Turkey wants the United States to put more pressure on Syrian Kurdish fighters to return to the east of the Euphrates River, the deputy prime minister said on Friday, as Ankara seeks to limit the advance of the U.S.-backed rebels in northern Syria.
In an interview with Reuters while on a visit to the United States, Numan Kurtulmus also said that Washington had a responsibility to work with its NATO ally Turkey on “all different terrorist threats” – a reference to their stark differences in Syria policy.
The testy relationship between Washington and Ankara has been further strained by Turkey’s incursion into Syria last week. “Operation Euphrates Shield” is aimed at clearing both Islamic State and Syrian Kurds from the area near Turkey’s border.
“We would like to see the pressure of the U.S. on the PYD to go to the east of the Euphrates. So it would be very useful if we would apply this operation with the U.S. forces together,” Kurtulmus said.
The PYD is the political wing of the YPG militia, which the United States is backing in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni hardline group, sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and worries the YPG’s advance will encourage militants in its largely Kurdish southeast.
In a visit to Turkey last month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called for the Kurdish militias to retreat east of the river, saying they must do so to ensure U.S. support.
The YPG says it has already removed its forces from the area of the Turkish-backed campaign. U.S. officials have also said the YPG has mostly withdrawn its forces to the east of the Euphrates, a natural boundary cutting through northern Syria.
Earlier on Friday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denied claims that the YPG had withdrawn to the east of the Euphrates.
The United States has called on Turkey to avoid confrontation with Kurdish-aligned forces and stay focused instead on the joint battle against Islamic State.
Kurtulmus also said Turkey would like to see “intention” from the United States that it is prepared to move forward with the extradition of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it accuses of masterminding an attempted coup in July.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied the charge and condemned the coup. The United States has said that only a federal court could extradite Gulen and has cautioned that it may be a lengthy process.
“It is not a question of the duration of time, it is actually the question of intention,” Kurtulmus said of the extradition process, which can take years.
“We would like to see the real intention of the authorities of the United States about the extradition of this particular man.”
Turkey has detained some 40,000 people on suspicion of links to Gulen’s movement and formally arrested about half of them.
Around 80,000 people have been either sacked or suspended from public duty in a crackdown that first focused on the police, courts and military but later spread to the private sector.
Rights groups and critics in the West, particularly Europe, have said that many, including journalists, had no links to Gulen and were unjustly rounded up.
Kurtulmus said that some journalists were members of “terrorist organizations,” and that all investigations were being done following international laws.
Rooting out Gulenist elements from Turkey, including inside the ruling AK Party, will continue, “with all means,” he said.
“It will take some time, maybe months or years.”