Istanbul – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on Monday that his country has started the process of rebuilding “lost trust” in its ties with NATO ally Turkey.
He made his comments after holding hours-long talks in Istanbul on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that focused on improving ties between the two countries.
“I think we’re beginning to rebuild some of that trust that we lost in one another. They lost our trust to a certain extent, we lost theirs,” Tillerson, in Istanbul for an international petroleum conference, told US consulate staff members.
Tensions between Turkey and the US increased in the final months of the term of former US President Barack Obama. Ankara has hoped that these ties would be mended under the term of current President Donald Trump.
While challenges remain, Tillerson said he believed the first steps to re-establishing relations “on the proper basis” have been taken.
He stressed that since becoming secretary of state, he had met three times with Erdogan — including the lengthy session on Sunday night — and that each time the tone of the conversation had improved.
The US relationship with Turkey is “extraordinarily important from a security standpoint to the future economic opportunities,” he added, noting the country’s strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.
“(This) is why we must put the relationship on the mend… and I think we’re taking the first steps in that regard.”
Tensions between Washington and Ankara have been high over US support for Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, Turkey’s crackdown on dissent, particularly since last year’s failed coup and Turkish accusations that the US was sympathetic to the coup-plotters and exiled US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup.
Turkey views the YPG as a branch of the PKK, the outlawed Kurdish separatist group that has been waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s. It fears an effort to form a contiguous Kurdish state embracing some Turkish territory.