WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “We’re fully engaged,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained on Saturday. “Ambassador [James] Jeffrey is fully engaged in conversations with the Turks, as well as with the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria.”
Pompeo spoke on Saturday, while in the United Arab Emirates, in the middle of a nine-nation tour of the Middle East. Pompeo’s interview was broadcast the following day on “Face the Nation,” CBS’ Sunday morning talk show.
The Secretary of State indicated that the understanding that the US is pursuing involves developing arrangements and assurances that Turkey will not attack the SDF, and the SDF will not attack Turkey.
Turkey has long protested US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who constitute the military leadership of the SDF, America’s principle partner in fighting the Islamic State in Syria.
US President Donald Trump’s surprise decision last month, following a telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to withdraw US forces from Syria raised serious questions about the fate of the US allies, even as Trump subsequently affirmed that Washington would ensure the continued protection of Syria’s Kurds.
On Saturday, Pompeo spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. At roughly the same time, Jeffrey, who is Pompeo’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement, joined the Secretary in the UAE, following discussions he held in Ankara and then in Syria with the YPG leadership.
Jeffrey will be returning to Turkey “before too long,” Pompeo said.
The State Department summary of the Secretary’s conversation with Cavusoglu noted that Pompeo had “reiterated the United States’ commitment to addressing Turkish security concerns,” while at the same time, “emphasizing the importance” the US places on protecting “forces who worked with the United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.”
Also, on Saturday, it emerged that Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), had received the first visit from his family in over two years. The surprising news, coming amid the reports of US mediation, raises the possibility that the visit itself is one product of Jeffrey’s diplomacy.
Last Tuesday, Amb. John Bolton, White House National Security Adviser, visited Ankara for discussions about coordinating the US withdrawal from Syria to assure the realization of two key objectives: the protection of US allies and the complete defeat of the Islamic State.
Ankara took strong objection to remarks Bolton made in Israel, in which he said that the US would not allow Turkey to attack Syria’s Kurds.
Erdogan cancelled a planned “photo op” with the US envoy, as he affirmed, “Bolton made a serious mistake. If he thinks that way, he is very mistaken. We will not compromise.”
However, an informed Washington source told Kurdistan 24 that Bolton’s visit to Ankara was far more serious and productive than Erdogan’s heated language suggested. Bolton was joined there by Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Jeffrey, both of whom stayed in Turkey for further talks, after Bolton’s departure.
Indeed, on Saturday, Pompeo described Bolton’s conversations in Turkey as “very productive,” suggesting that stories of a major split between Ankara and Washington had been “misreported and overblown.”
“I’m optimistic that we can achieve a good outcome,” Pompeo affirmed.
Speaking in similar terms on Friday to radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Bolton explained that he had given the Turks a “non-paper,” describing that as “a fancy diplomatic term” for “a set of ideas,” which present the US position, as “fully agreed upon” by the State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council.
That way, Bolton said,“the Turks knew we were all speaking with one voice, despite the media commentary that would have you believe otherwise.”
Bolton also noted that Pompeo’s recent trip to Iraq—where he visited both Baghdad and Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region—included talks about maintaining the US military presence there.
“I think that’s progressing very well,” Bolton said. “So I feel comfortable on that point.”