first_imgPhotosensia/iStock/Thinkstock(ANKARA, Turkey) — A key partner in the fight against terror and an ally with a faltering record on human rights, Turkey will host Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Thursday as he embarks on his fourth overseas trip.There will be plenty to discuss as the two countries continue to work together to defeat ISIS even as the State Department has warned of “an increase in anti-American rhetoric” in Turkey that could “inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against U.S. citizens.”Tillerson landed in the capital Ankara Wednesday evening, and here are the top issues he faces:REASSURING A KEY MILITARY PARTNERTurkey “has suffered more losses to terrorism than all the Europeans combined,” according to a senior State Department official. Tillerson will be expressing appreciation for their contributions to the fight against ISIS and discussing the next steps in combating global terrorism.Areas for cooperation include the upcoming fight for Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, and the establishment of “de-escalation zones” to stabilize areas won back from ISIS.“Stabilization is very different than a nation-building endeavor,” one senior official said, referring to measures that include the clearing of IEDs and landmines and the resumption of services like electricity and running water. It’s “a sustainable campaign at minimal cost for U.S. taxpayers,” and a minimum risk of American lives — “very different than what we’ve done before,” the official said.The campaign for Raqqa is “proceeding very well and in fact accelerating,” but it’s also facing challenges over the various factions involved. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, including the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, will take the lead.Turkey has pushed back over the involvement of the Kurds, an ethnic group with a large population that straddles Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.Turkish officials have expressed concerns over their growing clout as they seek their own state and consider the YPG a terrorist organization for its ties to other Kurdish independence groups like the PKK that the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.“There are differences with Turkey on some issues, as there are with any of our coalition partners, and so we’ll work through those,” said a senior official.WADING INTO A TENSE MOMENT FOR TURKEYThe trip comes at a tense time in Turkey as well. The country is set to vote in just a few weeks on a referendum that would extend a state of emergency and grant even more power to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.Erdogan emerged from a failed military coup last summer and has since consolidated power in his government and jailed opposition leaders, journalists, and fired thousands of government employees. More than 100 reporters have been detained and over 175 press outlets shut down, according to the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders.“It’s very hard to predict where Turkey is going to be in terms of how they factor in a visit from a U.S. Secretary of State into their domestic political referendum, but it’s certainly something that we all are acutely aware of and that the secretary will be mindful of while he’s there,” said a senior State Department official.And while Tillerson “will not veer from” America’s support for freedom of expression and fair trial guarantees in Turkey, officials did not say whether that means Tillerson will raise the issue himself.He is not meeting with members of the opposition, though. “His schedule doesn’t allow time to meet with anyone else” beyond Erdogan, foreign minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu, and the U.S. embassy staff, the senior official said.The tension over the referendum has spilled over to other European countries. Germany, which has a large Turkish population, butted heads with Turkey after Erdogan’s party tried to campaign in the country and rally support among the emigrant population there. The State Department maintains that this is an issue for these countries to work out on their own and has declined to take a position.RESPONDING TO AN EXTRADITION DEMANDBut one demand Turkey may make of the U.S. is the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania who Erdogan accuses of masterminding last summer’s coup.In response to Turkey’s request, the Obama administration asked them to file paperwork with the Department of Justice providing evidence justifying his extradition. That process is ongoing, but the Trump team was reportedly considering “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” former CIA director and Trump campaign adviser James Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal.A senior official referred questions to the Department of Justice, but said, “It’s possible that the Turks will raise it, and the Secretary will be prepared to respond if they do.” There is no word on what that response would be.REACHING RUSSIA THROUGH TURKEYWith larger questions looming about team Trump’s ties to Russia, the U.S. will have to work through Turkey to deal with Russia in Syria. That’s because the U.S. has been frozen out of peace talks by Turkey, Iran, and Russia, arguably the three most dominant outside powers operating in Syria. Those talks, held in Astana, Kazakhstan, have tried to coordinate ceasefires in the country, with Turkey representing the rebels and Russia the regime of Bashar al-Assad.The Obama administration was shut out and so far the Trump administration has so far only sent a representative to monitor.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.Powered by WPeMatico Relatedlast_img

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