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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Tillerson and McMaster expected to visit Turkey amid strained ties

The trips will likely focus on Ankara's intervention in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, where Turkish troops are targeting US-backed Kurdish forces

US President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left), Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and National Security Adviser HR McMaster listen at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 11, 2017. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
US President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left), Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and National Security Adviser HR McMaster listen at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 11, 2017. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster are expected to visit Turkey on separate trips in the coming days, amid strained relations between the two countries.

Mr Tillerson’s trip to the region is also set to take him to Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt and Lebanon.

Officials in Ankara said Mr McMaster was expected to arrive in Turkey at the weekend, and Mr Tillerson on Tuesday.

“These visits are important because we are in efforts to re-establish trust with the US,” said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“These are in fact concrete steps to be taken by the US to provide this trust.”

The trips will probably focus on Ankara’s intervention in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, where Turkish troops are targeting US-backed Kurdish forces.

With the operation approaching its third week, the United States has raised questions over Turkey’s lack of clarity on the goals of the offensive.

Ankara has claimed the campaign is also targeting ISIL but there have been no credible reports of the extremist group having a presence in the Afrin region.

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Read more:

In Syria's Afrin, locals enlist in YPG and mobilise to defend hometown against Turkey

Opinion: Turkey's objectives are not quite what they seem in Afrin

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Also on Wednesday, the Trump administration called on Turkey to end its state of emergency — imposed following a failed coup in July 2016 — and safeguard the rule of law. It followed the re-arrest of the chairman of the local branch of Amnesty International.

AA White House official did not confirm that Mr McMaster was visiting Turkey, telling The National “we have nothing to announce at this time”.

But a trip by him would follow a visit to Turkey last month by the US State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Jonathan Cohen, and the Defence Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Nato Policy, Thomas Goffus.

Mr Tillerson’s trip is centred around his participation in an international conference on Iraqi reconstruction that is being held in Kuwait from February 12 to 14.

The sources said Mr Tillerson was then expected to travel to Lebanon on February 15 for a one-day visit – the first time that a member of Mr Trump’s cabinet will have travelled to the country.

Mr Tillerson’s predecessor, John Kerry, last visited Beirut in 2014. Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, David Satterfield, was in Lebanon this week to plan for the secretary of state’s upcoming visit.

Mr Tillerson is also expected to visit Egypt and Jordan to follow up on US Vice President Mike Pence’s meetings. In Jordan, Mr Tillerson will discuss the US-Jordan Defence Co-operation Act, which passed the US House of Representatives earlier this week.

The sources cautioned that the itinerary for Mr Tillerson’s Middle East tour was subject to change, however, and the State Department has not yet officially announced the trip.