Turkey to ask US to hand over military bases in Syria

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Turkey was expected to ask US officials either to hand over its military bases in Syria to Ankara or to destroy them, the newspaper Hurriyet reported, a request that could further complicate discussions over the US withdrawal from Syria.

The request was expected to come in talks on Tuesday between US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Turkish counterpart, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton had also added a condition to the talks: Turkey must agree to protect the Kurdish YPG militia, a US ally. Ankara calls YPG a terrorist group.

It was unclear immediately after the talks whether either condition was met. With tensions simmering over US plans to exit Syria, Bolton did not meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Trump said last month he was bringing home the some US 2,000 troops in Syria, saying they had succeeded in their mission to defeat ISIS. His abrupt move sparked concern among officials in Washington and allies abroad and prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.

The YPG has been a key ally in campaign against ISIS, an alliance that has long caused tension between Washington and Ankara. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south east.

“Give them or destroy them,” a Hurriyet newspaper headline said, referring to what it said were 22 US military bases in Syria. It cited unspecified sources as saying Turkey would not accept Washington’s handing them over to the YPG.

A senior Turkish security official told Reuters last week Washington needed to allow Turkey to use its bases in Syria.

Bolton was joined by US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and US special Syria envoy James Jeffrey as he met with Kalin on Tuesday morning in Ankara. They concluded their talks by late morning.

Kalin is Erdogan’s spokesman and deputy head of Turkey’s security and foreign policies board.

Erdogan warned on Monday the US withdrawal must be planned carefully and with the right partners. Only Turkey, he said, had “the power and commitment to perform that task”.

In an op-ed article for the New York Times, Erdogan said Turkey was committed to defeating ISIS and “other terrorist groups” in Syria.

The White House sought to make the case on Monday that Trump had not changed his position on withdrawing troops.

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