US relations with YPG ‘temporary, transactional and tactical’: Top diplomat

Jonathan Cohen, (second from left) speaks at Washington's Middle East Institute, 17 May 2017.

The United State’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Jonathan Cohen, has described his country’s relationship with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as being “temporary, transactional and tactical.”

Speaking at a panel on Turkish-US ties at Washington’s Middle East Institute on 17 May, the top diplomat commented on the US’ support for the group, which continues creating unprecedented tensions with Turkey, and said, “We have not promised the YPG anything. They are in this fight because they want to be in this fight.”

“Clearly they have their own motivations as well. We are in this common [fight] to defeat a terrorist organisation in Iraq and Syria. Our relationship is temporary, transactional and tactical,” the State Department official said, adding, ““We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. That is where it stops.”

Ankara has raised objections against the US’s recent decision to arm the YPG, viewed as the most successful fighting force against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, saying that the 50,000 strong force is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey.

However Cohen dismissed Ankara’s worries saying, “I don’t think anything that we do with the YPG has anything to do with Turkey’s Kurds. You can’t solve the PKK issue by eliminating the YPG in Syria.”

The diplomat also touched on PKK presence in Shingal [Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq] and said they would “absolutely” want the group out of the area “but they don’t really control Sinjar [Shingal]. They have a presence there,” he concluded.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday said the US would support Ankara in its fight against the PKK and added that the US had given guarantees that weapons provided to the YPG would only be used in the Raqqa operation and Syria and not against Turkey.

Speaking to Turkish broadcaster NTV, Cavusoglu also said the US had promised that the Syrian Kurds would not create a state in areas under their control in northern Syria.

“They [US] told us that they have not given any promises like this to the YPG. They also told us that they support the territorial integrity of Syria and wouldn’t allow such an entity.”

Officials of the Kurdish-led autonomous region in northern Syria have refuted Ankara’s claims that they are a threat and have said they want a federal solution to the Syrian crisis.