Joe Biden's Turkey visit: Fethullah Gülen, Syria and the other issues on the table - Firstpost
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Joe Biden's Turkey visit: Fethullah Gülen, Syria and the other issues on the table


Istanbul: US Vice President Joe Biden visits Turkey Wednesday for a brief trip set to last several hours, in between a trip to Latvia and Sweden.

US Vice President Joe Biden. AP

US Vice President Joe Biden. AP

The two allies are experiencing tensions which the visiting US leader will try to defuse as much as possible, but there is not necessarily a tidy resolution to all the issues at hand.

*Fethullah Gulen: The US-based preacher Turkey blames for the 15 July coup attempt. The Turkish born Islamic cleric was once allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the two have fallen out in recent years. Washington has sent teams to help Turkey prepare an evidence-based formal extradition request, but Ankara wants him immediately.

*Syria: Kurdish forces, backed by the United States, have been making significant gains recently against the Islamic State group, seizing territory from the extremists and declaring autonomous zones. The gains are helping to drastically reduce the foreign fighter flows over the porous Turkish border, along with increased security inside Turkey.

However, Ankara is wary of the advances by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), in part because of the group's links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which is fighting an insurgency in Turkey. Turkey wants the YPG to withdraw from areas it has taken from Islamic State.

For the US, the priority in Syria and Iraq is defeating Islamic State. Turkey remains focused on overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad and supporting various armed opposition factions.

*Post-coup crackdown: In the wake of last month's failed coup, Turkey has purged the civil service and military of many high-ranking officials. The US has admitted some of its key point men in Turkey have been removed from their posts. Notably, the commander of the joint Turkey-US military base Incirlik in the south of the country was allegedly involved in plotting the coup. The US uses the base to bomb Islamic State, a concession from Turkey granted last year after much wrangling.

*Russia: After the coup, Erdogan's first trip abroad was to Russia to mend fences with President Vladimir Putin. Turkey downed a Russian jet on the Syrian border in November, and Moscow slapped a mass of sanctions on Ankara. Tourism to Turkey from Russia plummeted by 93 per cent, devastating the sector. There has been some concern Turkey, a NATO member, could pivot to Russia or at least increase its security cooperation.

Turkish officials say they are merely resetting their relationship with Moscow and seeking warm ties, but do not intend to leave the Western camp. However, the more tensions are raised with the West - including a marked downturn in the relationship with the European Union - the more questions are asked about Turkey's direction.

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