Answers to Guestions About Biden’s Visit to Turkey
Vice President Joe Biden, who begins a two-night visit to Turkey on Friday, is the latest in a stream of U.S. officials who have traveled to Turkey to urge Ankara to step up its role in fighting Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria.
Q: What is the major disagreement between Turkey and the United States regarding Syria?
A: The U.S. wants Turkey to do more to help the international coalition destroy and degrade IS in Syria and Iraq. Turkey, a chief critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, believes that he is the root of the country’s problems and that extremist militants are only the symptom. Turkey is calling for a more comprehensive U.S. policy on Syria, which includes ending Assad’s rule. Turkey also is calling for a no-fly zone over northern Syria to allow moderate forces to regroup and recoup without having to worry about strikes from Assad’s air force. The U.S. says Iraq is its main focus right now, is not contemplating such a safe zone and supports a political transition in Syria that will not include Assad.
Q: What role has Turkey played in the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign to push back or destroy IS?
Turkey has not engaged its military forces, but has troops along its border with Syria to keep the conflict from spilling into its territory. Turkey has pledged to train moderate Syrian forces, but so far no details of the training have been released. Turkey also gave Kurdish fighters from Iraq permission to traverse its soil on their way to help Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani. The country is host to 1.6 million Syrian refugees, has worked to stem the flow of foreign fighters and has cracked down on oil smugglers trafficking in oil from fields captured by IS fighters.
Q: Will Turkey’s pledge to train and equip moderate forces battling against IS and fighting to topple Assad come to fruition?
A: U.S. and Turkish officials say they are discussing the details of implementing a train-and-equip mission in Turkey, but no plans have been announced. Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his call for a no-fly zone and said the coalition had not taken the steps Turkey had requested. His comments suggested that Turkey’s call for a no-fly zone would have to be heeded before any training mission began, yet both Turkish and U.S. officials have refrained from disclosing details of talks about the training. It remains unclear whether training would start in Turkey anytime soon.
Q: What role are the Kurds playing in the Syrian conflict?
A: Turkey has good relations with Kurds in neighboring Iraq, but views the Kurds fighting in Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The party has waged a 30-year insurgency against the Turkish government and is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO. Turkey and the PKK have been engaged in peace talks. Meantime, the coalition has airdropped weapons and supplies to the Kurdish fighters in Syria who are struggling to keep IS from taking control of Kobani.