U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson Visits Turkey, Meets with Erdogan and Other Officials

ANKARA, Turkey (A.W.)— U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Turkey on March 30, where he met with Turkish leaders to discuss bilateral and regional issues.

(L to R) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara (Photo: U.S. Department of State)

Speaking to reporters after meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior ministers, Tillerson explained that the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey were struggling with “difficult choices” on a strategy to defeat ISIS in Syria.

During the meeting, Erdogan and Tillerson addressed the ongoing efforts to clear ISIS from Syria and Iraq as well as the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fetullah Gullen. It was reported that Erdogan repeated Ankara’s request to have Gulen extradited from the U.S. in the aftermath of the July coup attempt, which Ankara accuses Gulen of organizing.

“Today’s conversations built on three mutual long-term goals: working together to defeat Daesh/ISIS; building stability in the region; and bolstering economic ties between our two nations,” said Tillerson during a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Tillerson said that he and the Turkish leaders discussed options of how to remove ISIS from its remaining strongholds, such as Raqqa and, strengthen those areas. In the past, Turkey has said that it would provide troops on the ground as a part of an offensive in Raqqa if the Kurdish forces were sidelined.

However, Tillerson did not seem willing to withdraw U.S. support for the Kurdish militias. “What we discussed today are options that are available to us. They are difficult options. Let me be very frank, it’s not easy, they are difficult choices that have to be made,” Tillerson told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Tillerson declared that there is “no space” between the two states in their determination to defeat the Islamic State. He added that their talks concentrated on the creation of “stabilization zones” in Syria so refugees could return home and how to secure these type of areas.

Tillerson’s visit takes place at a time where U.S.-Turkey relations are quite tense and three weeks prior to the referendum in Turkey. Erdogan is seeking further powers by changing the country’s constitution. Opposition and European allies fear that this move will bring on increased authoritarianism.

During his trip to Turkey, the U.S. Secretary of State also met with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. The two discussed the threats to security in the region as well as the enhancement of economic ties.

Tillerson is expected to be in Brussels on March 31, where he will attend a daylong conference with fellow NATO Allies.

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