Washington's top diplomat said Saturday he was "optimistic" a way could be found to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to "defend their country from terrorists" despite a US pullout from Syria. "We are confident we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told journalists in Abu Dhabi. The Gulf emirate is his latest stop in a regional tour aimed at reassuring allies after a shock December announcement by President Donald Trump that US troops would be withdrawn from Syria.
Pompeo's remarks follow tensions between the US and Turkey over the fate of Washington's Syrian Kurdish allies in the fight against Islamic State jihadists. Turkey had reacted angrily to suggestions that Trump's plan to withdraw troops was conditional on the safety of the US-backed Kurdish fighters, seen by the Turkish government as terrorists. US-led operations against IS in Syria have been spearheaded on the ground by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.
Turkey sees the backbone of that alliance, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist group linked to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. Pompeo said Friday that Washington recognised "the Turkish people's right and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's right to defend their country from terrorists". But, he added, "we also know that those are fighting alongside us for all this time deserve to be protected as well." Pompeo said he had spoken to Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. "Many details (are) still to be worked out but I'm optimistic that we can achieve a good outcome," he said.
(With inputs from agencies.)