Mattis downplays rift with Turkey after decision to arm Kurds
Defense Secretary James Mattis downplayed Wednesday the rift with Turkey caused by the U.S.’s decision to arm Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS.
Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG, to be terrorists and an extension of outlawed Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.
“We will work together,” Mattis told reporters in Lithuania after touring a NATO training site. “We’ll work out any of the concerns. I’m not concerned at all about the NATO alliance and the relations between our nations.”
Pentagon officials announced Tuesday that President Trump had approved a plan to directly arm the Kurdish element of the Syrian Democratic Forces as they prepare to retake Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The United States considers the YPG to be the most effective local ground force fighting ISIS in Syria.
On Wednesday, Turkish officials railed against the U.S. decision, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying it would threaten Turkey and its allies.
“The YPG and the PKK are both terrorist organizations,” he said, according to Turkish news agency Anadolu. “There is no difference. Only the name is different, and every weapon they obtain is a threat to Turkey.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, meanwhile, told reporters the U.S. decision was “unacceptable.”
“Any initiative to support the PKK directly or indirectly is unacceptable for us,” he said, according to Anadolu.
He also warned there could be negative consequences for the United States.
“If the decision is negative, the outcome is not [only] up to Turkey but will negatively affect the U.S. too,” he said.
But Mattis expressed confidence the United States and Turkey will work out their differences.
“It’s not always tidy,” he said, “but we work out the issues.”
He also reiterated that the United States is committed to protecting its NATO ally.
“It’s the only NATO country that confronts an insurgency in its own ground from the PKK, and we will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border,” he said. “It’s Europe’s southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected.”