Turkey, U.S. agree to restore normal ties to ease rising tensions

ANKARA, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkey and the U.S. agreed to normalize their ties, after weeks of rising tensions due to Turkey’s military operation in Syria.

Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Cavusoglu said the two sides will set up mechanisms to address the issues that have strained the bilateral relations.

“Our relations were at a critical turning point,” Cavusoglu said, adding that the two sides are going to either correct this or “it was going to take a turn for the worse.”

The top Turkish diplomat added that the two sides will hold another meeting by mid-March as part of the mechanisms.

For his part, Tillerson reaffirmed the deep, important relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, which he said is at “a crisis point.”

He said the U.S. and Turkey will work together in Syria, where Turkey is conducting a cross-border military operation to fight the Kurdish militia.

“We are not going to act alone any longer, not the U.S. doing one thing, Turkey doing another,” Tillerson said, adding that the two NATO allies have “good mechanisms” to have cooperation.

Both countries share the same objectives in Syria, while pledging to fight Islamic State (IS) and “other terrorist organizations” together, he said.

While recognizing Turkey’s right to secure its borders, Tillerson urged Ankara to show restraint in its military operation in Syria.

He was referring to the ongoing operation by Turkish military in Afrin, Syria in a bid to oust the Kurdish militia of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG is regarded by Ankara as the Syrian affiliate of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.

Turkey has vowed to expand its military operation to Manbij where U.S. troops are deployed with Kurdish forces to fight the terror group Islamic State (IS).

The U.S. had warned Turkey against such move which it said could lead to confrontation between Turkish and U.S. troops. Tillerson said a priority will be given to the issue of Manbij as the two sides work together.

Cavusoglu said once the YPG leaves Manbij, then Turkey and the U.S. could take joint steps to restore stability there and in other cities.

Tillerson also expressed concerns about the local employees in the U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey, while urging Turkey to release some American detainees.

The U.S.-Turkey ties have been strained by a series of events since the failed coup in Turkey to topple Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, which was blamed on the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the U.S.

Washington has turned down repeated Turkish requests for extradition of Gulen, which has angered Ankara and strained the bilateral ties. The U.S. and Turkey halted visa services for months in 2017 after some Turkish employees at the U.S. diplomatic missions were detained.

The U.S. is also seriously concerned about the Turkish military operation launched on Jan. 20 in Syria to oust the YPG Kurdish militia, which is called terrorists by Turkey but regarded by the the U.S. as an ally in its fight against the IS militants.

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