By Safvan Allahverdi
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said he hopes that U.S. and Turkish forces will avoid any risk from close encounters in northern Syria, emphasizing the importance on solving bilateral issues.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo said at his June 4 meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, one of the main issues will be northern Syria, where most of the U.S. troops in the country are deployed.
This January Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, northern Syria to clear terrorist groups from the area. After liberating the city of Afrin, Ankara said it might also extend its operation further east to Manbij, unless the PYD/PKK terrorist group leaves the strategically located city.
However, U.S. military support for the terrorist PYD/PKK in Manbij has strained ties between Ankara and Washington, and has led to fears of military clashes between the two NATO allies, since there are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in the city.
The PKK/PYD is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group, which has taken some 40,000 lives in its 30-year war against the Turkish state.
Pompeo also stated that a roadmap in line with the context of negotiations held during the tenure of Rex Tillerson, his predecessor, has been drawn.
US seeks return of pastor
Additionally, Pompeo said he also brought up the issue of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is facing terror charges in Turkey, and had asked Cavusoglu to return him to the U.S.
Describing the charges against Brunson as "completely wrong," Pompeo said his department is working hard to get Brunson home.
Arrested in Izmir, Turkey in December 2016, Brunson is charged with committing crimes on behalf of the PKK terror group and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the defeated coup attempt of July 2016.
Talks on S-400 deal continue
Asked about Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, Pompeo said talks are continuing to change Ankara’s mind.
He claimed the purchase would strain ties between Turkey and NATO due to military incompatibility, saying the U.S. had offered an alternative to the S-400.
"We are pressing diplomatically to make clear, we are trying to provide them alternatives as well," he said. "We are trying to do the things that will encourage them to come back."
Under its agreement with Russia -- reached after disagreement over purchasing U.S.-made air missile system Patriot -- Turkey is to buy two S-400 systems, due for delivery in late 2019-early 2020.