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US, Turkey intensify war of words over Syria, Russian missiles

Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pose for the Family Photo | July 11, 2018 (Shealah Craighead/White House)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A war of words between NATO allies the United States and Turkey has intensified, with the sides disputing the readout of a meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers regarding Syria

Washington and Ankara on April 4 also disagreed about the formation of a “working group” to settle differences over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system that U.S. and other NATO officials vehemently oppose.

Turkey sharply criticized remarks by the U.S. State Department over a meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO.

The State Department said Pompeo had warned Ankara of “potentially devastating consequences” if Ankara were to launch an offensive in Syria and urged the “swift resolution” of legal cases involving “unjustly detained U.S. citizens” in Turkey.

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Turkey’s Foreign Ministry slammed the U.S. statement, saying it failed to reflect the content of the meeting and included issues that were not discussed.

“Our alliance naturally requires that such statements are prepared with greater care, while avoiding to include matters that were not raised during meetings,” spokesman Hami Aksoy said.

Cavusoglu later added that he was “really surprised” by the U.S. readout of his meeting with Pompeo.

“I was there…such language was never used, on Syria particularly they never mentioned such things about unilateral actions from Turkey,” Cavusoglu told reporters.

“Whether you look at the tone of the statement or the sentences it claimed Pompeo told us, we see it doesn’t reflect the truth,” he added.

‘I Stand By Every Word’

Asked about the Turkish remarks, Pompeo told reporters he stood by the State Department’s readout of the meeting with Cavusoglu.

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“I saw the comments by my Turkish counterpart. I reread the readout of our meeting — spot on. Stand by every word of it,” Pompeo told reporters.

He added, though, that “there’s great opportunities for the United States and Turkey to work closely together. I had a good, long conversation with the Turkish foreign minister yesterday and I am very confident we’ll find a path forward.”

The United States and Turkey support differing anti-government rebels in Syria’s eight-year civil war.

The U.S. military has been backing Syrian Kurdish fighters in the north of the country in their battle against Islamic State (IS) extremists. Ankara considers the Kurds to be terrorists with ties to Kurdish separatists operating in Turkey and has vowed to wipe them out.

Meanwhile, the two countries are also at loggerheads over Ankara’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems, which are not compatible with NATO systems and are seen as a threat to U.S.-made F-35 jets.

Cavusoglu suggested on April 3 that a working group be formed between the Pentagon and Turkey to address the matter, but Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said a day later that “a technical working group at this stage is not necessary or a path the United States is considering as a resolution.”

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