While the United States is still arguably the most powerful nation in the world, during yesterday’s meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, it was clear that Turkey was setting the tone and the agenda of the discussion.
Prior to yesterday, Turkey’s relations with the US had been deteriorating for at least two years with the 2016 attempted coup against Turkey’s legitimate government by the US backed terror group FETO being the most visible symptom of a breakdown in what was once a functional and stable partnership. While Donald Trump promised to improve relations with Russia upon taken office and later failed in this mission, Trump made no promises to improve the poor Obama era relations with Ankara and in this sense Trump not only delivered but in many ways exceeded his predecessor.
Between multiple FETO terrorists found working in US consulates in Turkey to America’s arming of the YPG/PKK terror group in Syria and the threat to withhold delivery of the F-35 fighter jets that Turkey ordered, the US has failed to treat Turkey like a partner in spite of Ankara’s NATO membership.
The Cavusoglu-Pompeo meeting was supposed to smooth this out and in theory the joint agreement signed by the two nations could help to at least halt further deterioration of Turkey-US relations while also helping to break the cycle of the US supporting the PKK/YPG terror group in Syria.
While the joint statement officially released on the 4th of June did not contain any specific plans of action, Cavusoglu later confirmed that according to the mutually agreed Manbij road map, the US would cease its funding and arming of the PKK/YPG and actively help to disarm and remove the terror group from the Syrian city. After a period of cooperation in restoring order to Manbij, both US and Turkish forces would then pave the way for the installation of a new local government made of indigenous Arab and some moderate minority leaders. If successful in Manbij, Cavusoglu stated that a similar model could be used to remove and neutralise PKK/YPG terrorists who current occupy other Syrian cities under the watch eye of the United States. With Turkey in the midst of operations to neutralise the PKK in both Syria and Iraq, it is beyond certain that Turkey is serious in its goal to end the PKK’s reign of terror.
On paper, all of this sounds very positive and certainly if implemented, such an agreement would be well received by Russia which contrary to many pseudo-journalistic myths is happy for Turkey to have normal relations with both Washington and Moscow, just as sure as Russia is able to conduct a close partnership with “Israel” in spite of Tel Aviv’s close relationship to the US. Because Russia can speak to its Turkish partners with honesty and openness, Russia would actually prefer for Turkey to take a larger role in de-escalating tensions in northern Syria alongside the US, as this way Russia could help to coordinate its own de-escalation efforts with both Turkey and the US, with Ankara acting as the kind of go-between for Russia and the US, just as Turkey did prior to the US and European attack on Syria in April of 2018.
The only problem therefore is whether the US will actually finally make good on its promises to Turkey. The US has promised multiple times that it would cease its close relationship with the YPG/PKK in Syria only for nothing to change. At times the US has simply told white lies to Turkey and at others, the US has insincerely attempted to differentiate its SDF proxy group from the YPG/PKK, even though the vast majority of militants in the SDF are in fact YPG/PKK terrorists. Attempts to differentiate the SDF from the YPG/PKK are as ridiculous as trying to pretend that there aren’t Iranian soldiers in Syria and that rather there are “just advisers”. Every reasonable observer knows the truth and in the case of America’s big SDF lie, even American officials themselves are apparently fed up with repeating the lie, especially since many so-called SDF militants deserted their posts in US occupied Syria in order to fight Turkey in Afrin.
Thus, while it is usually the US that gives ultimatums to others, when it comes to America’s arming and funding of the YPG/PKK in Syria, it was Turkey that effectively gave the US a polite but firm ultimatum: Either we can cooperate in Syria in order to de-escalate the conflict and in so doing working to neutralise the YPG/PKK, or else the long standing Turkish-US partnership may have reached a point of no return.
Turkey has not only been perfectly clear in plainly stating its perfectly reasonable expectations of the US, but Turkey has also been more than charitable in giving American multiple ‘second chances’ to rectify its perverse relationship with dangerous terror groups (FETO and PKK) whose very existence threatens regional security and Turkish sovereignty.
Everything else is up to the US and only the US. No power who might want to stop the Turkey-US road map for Manbij is in a position to do so and the most influential foreign power in Syria, Russia clearly would support the agreement’s implementation as its goals are in line with the general de-escalation strategy and negotiating peace settlement that remains at the core of Moscow’s mission in Syria.
It therefore all boils down to the following question: Can the United States at long last keep its promise about cutting itself off from the PKK/YPG after years of supporting the terror group in Syria? It would be a welcome change in policy if the US did cut the PKK/YPG off, but recent precedent would indicate that when it comes to the US relationship with anti-Turkish and anti-Syrian terror groups, the US is more talk than action. With the Turkish Presidential and general elections set for the 24th of June, it could be that the US is merely buying itself time before reverting back to its old ways. Ankara must be vigilant in holding Washington to account on its promises.