Biden denies differences of opinions on Syria with Turkey ahead of key visit

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to hold two days of talks in Turkey on Jan. 22 and 23 with particular emphasis on Iraq and Syria as well as the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

Turkey and the United States have common interests in Syria, Biden said, denying the existence of any differences between the two allies.

Biden was scheduled to arrive in Istanbul late on Jan. 21 from Davos and begin his program on Jan. 22 in the afternoon with a roundtable meeting with civil society representatives.

Biden’s official talks will take place on Jan. 23, when he will first meet Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and then President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before departing for Washington.

Biden and Davutoğlu will hold a press conference following their meeting on Jan. 23.

Biden’s visit comes just days before the scheduled beginning of negotiations between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition representatives in Geneva.

Responding to a question by an Anadolu Agency reporter in Davos, Biden denied claims of differences between Turkey and the U.S. on Syria, stressing: “We have common interests. I believe Turkey and the United States will reach their common objective in Syria.”

Both Turkey and the U.S. support the Vienna process that envisages the establishment of an interim government in the first six month of 2016 to which al-Assad will transfer all of his authorities.

Targeting ISIL

In parallel to the Syrian issue, Biden and Turkish officials will also conduct in-depth discussions about the ways to further weaken ISIL and defeat it through an intensified military campaign. Turkey and the U.S. have already agreed to seal the final portion of the Turkish border to ISIL and create an ISIL-free zone along the Marea-Jarablus line.

A military operation to push back ISIL from Jarablus had to be postponed because the ongoing Turkish-Russian crisis prevented Turkish warplanes from flying over Syria, but the subject will be on the agenda during the Jan. 23 talks.

The two governments will also assess the state of the ongoing fight against ISIL and discuss future phases of the international community’s struggle to defeat the organization.

Iraq also on table

Another important issue will be the presence of Turkish troops at the Bashiqa military base near Mosul, which has been the source of tension between Ankara and Baghdad since Dec. 4, 2015. Biden was actively engaged in attempting to de-escalate tensions between Turkey and Iraq by convincing the Turkish government that it should first seek Baghdad’s permission before any military deployment to Iraq.

Among other issues to be discussed between the two countries will be the normalization of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel, the reunification of Cyprus, developments in Ukraine and tension with Russia over the downing of the Russian jet.

Problems over democracy in Turkey

Biden is also expected to raise Washington’s concerns about recent violations of human rights, especially freedom of expression and freedom of press. The U.S. has openly criticized the detention of two prominent journalists from daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, among other jailed journalists and the launch of an investigation into more than one 1,000 academics for issuing a declaration criticizing the government’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Although the U.S. supports Turkey’s fight against the PKK, it has also called on the government to re-launch the political dialogue process to resolve the Kurdish question.

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