25 February 2018

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CIA chief in Turkey to discuss Syrian conflict and Islamic State

Forty-eight hours after Trump and Erdoğan spoke, Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit in Turkey. Washington and Ankara are trying to restore relations after the tensions of recent years. The extradition of Islamic preacher Gülen is an obstacle. Trump sends letter to Xi Jinping expressing hope for "constructive" relations between Beijing and Washington.

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – CIA chief Mike Pompeo arrived in Turkey today. The main issues he will discuss with his Turkish hosts are countering the Islamic State (IS) group still active in Syria and Iraq, find new ways to end the Syrian conflict, and create safe zones for refugees.

The visit also aims at jumpstarting relations between Washington and Ankara, which deteriorated in the past three years due to frictions between former US President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Pompeo arrives 48 hours after US president Donald Trump spoke on the phone to his Turkish counterpart. During the conversation, Erdoğan asked Trump to stop US support for Kurdish forces in Syria. Ankara considers them close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it deems a terrorist organisation.

Analysts and experts note that the CIA chief’s hastily arranged visit could mean renewed US support for Turkey, once a staunch US ally in the Mediterranean and Middle East, especially with respect to Turkish efforts against terrorist groups, including IS.

During the visit, Pompeo and Turkish officials are expected discuss ways to coordinate efforts on the ground. The current situation is very fragmented with Washington supporting the Kurds on the offensive against Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold in Syria, and the Turks supporting the Arab coalition moving towards the town of al-Bab, north of Aleppo.

The proposal to create safe zones for refugees and internally displaced persons will also be on the table. Turkey’s request for extradition of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen is also on the agenda.

Turkish authorities blame Gülen, who is in exile in Pennsylvania, of master-minding a failed coup in July 2016 in which 270 people were killed and thousands wounded.

Reacting to the coup, Turkish authorities have arrested more than 41,000 people, including teachers, soldiers, intellectuals, opposition politicians, businessmen, journalists, activists and ordinary citizens, as well as suspended or fired more than 100,000 public sector workers.

Meanwhile, the US is becoming active in its China file. Tensions between the two countries had risen after the new US president announced possible protectionist measures, spoke to his Taiwanese counterpart Tsai Ing-wen, and issued provocative statements over the South China Sea.  

So far, Mr Trump has not yet personally spoken to Mr Xi but did call other world leaders; however yesterday, he sent a letter to Xi Jinping, his first direct approach to the Chinese leader.

In it, the US president thanked Mr Xi for congratulating him on his inauguration last month and said he looked forward to "constructive" relations.

The US leader also included his Lunar New Year greetings to the Chinese people and said that co-operation between the two countries was the only option.

This represents a shift from Trump’s anti-Chinese rhetoric during the election campaign.

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