Published: Sat, February 17, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Syria conflict: United States and Turkey agree to avert Manbij clash

Syria conflict: United States and Turkey agree to avert Manbij clash

Turkey has proposed to the United States that Kurdish YPG militia fighters withdraw to east of the Euphrates river in Syria and that Turkish and U.S. troops be stationed together in the country's Manbij area, a Turkish official said on Friday.

"We've decided and President Erdogan decided last night we needed to talk about how do we go forward".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ankara on February 15, 2018 ahead of a three-hour meeting in the Turkish capital.

The squabble over Syria is, however, just one of a litany of issues burdening Turkey-US relations.

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"We know we need to move with some sense of urgency and promise to address this because we have a serious situation still inside of Syria and we need to address that jointly together", the top diplomat added.

Turkey has said Kurdish fighters have travelled through Manbij to re-inforce Afrin, the Syrian Kurdish canton to the west of Aleppo invaded by Turkish troops in January.

He said he recognised Turkey's legitimate right to defend its borders, but called on Ankara to show restraint in the Afrin operation and avoid actions that would escalate tensions in the area. But Turkey has proposed extending its campaign further east to the town of Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, potentially leading to direct confrontation with US-backed units.

He also said the United States had serious concerns about local employees at its missions in Turkey and called on Ankara to release a USA pastor and other Americans detained in Turkey.

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Turkey has threatened to move its troops into Manbij, where there is already a U.S. presence. The United States has armed, trained and aided YPG fighters with air support and special forces, as the main ground force in its campaign against ISIL in Syria.

But Tillerson added that Turkey and the United States had to solve the tensions surrounding Manbij as a "priority".

He said the working group on Manbij will begin work no later than mid-March.

In addition to Syria, those included Ankara's complaints against a US -based Turkish cleric whom Erdogan accuses of fomenting a failed 2016 coup, USA concerns about the state of Turkey's democracy and opposition to Turkey's planned purchase of a Russian air defence system.

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Tillerson is in Turkey on a two-day visit. Asked about Turkey's plans to buy a Russian air defense system that would fall under USA sanctions, Tillerson said his team had explained the ramifications to Turkey and that the purchase will "be given very careful scrutiny". Washington is not only running the risk of losing a permanent ally in Ankara but also of its power fading at the expense of increasing Russian influence in the region. Tillerson and Cavusoglu planned a news conference today after their meeting. "When Turkey maintains its commitment to these principles, it expands our potential partnership". "Respect for the rule of law, judicial independence and an open press are a source of strength and stability".

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