By Dorian Jones
ISTANBUL (Voice of America) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued an ultimatum to the United States to choose between Turkey and Syrian Kurds. US forces have been working closely with the Syrian Kurdish group the PYD in the battle against Islamic State.
The ultimatum followed a visit by the head of the anti-IS coalition, Bret McGurk, a week earlier to the Syrian town of Kobani, where he met with members of the PYD and its militia, the YPG.
US forces have been supporting the YPG in its battle against Islamic State, but Ankara accuses the Syrian Kurdish group of being a terrorist organization connected to the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, which Turkish forces are fighting in southeastern Turkey.
US Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute is playing down the Turkish president’s ultimatum, while underlining the importance of the Syrian Kurdish groups.
“These are not new concerns with regard to US contact and US support for the Syrian Kurdish groups,” he said. “And of course the visit that you are referring took place into the town of Kobani, which of course was largely freed from ISIL control because of the effective fighting of those Syrian Kurdish groups.”
With Ankara providing airbases for US-led operations against Islamic State, Washington is having to perform a delicate balancing act over its support for Syrian Kurdish groups.
Analysts say Moscow is courting the Syrian Kurds’ allegiance. Russia strongly backed the PYD’s presence, which Ankara successfully blocked, in last month’s Geneva peace talks.
Moscow has also reportedly supplied arms to the Syrian Kurds.
US Presidential Envoy to Anti-Islamic State Coalition Brett McGurk arrived in Kobani over the weekend, officials said Feb. 1, 2016. (Facebook Photo Courtesy of Kurdish official Aldar Khalil)
Political columnist Kadri Gursel for Al Monitor website says envoy McGurk’s visit to Kobani was strategically important for the United States.
“It is a very important gesture; it’s a provocative gesture, but a legitimate one. It was a move destined to confirm the United States’ position vis-a-vis Syria Kurds, and also a message to Ankara,” he said. “And the United States is not wishing to see PYD Kurds being pushed to the Russians, this is what Ankara is doing, exactly.”
With Turkish political leaders designating the PYD and PKK as greater threats than Islamic State, analysts says relations between Ankara and Washington, are becoming increasingly strained.
Gursel says those tensions have led to a redefining of the relationship.
“Washington sees Ankara as a friend, but in the eyes of Washington, Ankara is an untrustworthy, unreliable, unpredictable friend,” he said. “Believe me, Ankara and Washington are not on the same page, in terms of the Middle East.”
Washington, for its part, continues to call Turkey a key partner in its fight against Islamic State. But observers say with Washington’s priority being the defeat of IS, and with Syrian Kurds one of the most effective anti-IS forces in Syria, Turkish-US relations appear destined to remain strained for some time to come.