We cannot imagine [the US] making a choice between our strategic-level partnership and a terrorist organization,” Yildirim said, quoted by the Sabah daily. “The US administration still has a chance to consider Turkey’s sensitivities of highest level on the PKK. If the decision is taken otherwise, this will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the US as well.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavushoglu also chimed in telling reporters that “if we support the territorial integrity of Syria, we should take lessons from the mistakes we made in Iraq and abstain from making any wrong moves. YPG and PKK are the same entity, there’s no difference between them,” Cavushoglu said, according to NTV broadcaster. “Every weapon which gets into their hands represents a threat to Turkey.”
A third warning came from Turkish Deputy PM Nurettin Canikli who told local TV station A Haber that “we cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state. “We hope the US will put a stop to this wrong and back down from it. This policy will not be beneficial to anyone; you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organizations.”
Meanwhile, as Turkey was slamming Trump’s decision, the Kurds were praising it, saying it was a “historic” move that greatly expands the group’s capabilities to “fight terrorism.” By now everyone is aware that YPG is a US ally in Syria which Ankara perceives as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group in both Turkey and the US.
Responding to the Turkish laments, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was confident the United States would be able to resolve tensions with Turkey the decision. “We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border. It’s Europe’s southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected,” Reuters quoted Mattis on Wednesday.
It remains to be seen just how willing Turkey is to “resolve” tensions: an answer will emerge in the next few days when Erdogan is expected to fly to the US. Should he cancel this trip, the answer will be clear. Also, don’t stand below the Turkish Lira when any such news hits.