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Biden Visit Exposes Rift Between Turkey, US Over PYD

US Vice President Joe Biden's meetings with Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, during his visit to Turkey, have once again exposed a deepening rift between the two allies over treatment of the Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

At a joint news conference with Biden on Saturday, Davuto?lu reiterated Ankara's opposition to the PYD, which it considers the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist organization.

"We do not want Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIL], the PKK or the paramilitary forces of the regime [to participate in the Geneva talks]," Davuto?lu said after two-and-a-half hour meeting with Biden in ?stanbul.

Biden, who arrived in Turkey late on Thursday for a visit, reportedly said at a meeting with Turkish lawmakers on Friday that the PKK is different from the PYD. Davuto?lu responded to these remarks, calling the PYD a "terrorist organization collaborating with the Syrian regime" and saying its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), operates on orders from the PKK leadership based in northern Iraq, as he spoke to a group of journalists en route from Germany to Turkey late on Friday.

Turkey has threatened to boycott the Geneva talks if the Syrian Kurds participate.

"Turkey has privately warned the United Nations that it will walk out of the political process, which initially were set to start Monday, if Syrian Kurds whom Ankara accuses of being linked to a terrorist organization are included among the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad," Foreign Policy reported Jan. 22.

The magazine based its story on diplomats at the UN who spoke to Turkish officials at the World Economic Forum.

"Earlier this week, a Turkish delegation led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu issued its warning to withdraw from the International Syria Support Group, the multilateral group of nations overseeing the peace process, to the UN's envoy, Staffan de Mistura, in Davos, Switzerland," it said in the report.

At the press conference with Biden, Davuto?lu said the YPG was a part of the PKK and that it gets open support from the PKK, which he said was a threat not only to Turkey but to the entire region. The YPG, Davuto?lu said, is turning into a security risk due to its association with the PKK.

"Turkey considers the Assad [Syrian president Bashar al-Assad] regime, Daesh and the YPG a threat," he said.

He also said only the legitimate Syrian opposition should take part in the upcoming Syria peace talks, apparently ruling out support of possible PYD participation amid reports of Russian efforts pushing for the representation of the Kurdish group in the negotiations.

The latest round of Syria peace talks were initially scheduled to begin on Monday but faced several days' delay, partly because of a dispute over who will comprise the Syrian opposition delegation. Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the PYD, said on Friday that the Syria peace talks would fail if Syrian Kurds are not represented.

Both Turkey and the US recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization, but Washington draws a distinction between the PKK and the PYD, viewing the Syrian Kurdish group's fighters as an effective ground force against ISIL.

Biden said Turkey and the US agreed that ISIL, the al-Nusra Front and the PKK are all terrorist groups. Without mentioning the PYD or the YPG, he said Washington recognized that the PKK in Turkey was as much of a threat to Ankara as ISIL, and that Ankara had to do whatever was needed to protect its people.

"ISIL is not the only existential threat the PKK is equally [a] threat and we are aware of that," Biden said. "The PKK has shown no desire or inclination to do that [live in peace]. It is a terrorist group plain and simple. And what they continue to do is absolutely outrageous."

"We have a robust operation and commitment to defeat ISIL," said Biden, crediting Turkey for increasing efforts to secure its 550-mile (885-kilometer) border with Syria, as well as allowing anti-ISIL coalition aircraft to use Turkish bases for bombing runs against ISIL targets.

Divisions over PYD may hamper Geneva

The visit from the US's second strongman has only made disagreements between Turkey and US more apparent ahead of Geneva.

Observers of Biden's visit think that lingering differences over the two allies' approach to the PYD may hamper international efforts to bring warring sides in Geneva to a lasting solution, and may prove costly for Ankara.

The US vice president's messages during the visit were not encouraging for Turkish officials who tried to convince the US to toe its line regarding the PYD. But Hüseyin Ba?c?, professor of international relations from the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), says Turkish officials were unable to sell their anti-PYD argument to the US, which places great importance on the Syrian Kurdish group in the fight against ISIL.

As long as the ISIL threat remains in place, the importance of the PYD will be intact and outside powers will continue to adopt a different policy than Turkey, he told German-based Deutsche Welle. He said the American side would continue without Turkey regarding diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis and the fight against ISIL if they fail to forge any common ground over the PYD. He noted that Turkey's efforts in the international arena to undermine and degrade the PYD have failed, and Turkey would be ineffective in influencing the outcome in Syria and the new order to emerge in Syrian following international settlement of the conflict.

Another Turkish expert, Mehmet Okur, also told the same outlet that if Ankara sticks to its current Syrian policy, it may find itself outside the equation over reshaping Syria's political future.

Military solution in Syria

Biden also said the United States and Turkey were prepared for a military solution in Syria if a political settlement was not possible.

"We do know it would better if we can reach a political solution but we are prepared... if that's not possible, to have a military solution to this operation and taking out Daesh," Biden said at the news conference.

A US official was quoted by Reuters as clarifying that Biden was talking about a military solution to ISIL, not Syria as a whole.

On Iraq, Davuto?lu said the Turkish military was in the country to fight ISIL, and reiterated that Ankara respects Iraqi territorial unity.

Speaking to the media after the joint press conference, Turkish Prime Ministry sources said the US and Turkish sides agreed to strengthen coordination on the Bashiqa camp and the fight against ISIL in Iraq. It also said new initiatives will be taken to move forward, but did not elaborate.

Turkey sent troops to protect military trainers in Bashiqa near Mosul; however, the deployment drew the ire of the Iraqi central government, which declared the move a violation of its sovereignty. The US has also called on Turkey to withdraw troops unauthorized by the Iraqi government. Turkey has said the deployment was approved by the Iraqi government and that it was a measure against ISIL.

The Turkish prime minister also thanked Biden for visiting Cyprus, adding that the United States will have an important role in Cyprus peace talks.

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