World Bulletin / News Desk
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will devote part of his upcoming visit to Turkey to discuss the campaign to seize Raqqah from ISIL, senior State Department officials said Monday.
Broader stabilization efforts in Syria will also be discussed.
Tillerson will arrive in Ankara on Thursday to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials.
His discussions will follow on meetings Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford has held with senior Turkish officials during the past few weeks.
"Next steps" in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat ISIL will be addressed, particularly stabilization efforts and "the imperative need to remove ISIl from its capital in Raqqah",
"We want to see, particularly on the borders of our critical allies, stability. So that’s one reason that this will be a key focus of our discussions in Ankara," he said
The officials briefed reporters on condition they not be named because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the content of Tillerson's trip.
The meetings will come at a critical juncture for U.S.-led efforts to defeat ISIL in Syria where an official said efforts are "accelerating" to isolate ISIL in Raqqah.
Seizing Raqqah "will be a very difficult military endeavor", the official said.
The campaign for ISIL's self-declared Syrian capital has been led by the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). U.S. assistance to the group has vexed Anakra, as it is heavily comprised of the YPG, a group Ankara views as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK.
The U.S., Turkey and the EU have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization, but Washington has refrained from doing so with the YPG, instead heavily relying on it to combat ISIL in Syria.
One of the State Department officials said the U.S. is "very mindful of Turkey's concerns", but that U.S. support for the SDF would continue.
"This is something that will continue to be a topic of conversation," he said.
Regarding Turkey's ongoing efforts to combat ISIL in northern Syria, an official said the U.S. is "proud" to support the ongoing Euphrates Shield operations through its air strikes, equipment, intelligence and partnered operations, and that the efforts will be reviewed when Tillerson is in Ankara, as well as additional measures that may be taken.
"The secretary will have a chance to express his appreciation to Turkey for their efforts in supporting opposition forces as they cleared ISIS from al-Bab and closing that important strip of border to ISIS terrorists," an official said.
During his visit to Turkey, Tillerson will offer his condolences to the Turkish people for the victims of terror attacks, the official said, noting Turkey "has suffered more losses to terrorism than all the Europeans combined".
On the extradition of Fetullah Gulen, which Turkey has been seeking, officials said the matter principally falls to the Justice Department, but if Turkish officials raise it, Tillerson will be prepared to respond.
America's top diplomat will not meet with Turkish opposition leaders while he is in Turkey ahead of the April 16 referendum, an official confirmed. Other unspecified State Department officials will meet with opposition party members in the referendum's run-up, the official said.
After traveling to Turkey, Tillerson will visit NATO in Brussels on March 31.
Last Mod: 28 Mart 2017, 08:24