Erdogan hopeful for breakthrough in dispute on arming Kurds

Turkey is accusing Washington of indirectly supporting terrorists, because a Kurdish militia playing a key role in the USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces is seen by Ankara as an affiliate of Kurdish rebels fighting Ankara. "We thank anyone who wants to help but our forces are capable enough to liberate Raqqa and go further".

Turkey rightly considers the group an offshoot of the revolutionary, Communist-inspired Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has carried out a 30-year-long civil war in Turkey and has always been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, NATO and the United States. Thus, the SDF was created.

The SDF is spearheaded by the PKK/PYD and its armed wing, the PKK/YPG.

In this April 6, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., after the USA fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria.

So much is at stake: The U.S. can not afford to alienate a Turkish government that remains crucial in the ongoing battle against Islamist militancy.

"If you want to move on Raqqa in the next few months - as opposed to doing it in a year, or never - the SDF is your only option".

His administration is arming Syrian Kurdish fighters as part of an effort to recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group's self-declared capital.

"The attack on Raqqa will take place in the beginning of the summer", SDF commander Rojda Felat said. "We have for many years received support from the anti-Daesh coalition".

"They keep saying that time is of the essence for the liberation of Raqqa, that all of the planning is done", the Turkish official said.

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The joint Arab-Kurdish forces have received significant support from the US-led coalition in the form of air strikes and special forces advisers. They up-armor the vehicles with steel plating so that small arms can not stop them. or they use US-made armored vehicles looted in 2014-15 from the storehouses of the then-defeated Iraqi army at Mosul. "The United States is trying to substitute a threat, which is against the West's interests, with a threat against Turkey".

"We also declare that the Euphrates Dam is a Syrian national institution that will serve all Syrian regions without exception", a statement said. Since 2015, Erdogan has been pursuing a renewed war on the ultra-leftist, separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in his own country, where Kurds make up some 20 percent of the population.

"Naturally (Turkey) would have to consider the aftermath of closing the Incirlik base to (U.S.) use", said Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Turkey's Kadir Has university. Although, in deference to Turkey, U.S. commanders have refrained until now from directly arming the YPG, they say the urgency and magnitude of the Raqqa offensive gives them no choice.

[I] n an interview with the Financial Times, Binali Yildirim, prime minister, indicated that Turkey had been reassured by James Mattis, US defence secretary, whom he met in London on Thursday. Turkey, which has NATO's second-biggest military, is concerned that growing Kurdish power in the region could inspire separatists at home, and that weapons provided by the US could eventually be used against the Turkish military. Turkey's government has also voiced frustration over what it sees as Washington's foot-dragging in response to its extradition request for a US -based Turkish cleric blamed for last July's failed coup.

Turkey's short-term response is likely to include increased pressure on YPG positions in Syria.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the US responded by openly demonstrating its flag within the framework of their mission in the northern part of Syria in order to prevent Turkey from hitting USA allies. But he asserted the US and Turkey's mutual commitment to ending Syria's conflict. Their first face-to-face meeting, he said, would be a "milestone" in U.S. "It's aware it's not possible for them to play with such sensitive issues", he said.

The recent supply of weapons to the Kurds in Syria will be top of the agenda.

As frustrating as Erdogan can be, Turkey remains a vital North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally and a bulwark against terrorism and instability in the Middle East. "We can't allow this alliance to be taken over by policies against Turkey".

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