Tillerson sees tough talks with Turkey, others on Mideast trip

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Rex Tillerson

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expects to have tough talks during a five-nation trip of the Middle East next week, including in Turkey, where he will urge leaders to rein in an offensive in northern Syria, US officials said on Friday.
Briefing reporters on Tillerson’s February 11-16 trip to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Kuwait, US officials acknowledged there would be difficult conversations at each stop.
Jordanian leaders were upset when the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and suspended some aid for the Palestinians.
Tillerson’s trip to Cairo, where he will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to emphasize joint security cooperation, takes place just as Egypt has launched a major military offensive against militants on the Sinai peninsula.
Egypt also faces a March 26-28 election in which Sisi has only a single, last-minute challenger who had previously said he supported the incumbent.
In Kuwait, Tillerson will attend an Iraq reconstruction conference at which Washington does not plan to contribute any money. Still, he hopes to make headway toward ending a dispute between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Kuwait has sought to broker an end to the dispute triggered when the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar last June.
They accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and their arch-rival Iran. Doha denies the charges and says the countries are trying to curtail its sovereignty.
Turkey, a US ally, has launched a military air and ground operation into the Afrin region in northwest Syria targeting the Kurdish YPG militia despite US objections.
The United States and Turkey are allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Yet they have diverging interests in the Syrian civil war, with Washington focused on defeating Daesh and Ankara keen to prevent Syria’s Kurds from gaining autonomy and fueling Kurdish insurgents on Turkish soil.
“We are urging them to show restraint in their operations in Afrin and to show restraint further along the line across the (border) in northern Syria,” a US State Department official told reporters in a conference call. “That’s going to be a difficult conversation.” …Agencies

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