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Erdoğan visits US as crucial issues of Syria, anti-Turkey bills on agenda

Tomorrow's meeting in the U.S. between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his counterpart Donald Trump is seen as a crucial meeting, with Syria and ties between the two NATO allies on the agenda

Daily Sabah TURKEY
Published November 12,2019

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will arrive in U.S. tomorrow upon invitation by his counterpart President Donald Trump to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria in the context of volatile U.S. strategy and to reach a thaw on controversial issues such as a resolution passed on the "Armenian genocide" in the U.S. House and a bill backing sanctions on Ankara.

"Tomorrow's meeting will be a breakthrough for both Syria's future and Turkish-U.S. relations. The lack of implementation of the Turkish-U.S. agreement and continuous harassment by PKK-affiliated militants is expected to be the main agenda of the meeting," said Hüsamettin İnaç, the chairman of Dumlupınar University's Department of Political Science and International Relations.

On Oct. 17, Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence agreed on a 32-kilometer safe zone south of the Turkish border in Syria and the withdrawal of the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), along the Turkish border. However, since then, YPG terrorists have continued harassment fire at the Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters.

İnaç also stressed that Trump's insistence to meet with Erdoğan is a sign for reconciliation and will to reach an agreement in other crucial issues including the F-35 fighter jet program, the eastern Mediterranean and the presence of the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) leader Fetullah Gülen in the U.S.

"I realized during our phone call on Wednesday that Trump is also aware of attempts to intimidate Turkey. He [Trump] said he will examine and speak with officials on the [bill] issue," Erdoğan told journalists accompanying him during his visit to Hungary, referring to the Armenian and sanctions bill. On Oct. 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the so-called "Armenian genocide" as well as a bill backing sanctions on Ankara. The bill was met with harsh criticism by Turkish officials.

The president also said that the YPG has not withdrawn from the areas designated in the agreement reached between Turkey and U.S. last month, which will be another topic during bilateral meeting.

Recently speaking to Daily Sabah on Turkish-U.S. relations, Kemal İnat, an academic at Sakarya University, said that some political circles and lobbies, as well as some factions in the U.S. security bureaucracy are disappointed with Turkey's new political orientation and its sovereign policy-making process.

"That's why, the issues that would normally be the topic of history, are being used as a tool against Ankara," he said.

U.S. ambitions on Syrian oil

After U.S. military forces withdrew from Turkey's border as envisaged in the Turkish-U.S. agreement, they started building two new military bases in Syria's oil-rich Deir el-Zour governorate in the 113th Brigade area and near the al-Sur region, according to local sources, which revealed the intention of U.S. forces to stay put in those areas. "We have taken it and secured" the oil, Trump said short after his announcement that U.S. troops would leave Syria, suggesting "a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly."

Speaking on the issue, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said on Sunday that less than 1,000 U.S. service members will remain in northern Syria on the pretext of ensuring the lasting defeat of the Daesh terror group. He added that the number would be "for sure" less than that level, but he did not specify an exact number other than saying it would likely be around 500 to 600.

The announcements, however, was met with criticism in Ankara. "They openly confess that they are there for the oil. We are talking about a country that does not hide the fact that they are in a country to confiscate its natural resources and the funds from these resources are used to support terrorist organizations like the PKK/YPG," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Saturday, criticizing foreign interference in the country's oil reserves.

İnaç said that U.S. forces' relocation to the oil-rich areas will also likely be discussed during the Erdoğan's meeting with Trump. "Turkey legitimized its position in Syria by reaching an agreement both with the U.S. and Russia," he said.

Not only was Turkey was bothered with the U.S.'s overt attempt to benefit from Syria's oil, Moscow also declared its disturbance at the U.S.' attempt to grab the resources.

"Their attempt, deep down, [is] to rob the Syrian Arab Republic and take control of the oil fields, it is illegal and does not bring anything good to the Syrian settlement, it only retains a serious irritant, a serious threat in this part of Syria," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters yesterday in Yerevan.

"We will insist on the Syrian army rapidly regaining the entire territory of Syria. Only this will help to put a lasting end to terrorism and will help resolve all issues related to the final political settlement," he added.

The justification by Washington on the issue is to ensure YPG terrorists benefit from the oil and not the U.S., is only regarded as added insult to injury. Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said late Thursday that the income from the oil fields in northern Syria would go to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and not the U.S. The SDF is an umbrella organization for the YPG.

"The U.S. is still working with SDF fighters, providing them with ability and support" against Daesh, Hoffman stated.

Anadolu Agency (AA) footage captured U.S. army personnel carrying out joint patrols with YPG terrorists around the city of al-Malikiyah, in northeastern Syria. The U.S. soldiers were also seen meeting with representatives of the terrorist group.

The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group, which has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people in Turkey, including women and children, over the past 30 years.

The U.S. has primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria in the anti-Daesh fight. Turkey strongly opposes the YPG's presence in northern Syria, which has been a major sticking point in strained Turkey-U.S. relations. The U.S. has provided military training and given thousands of truckloads of military support to the YPG, despite Turkey's security concerns.

Mustafa Kırıkçıoğlu