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Biden terms PKK outrageous, hails Turkey’s help in IS fight

Biden terms PKK outrageous, hails Turkey’s help in IS fight

ISTANBUL: US Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday condemned the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a “terror group plain and simple” and a threat to Turkey like the militant Islamic State (IS) group, hailing the growing cooperation with Ankara in the fight against militants.

After talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul, Biden pleased his hosts with a ringing denunciation of the “outrageous” attacks by the PKK, which the Turkish military is seeking to cripple in a relentless but controversial campaign.

He praised much closer cooperation in the fight against IS between Washington and Ankara, which had been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to the extremists.

He also spoke of the possibility of a “military operation” in Syria should peace talks fail but the White House later made clear he was only referring to current coalition military operations against IS.

The PKK, listed as a terror group by Washington and the EU, has killed dozens of members of the Turkish security forces in attacks since a truce collapsed in July.

However Turkey has expressed concern that Washington was seeking to woo the PKK as an ally in the fight against IS and vehemently opposed any move to delist it as a terror group.

Ankara is also concerned about the extent of US cooperation in Syria with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as a branch of the PKK. IS “is not the only existential threat to the people of Turkey, the PKK is equally a threat and we are aware of that... it is a terror group plain and simple and what they continue to do is absolutely outrageous,” Biden said.

“We do agree with you that in terms of their actions Daesh (IS), PKK and (Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate) Al-Nusra... are simply terrorist groups,” said Biden. Davutoglu emphasised Ankara saw no difference between IS, PKK, Nusra and the extreme-left DHKP-C.

“We were pleased to have seen in the talks our approach is shared”. He also reaffirmed Turkey’s opposition to the YPG, which he accused of carrying out ethnic cleansing in northern Syria and being “part of the PKK and receiving open support from the PKK”.The US vice president praised Turkey for taking “very important steps to improve the security of its border” from IS militants who until recently controlled much of the frontier region in Syria.

Biden said Turkey and the United States were coordinating ever more precisely on what is a “shared mission on the extermination of IS”.

“We do believe our plans together have gotten more contoured and more coordinated,” he said.

“We are increasingly making progress and that progress will be sped up as a result of our meeting today”. He said the two sides also discussed bolstering support of Sunni Arab groups inside Syria to cut off any remaining access that IS has to the border region.

“That is a priority for both our nations so we can prevent new fighters and equipment from reaching IS fighters,” he added.

The US vice president said work was continuing on finding a political solution to Syria’s almost five year civil war, saying: “We are neither optimistic or pessimistic. We are determined”. He added: “But we are prepared if that is not possible to having a military solution to this operation and taking out Daesh (IS),” he said.

A US official emphasised that Biden’s comments did not herald any change in US policy in Syria, saying he was referring to the simultaneous pursuit of a political solution alongside the fight against IS.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2016

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