U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson inTurkey
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Ankara today ahead of talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Turkey seeks better relations with the new administration in Washington. Tillerson is the most senior American official to visit Turkey since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January .
The visit comes after Turkey announced its military offensive in northern Syria was over, without detailing whether that signified withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country.
Turkish officials hope relations will improve under Trump’s administration and said Washington appears to be taking the Gülen issue “more seriously” though the administration has not openly expressed any change. But there was cause for tension on Wednesday after the US detained a senior Turkish state bank executive.
Halkbank’s Mehmet Hakan Atilla is accused of helping to process millions of dollars of illegal transactions through US banks for Iran’s government and other Iranian institutions.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldrım said Ankara would bring the issue up and would closely monitor the legal process. Turkey also voiced anger on Thursday after it emerged that the US consulate in Istanbul had contacted a chief suspect accused of plotting the attempted putsch, who is currently on the run.
The US embassy in Turkey said its Istanbul consulate contacted theology lecturer Adil Öksüz only to inform him that his American visa had been revoked.
Yıldırım said the embassy statement was not enough. Öksüz was detained in the aftermath of the putsch but then released and is now on the run. Trump’s CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, came to Ankara last month in his first foreign visit after Trump’s inauguration in January.
A short statement issued by Turkey’s Prime Ministry highlighted the fight against ISIL as well as Ankara’s demand for the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, believed to be behind the July 2016 coup attempt, as issues discussed by Tillerson and Yıldırım.
The two agreed to continue high-level official talks in the coming period, it added.
Tillerson’s delegation includes Brett McGurk, the special representative of the administration on the fight against the ISIL who is also believed to be the master of the U.S. strategy to ally with local Syrian Kurdish groups in the anti-jihadist fight. McGurk was appointed to his position by the Barack Obama administration but was asked to continue his job under the new government in the U.S.
Turkey considers the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to be terrorists aligned with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and is pressing Washington to cease its cooperation with them.