Tillerson in Ankara pledges limited weapon supplies to SDF, says Manbij ‘priority’ in Syria

Washington and Ankara are making an effort to mend relations, strained over the former’s support of Kurdish forces in Syria. During a visit to Ankara, the US secretary of state said the ties were “too important.”

Rex Tillerson tried to reassure Ankara over US’s involvement with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), much of which is comprised of Kurdish YPG, outlawed in Turkey as a terrorist organization.

“We take it seriously when our NATO ally says it has security concerns,” Tillerson said at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday. “We have always been clear with Turkey that the weapons provided to the Syrian Democratic Forces would be limited, mission specific, and provided on the incremental basis to achieve military objectives only.”

Both Tillerson and Cavusoglu that the countries have found themselves at “a crisis point,” and have agreed to address “critical issues” in the bilateral relations.

“We've decided, and President Erdogan decided last night, we needed to talk about how do we go forward? The relationship is too important,” Tillerson said.

He said that the "priority” was to address the situation around Manbij, which Turkey earlier threatened to target in its offensive in Syria. The city is controlled by Kurds and is used by the US military to support Kurdish operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

Ankara now demands Washington to give guarantees over the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG forces from Manbij, which could lead to Turkey and US joint deployment in the area.

“What is important is who will govern and provide security to these areas,” Cavusoglu said. “We will coordinate to restore stability in Manbij and other cities. We will start with Manbij. After YPG leaves there, we can take steps with the US based on trust.”

On Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli asked Washington to end its support for Kurdish fighters and to remove them from the US-backed SDF. Canliki said he told his US counterpart, Jim Mattis, that Washington's support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia has helped Kurdish rebels in Turkey “grow and strengthen,” posing an increasingly “existential” threat to Turkey. 

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