US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Turkey on Thursday seeking to ease tensions with its NATO ally that have reached fresh heights over Ankara’s ongoing operation inside Syria.
During his two-day trip to the Turkish capital, Tillerson – who last visited in July 2017 – will hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey’s operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to the litany of issues clouding the relationship between Washington and Ankara.
Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against jihadists.
And Erdogan has further upped the ante by warning US troops to steer clear of Manbij, a YPG-held town east of Afrin where the main operation is happening, raising fears of a clash.
“We are going to go to Manbij and if they are there, it’s too bad for them,” a senior Turkish official told AFP.
When a US commander told the New York Times it would respond “aggressively” to any attack by Turkey, Erdogan didn’t mince his words.
“It’s very clear that those who make such remarks have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” he said, using the term for a backhander which, according to legend, could kill an opponent in one stroke.