By Giran Ozcan*
Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s pick to head the country’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was in Turkey for his first official visit to a foreign country after officially taking his new role.
In what would have been a significant occasion on its own – first official visits are traditionally seen as statements of purpose – the CIA head’s meeting with the Turks was filled with important headings and uncomfortable demands by Ankara.
Pompeo, who had deleted a tweet he shared last year calling the Erdogan government a ‘totalitarian Islamist dictatorship’, is in Turkey at a time when operations against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq are entering a critical phase. With Turkey bogged down in al-Bab and the SDF-led operation to take Raqqa from IS closing in on the group’s stronghold, The US’s response to Turkey’s demands are seen as potential game-changers.
Ankara had set out its two main demands of the new administration in Washington way before Trump actually took office: Extradite Fethullah Gulen, terminate support for Kurds in Syria; both of which were straight up rejected when Obama was occupying the Oval Office.
So, what was Pompeo’s response to these requests?
Although there was no official statement by either side on what what was discussed, reports on Turkish media have provided information on the atmosphere of the meetings and its content.
In response to Ankara’s demand that Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen be extradited to Turkey to face charges on masterminding last year’s coup attempt, something the Turks say they have already proven to the US administration, Pompeo is reported to have said, “we understand Turkey’s sensitivities on the issue and take them very seriously”. Anyone following Turkey-US relations will know that this sentence is an automated response, which in undiplomatic terms, means: “we currently have no intentions of complying”.
The fact that Pompeo met with both President Erdogan and Prime Minister Yildirim as well as his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan, and could only conjure up “we understand Turkey’s sensitivities,” will not have satisfied Ankara in the slightest.
President Trump has given the Pentagon a month to draw up a plan to fight the Islamic State (IS) group. Pompeo’s Turkey visit was seen as significant to the drafting of this plan. According to reports, Ankara tried to convince Pompeo of the importance of the Euphrates Shield operation the Turkish army is conducting in northern Syria.
Hande Firat, the Chief Political Editor of Turkish daily Hurriyet, today wrote, “Turkey reiterated its thoughts on the YPG [the Kurdish People’s Protection Units]. Ankara openly proposed a joint operation to take Raqqa after it defeats IS in al-Bab.”
According to Firat, Turkey made a concrete proposal to Pompeo on how it would conduct the Raqqa operation, how many soldiers it could push and how many Free Syrian Army fighters it could send, to which Pompeo responded, “If you really have this alternative, we will seriously consider it”. ‘Inconclusive’ would be the most optimistic evaluation of Pompeo’s response from Turkey’s point of view.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said on Wednesday, “Our next objective as part of the Euphrates Shield operation is Raqqa.” But today, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus contradicted this saying, “al-Bab is the final objective of the Euphrates Shield operation”. What happened in between Wednesday and Saturday? Russia ‘mistakenly’ bombed Turkish soldiers near al-Bab and the director of the CIA gave inconclusive responses to Ankara’s demands.
Pompeo’s visit was an opportunity for Turkey to make a good impression on the new set-up in Washington; the fact that the CIA director was hosted by both the president and the prime minister– the first time this has ever happened in Turkey – shows that Ankara thought so too. How well they took this opportunity is still unclear, but Pompeo’s statements look suspiciously similar to that of the previous administration’s – almost word-for-word in fact – and that would seem to be disheartening for the Turks.
There is not long to go until the Pentagon provides President Trump with its plan of action in Syria, and guessing its content would be a courageous endeavour for anyone, as Trump’s procession to power has been anything but guessable.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kom News.
* Giran Ozcan is an editor at Kom News.