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The Cat and Mouse Game Between Turkey and The U.S.

The Cat and Mouse Game Between Turkey and The U.S.

We only know from the Turkish side what President Donald Trump really told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the phone recently about U.S. supplied arms to the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.

Turkey says this group is a terrorist organization linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Washington does not agree.

According to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was privy to the conversation between the presidents, Trump said arms supplied to the YPG would be halted. Trump apparently added that “this nonsense should have ended sooner.”

The U.S. side has remained circumspect about this conversation, only making statements which appear not to deny what Trump apparently said, but not fully backing Cavusoglu’s account either. Washington is referring to “readjustments” with regard to arms supplied to groups in Syria, and leaving it at that.

The phone conversation nevertheless raised hopes in Ankara, and even led Erdogan to say that Turkey and the U.S. were “on the same wavelength” again.

Only days after that, though, the Pentagon announced it would continue to work with the YPG, while the Associated Press put pictures into circulation showing a new supply of U.S. armed personnel carriers headed to this group.

The initial optimism in Ankara dissipated fast, leaving commentators suggesting that Trump is either unreliable or he has lost his grip on his administration.

The best the Pentagon could do to appease the Turkish side was to say that once operations against the Islamic State (IS) are over in Syria the arms given to the YPG would be taken back. That appears a long shot to many.

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There is clearly a cat and mouse game going on between Ankara and the Washington regarding U.S. support for the YPG, and its mother organization the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The simple fact many agree on is that Washington is unlikely to bow to pressure from Ankara and ditch the YPG at a time like this. It not only needs this group on the ground in Syria, but also does not want Russia to take over the patronage of the PYD as efforts for a Syrian settlement gain traction.

Meanwhile Ankara continues to hit at the U.S. but avoids any sharp statements about Russian support for the PYD, or about the fact that Moscow, unlike Washington, does not even consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

There appears to be a double standard here which actually weakens Turkey’s hand with regard to the PYD and YPG, by bringing forth questions about its credibility.

The time has long past when Turkey should look at the situation on the ground in Syria realistically, and produce viable policies which are in touch with the general course of developments in that country, rather than relying on what in the end amounts to wishful thinking.

When and how it will turn to that, however is not clear.

In the meantime the cat and mouse game continues, and one does not need to be an expert to understand who is losing.

About The Author

Semih Idiz

Started journalism career in Economic Press Agency in Ankara, and later worked in the Anatolian News Agency, Cumhuriyet daily, Turkish Daily News, NTV news channel, daily Star, daily Aksam, CNN Turk, and daily Milliyet. Currently writes for Al Monitor and Hurriyet Daily News. He has had articles, commentary and analyses published in the Financial Times, the Times, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy. He has also been a frequent contributor to local news channels as well as to BBC World, CNN, VOA, NPR, Radio New Zealand, Deutche Welle, various Israeli media organizations, Al Jazeera etc. as a foreign policy expert.

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