WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – The Trump administration responded swiftly after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for the dismissal of Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS.)
“Mr. McGurk has the full support and backing of Secretary Tillerson and the White House,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert explained on Thursday in a written statement.
Her unequivocal expression of the administration’s continued backing for McGurk followed an interview that Cavusoglu gave earlier on Thursday on Turkish television, in which he said, “Replacing McGurk would be beneficial,” as he “openly supports the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and YPG (People’s Protection Units.)”
In responding to Cavusoglu, Nauert noted the “tremendous work” that McGurk has done “to coordinate and lead the Coalition” in the fight against a “barbaric enemy.”
At the same time, calling Turkey a “key NATO ally,” she acknowledged its “legitimate domestic security concerns emanating from ISIS, PKK, and other designated terrorist organizations.”
Cavusoglu’s criticism followed two days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s first meeting with US President Donald Trump, which Cavusoglu also attended.
The Turkish Foreign Minister’s complaint also follows the day after reports emerged that McGurk had met with YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commanders in Syria, as well as officials of the newly-formed Raqqa City Council. Those officials will be in charge of administering Raqqa, once it is liberated from IS’ control.
Despite Cabusoglu’s criticism of McGurk, Ankara seems keen to put its relations with Washington on a new footing, following the strains that developed during the Obama administration.
Cavusoglu noted that Erdogan’s trip to Washington had been very productive and “the new US administration is more sincere than the previous one.”
“We reached some agreements in principle regarding issues on which the two countries diverge,” he said.
The US had reassured Turkey that it would not permit any effort to destroy Syria’s territorial integrity, Cavusoglu explained, echoing a position articulated by Jonathan Cohen, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Cohen told a Washington audience on Wednesday that current US policy ”is not to support any kind of autonomous ethnic or sectarian zones in Syria.”
The Erdogan government tends to blame those aspects of Trump administration policy that it dislikes on holdovers from the previous administration.
“These people are a risk and we need to be careful,” Cavusoglu said. “They need to not poison the new administration.”
While Obama did appoint McGurk as Special Presidential Envoy to the anti-IS coalition, McGurk’s role in the US war against terrorism predates both Obama and the IS. Under President George W. Bush, he was the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Monday, McGurk led a delegation, which included the US ambassador in Baghdad, to Erbil. They met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani and reviewed the latest developments in military operations against IS.
“Barzani reiterated his position of the significance of planning for post-liberation Mosul,” according to a KRG press statement. It has long been the KRG position that the US needs to put more effort into crafting the political reforms that will prevent the re-emergence of another IS.
McGurk, for his part, hailed the role of Peshmerga forces in the global effort to defeat IS, affirming that “their role has been of major importance.”
Editing by Ava Homa