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U.S., Turkey Bargain Over Syria Conflict: Kurdish Issue, Patriot Sales And “Deterrence” Of Iran & Russia

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U.S., Turkey Bargain Over Syria Conflict: Kurdish Issue, Patriot Sales And "Deterrence" Of Iran & Russia

ILLUSTRATIVE IMAGE: Turkish-backed militants in Syria

On December 18th, the US State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Robert Palladino rebuked Turkish President’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim that US President Donald Trump had given “the nod” to a possible Turkish operation in Northeastern Syria.

When Palladino was asked whether Trump responded positively to such a situation, and the question itself had the suggestive notion of “That is a misstatement, right?”

“Yes,” Palladino responded. “The United States and Turkey are coordinating actively on all issues affecting both Turkish security and the situation in Northeast Syria. Where you know, of course, US forces are present in the campaign of insuring the enduring defeat of ISIS. We’ve made significant progress recently in the campaign. But the job is not yet done, and President Trump and President Erdogan have discussed these issues in their telephone call last week. As did Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu in a separate call. Both of our countries remain focused on coordination to counter the threats that terror poses to the Turkish nation and beyond. And we believe we’re making progress with Turkey.” Basically, answering a set up question, that simply wanted to have a denial of Erdogan’s words “on record,” while once more reinforcing that the real threat is ISIS and no other group.

On December 17th, Erdogan claimed that Trump had given a positive response to Turkey’s operation east of the Euphrates during a phone call.

“We can start our operation any moment now in Syrian territory at any place, especially along the 500-kilometer border, without harming U.S. soldiers,” Erdogan said

Erdogan had also warned Trump that “his terrorists” must leave the region east of the Euphrates river.

“If they don’t go, we will send them,” he said. “The terror corridor [in Syria] is disturbing us. Since we are partners with the US, we must do this.”

On December 12th, Erdogan said that the Turkish army will begin a military operation in the next few days against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey deems an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The country has listed both the YPG and PKK as terrorist organizations.

Thus, by proxy the Turkish army will go against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the core of which is the YPG. Both the YPG and SDF are US-backed.

In his statement, Erdogan also accused the US of “protecting terrorists, not Turkey,” and applying “delaying tactics” regarding its promise to clear the northeastern Syrian town of Manbij from YPG members.

“It is clear that the purpose of U.S. observation points in Syria is not to protect our country from terrorists but protect terrorists from Turkey,” he noted.

Furthermore, on December 18th, the US State Department approved the possible Foreign Military Sale to Turkey of eighty (80) Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T) missiles, sixty (60) PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles and related equipment for an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.

The prime contractors will be Raytheon Corporation in Andover, Massachusetts, and Lockheed-Martin in Dallas, Texas.

Regarding how Turkey will utilize the Patriot systems, the US State Department statement read the following:

“Turkey will use Patriot to improve its missile defense capability, defend its territorial integrity, and deter regional threats.  The proposed sale will increase the defensive capabilities of the Turkey military to guard against hostile aggression and shield NATO Allies who might train and operate within Turkey’s borders.  Turkey should have no difficulty absorbing this system into its armed forces.”

However, there has been no deal made by the US and Turkey on the issue. Ankara is still set to purchase S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. That is something that the US and NATO have strongly opposed, because it would then integrate it with the F-35.

The Patriot and S-400 systems are different in capabilities. The S-400 is a mobile system, designed for deployment behind the lines to protect critical infrastructure, with a very long range. The Patriot, meanwhile, is a medium-range system.

In relation to other US-Turkey points of tension, on December 17th, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that US authorities started investigations against the supporters of the FETO movement, led by Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey blames for the failed coup of July 2016 and wants extradited from the US to face justice.

“The FBI said they have begun to see the dark face of the organisation based on the evidence they had reached. Furthermore, there are some arrests in different states including New Jersey,” Çavuşoğlu said.

There has been no official confirmation by the US State Department or any other US official. Earlier, on November 15th, two unnamed senior US officials were cited by NBC News, claiming that the White House was looking for ways to extradite Fethullah Gülen, in order to “calm” Turkey over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia.

All of these come amid tensions over the US-Turkish roadmap for Syria’s Manbij, which according to Turkey the US refuses to honor and continues to delay, as well as the Turkish-Russian deconfliction agreement surrounding Syria’s Idlib.

On December 18th, Russia, Turkey and Iran as guarantors of the Syrian peace process reached an agreement on the Syrian committee.

“The 150-strong committee, due to start work next year, could pave the way for UN-supervised elections and a possible peace process that would encourage millions of refugees to return to their homeland.”

The agreement was reached in Geneva and was passed on to the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, for his endorsement and for consideration by the UN security council on December 20th.

The abovementioned developments are just a part of the wider picture of the complex Turkish relations with both the US-led bloc and the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance in the region. Since 2016 Turkey (as a restult of an economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by Russia) has repeatedly assisted the Russia-led alliance in diplomatic and security spheres, thus allowing it to achive some of important successes in the conflict. On the other hand, Ankara has got an opportunity to carry out two military operations – Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch – in northern Syria preventing creation of a possible YPG-controlled self-proclaimed state in the area. Now, Washington is engaged in active contacts with Ankara in an attempt to return it to own sphere of influence and to gain Turkish assistance to deter Russia and Iran in Syria.

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