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US-Turkey Differences on Kurds Set to Grow as Ankara Calls for McGurk’s Ouster | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, drives down a road leading to the Tabqa dam as they advance in their battle for ISIS’ stronghold in nearby Raqqa. AFP

Turkey called Thursday for the removal of Brett McGurk, the US diplomat coordinating the international coalition fighting ISIS, after it accused him of backing Syrian Kurdish militia, a move that would likely aggravate tension between Ankara and Washington.

Washington and Ankara are bitterly at odds over US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, a group that Turkey considers a front for banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) separatists.

“McGurk is definitely giving support to PKK and YPG. It would be useful if this person was replaced,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the private NTV television.

He spoke after returning from a visit with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington where they met US President Donald Trump.

Last year, McGurk visited YPG members controlling the Syrian town of Kobane and was awarded a plaque, which drew Turkey’s wrath.

Erdogan angrily told Washington at the time to choose between Ankara and “terrorists” there.

But Ankara is now hopeful about the future of the relationship with Washington under Trump after ties frayed in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration.

Erdogan on Tuesday met Trump at the White House.

At their meeting, Trump said the US would re-establish its military and economic partnership with Turkey, committing to backing Turkey’s defense against both ISSI and the PKK. Such groups will “have no safe quarter,” Trump said.

Erdogan responded that there is no place for any Kurdish “terrorist organizations” in any agreement about the region’s future.

The United States sees YPG as its best battlefield partner on the ground in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria.

Cavusoglu also told private NTV in the interview that his country won’t beg Germany to stay at the Incirlik airbase.

Turkey opened up the airbase to Germany as part of the international coalition’s operations against ISIS, he said. “If they want to leave, that’s up to them and we won’t beg,” he added.

The minister’s comments come amid rising tensions with Germany too. Turkey blocked a visit by German lawmakers to some 270 troops stationed at Incirlik, prompting Germany to consider moving aircraft to Jordan or Cyprus.

Cavusoglu criticized Germany for preventing him and other Turkish ministers from holding rallies in the country before the April 16 referendum on expanding presidential powers.

“If what we are doing is blackmail, then what was that?” he said.