Turkey: Relations With U.S. at Make-or-break Point

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned about the strain on U.S.-Turkish relations a day after U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster held talks in Istanbul

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a Turkey-Africa Conference in Istanbul, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018
Pool Photo via AP

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned there is a serious problem of trust between Washington and Ankara and said Monday that relations between the two nations will either start to improve or completely break down.

He was speaking a day after a visit to Turkey by U.S. national security advisor HR McMaster and ahead of a stop in Ankara this week by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

"Our relations are at a very critical point. Either we will fix the relationship or this relationship will be totally destroyed. There's no other option," Cavusoglu told a press conference in Istanbul. 

Cavusoglu demanded concrete steps from the U.S., rather than promises.

H.R. McMaster held talks on Sunday in Istanbul with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, the White House said, amid persistent tensions between the NATO allies over Syria and other issues.

Turkey is targeting the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG in a weeks-long air and ground operation in Syria's Afrin region. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group, but it is a key component of U.S.-backed forces battling Islamic State in Syria.

Erdogan has promised to sweep the militia from Turkey's southern border, a move that could put Turkish troops in confrontation with U.S. forces on the ground in Syria.

McMaster's talks with Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin in Istanbul come days ahead of an expected visit to Turkey by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The two discussed the long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, the White House said in a statement.

"They also exchanged views on American-Turkish relations as long-standing allies, their common strategic challenges, and regional developments," it said.

"While discussing these issues, they addressed issues affecting bilateral relations in detail and explored ways to expand the joint fight against all forms of terrorism."

The two men evaluated regional developments, factors that have damaged relations between the allies and developing ways of combating terrorism, a Turkish presidential source said, but provided no further details.

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he would tell Tillerson during his visit that the two countries must repair damaged mutual trust. No dates have yet been confirmed for the Tillerson visit.

Relations have also been strained by Washington's failure to extradite a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016. Washington says Ankara has not provided enough evidence for the extradition.