U.S. Refuses Turkish Demands to Renounce Syrian Kurds

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified his denunciation of the Syrian Kurdish militia as “terrorists” responsible for this week’s Ankara bombing, and called on the U.S. to renounce support for the Kurds. The U.S. government refused these demands and said it would continue supporting Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Syria.

On Friday, Erdogan insisted the Ankara bomber was “definitely a member of the People’s Protection Units (YPG),” according to Hurriyet Daily News.

“There are three names who played an active role. The perpetrator is the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) and the YPG. We have no doubt about that,” said Erdogan.

He said two people were under intensive investigation for playing an active role in the bombing, and a third name would “most probably” be added.

“Why have the PYD and YPG not been declared as terror organizations while the PKK has?” Erdogan asked, referring to the political and military wings of the Kurds in Syria. “The insistence of the West on not understanding us makes us sad.”

He said he would make the case to President Barack Obama on Friday personally, and also vowed that Turkey would “not permit the creation of a Kurdish corridor in northern Syria that would cut off support to jihadist and other groups fighting the Syrian government,” as Hurriyet Daily News put it.

The U.S. government has refused to accept Turkey’s characterization of the YPG as terrorists, and said it would continue supporting them against ISIS.

Bloomberg Business cites State Department spokesman John Kirby on Thursday giving condolences to Turkey for the 28 lives lost in the Ankara bombing, and “praised the country for its contribution to the fight against Islamic State in Syria,” but rejected Turkey’s demand for the U.S. to choose between them and the Syrian Kurds.

“It’s not about choosing sides,” Kirby insisted. “There’s no doubt about Turkey’s membership in the coalition; obviously, there is no doubt about our commitment to a fellow NATO ally. And there is also no doubt that some of the strongest fighters against Daesh inside Syria have been Kurdish fighters.” Daesh is a derogatory term for the Islamic State.

Kirby did say that the United States has asked the Kurds not to take any more territory along the Turkish border in Syria, actions that have alarmed a Turkish government worried about Kurdish separatists of the PKK on its side of the border. Kirby also called on the Turks to cease shelling Kurdish positions in Syria.

The New York Times warns that the escalating conflict between Turkey and the United States over the Kurds could threaten the NATO alliance, because it could “further complicate” the five-year-old Syrian civil war, in which Turkey, the U.S., and rebel groups they support are among the most important opponents of dictator Bashar Assad.

“The Americans have strongly signaled that they will not join Turkish calls for a military ground operation in Syria, even as Mr. Assad’s forces, emboldened with Russian and Iranian help, are regaining territory and strengthening his position should peace talks take place,” writes the NYT. “The United States also has made it clear that it will not be drawn into the possibility of a direct military confrontation with Russia in the Syrian conflict.”

If Turkey does provoke such a confrontation by acting more strongly against the Kurds in Syria, the NATO alliance could find itself in a very difficult position, particularly if such a conflict escalated to the point where Turkish territory was under attack.