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US national security advisor meets with Erdoğan aide amid tensions

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US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster held talks on Sunday in İstanbul with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman amid persistent tensions between the NATO allies over Syria and other issues, Reuters reported.

According to a press statement from the White House released on Feb. 11:

“Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, President Donald J. Trump’s National Security Advisor, met his Turkish counterpart, Ambassador İbrahim Kalın, Deputy Secretary General and Spokesperson of the Turkish Presidency, during McMaster’s visit to Istanbul on February 10-11, 2018.

“During their meeting, Kalın and McMaster affirmed the long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, and discussed the priorities and concerns of both countries. They also exchanged views on American-Turkish relations as longstanding allies, their common strategic challenges, and regional developments.  While discussing these issues, they addressed issues affecting bilateral relations in detail and explored ways to expand the joint fight against all forms of terrorism.”

Turkey is targeting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in a weeks-long air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region. Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but it is a key component of US-backed forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.

Erdoğan has promised to sweep the militia from Turkey’s southern border, a move that could put Turkish troops in confrontation with US forces on the ground in Syria.

McMaster’s talks with Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın in Istanbul come days ahead of an expected visit to Turkey by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Last week Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he would tell Tillerson during his visit that the two countries must repair damaged mutual trust. No dates have yet been confirmed for the Tillerson visit.

Relations have also been strained by Washington’s failure to extradite a US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt against Erdoğan in 2016, an accusation strongly denied by Gülen and the movement he has inspired.

Washington says Ankara has not provided enough evidence for the extradition.

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