US, Turkey endorse roadmap for Manbij, reaffirm ‘allied partnership’

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WASHINGTON, USA - JUNE 04: Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) meets U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) in Washington, USA on June 04, 2018. Fatih Aktas / Anadolu Agency

Turkey and the United States on Monday endorsed a roadmap for the northern Syrian city of Manbij and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation following a meeting of their top diplomats in Washington, D.C., Reuters reported.

The move, long sought by Turkey, comes at a time of strain in bilateral ties over wider Syria policy and over Washington’s decision in December to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Turkey has been infuriated by US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria, which it views as the Syrian offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and has threatened to push its offensive in the Afrin region of northern Syria further east to Manbij, risking confrontation with US troops stationed there. Washington views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

At their talks in Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also discussed cooperation in Syria, along with potential steps to improve security in Manbij, they said in a joint statement.

They gave no details regarding the roadmap or its timetable.

However, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said last week that Turkey and the United States had reached a technical agreement on a three-step YPG withdrawal plan in Manbij. The US State Department later denied those reports.

Manbij is a potential flashpoint. The Syrian government, Kurdish militants, Syrian rebel groups, Turkey and the United States all have a military presence in northern Syria.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have deteriorated due to a range of factors, including the sentencing in New York in May of a former Turkish state bank executive to 32 months in prison for taking part in an Iran sanctions-busting scheme, a case Turkey has called a political attack.

Turkey has also caused unease in Washington with its decision to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia and drew criticism over its detention of a US Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, on terrorism charges. He has denied the accusations.

The statement said Pompeo and Çavuşoğlu had agreed to hold further meetings to resolve current bilateral issues “in the spirit of allied partnership.”

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