Turkey calls on USA to not arm Kurdish 'terrorists'

Turkey calls on USA to not arm Kurdish 'terrorists'

Officials criticise Trump's decision to arm YPG units in battle for Raqqa against ISIL as USA tries to reassure Ankara.

The Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) has been seen by Washington as the best ally against jihadists in Syria.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday it will arm Syria's Kurdish fighters "as necessary" to recapture the key Islamic State group stronghold of Raqqa, despite intense opposition from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey, which sees the Kurds as terrorists. But the Kurdish YPG, which forms the backbone of the group, is linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which Turkey, the USA and other Western nations view as a terrorist group.

The issue risks stoking tensions between the two countries less than week before U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meet for the first time as heads of state.

The dispute poisoned ties between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies under the administration of former president Barack Obama but Ankara had hoped for smoother ties under Trump. On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that every weapon obtained by the YPG constitutes a threat to Turkey.

Prior to Thursday's meeting, Yildirim had warned that "there is still an opportunity for the United States to take Turkey's sensitivities into consideration".

Mattis and Yildirim meet for about 30 minutes before the start of an global conference in London on security threats and humanitarian crises in Somalia.

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The United States retains its commitment to providing Turkey with security, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said May 11 in London during a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım that came in the wake of a USA decision to arm Kurdish militants in Syria. "We have very open discussions about options and we will work together, we will work out any of the concerns", he said. "It's Europe's southern border, and we'll stay closely connected", Mattis told reporters during a visit to the Pabrade Training Area in Lithuania on Wednesday.

It comes a day after the U.S. said it was going to arm members of the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), which are fighting for the SDF.

Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for the US-led coalition's Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), promised that all arms provided to the YPG would only be used against ISIL.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, have been battling IS for control of Tabqa for weeks and recently have received heavier weaponry from the United States to bolster their campaign in a move that alienated North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey. It said warplanes, thought to belong to the US-led military coalition, hit al-Salihiya village.

"The operation to seize the Tabqa Dam, airfield and city disrupts ISIS operations in Raqqa and their ability to defend the city and plan and execute external attacks against the West", the coalition said.

Erdogan has demanded that Washington undo the arms decision, and said he would take up the issue with Trump.

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