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US, Turkey Talk Middle East Moves as Battle for Raqqa Heats Up

© AP Photo / Public DomainISIL marching in Raqqa, Syria.
ISIL marching in Raqqa, Syria. - Sputnik International
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As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, questions arise over whether Ankara and Washington can improve their relationship as the fight for Raqqa intensifies.

Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear spoke with journalist Ben Norton about whether the US can navigate shifting interests in the Middle East.

Though Ankara has announced the end of "Operation Euphrates Shield," it still isn’t clear whether Turkey is going to leave Syria or continue supporting armed militant groups there.

Norton said that at the meeting between Erdogan and Tillerson, "It’s likely that they’re going to discuss three main issues and those are Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Of course the Trump administration’s policies on some of these countries is still up in the air. In the past week it has looked like the Trump administration has tried to ramp up the war in Yemen and Turkey is likely going to be on the side of the US there, also on the side of Saudi Arabia."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on issues related to visas and travel after US President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, US on March 6, 2017. - Sputnik International
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When it comes to Syria and Iraq, Norton said it’s difficult to predict whether Washington and Ankara will see eye to eye, particularly as it pertains to the Kurds. He noted that that Turkey has played a "duplicitous" in its approach to Daesh.

"For years, they let thousands of ISIS fighters cross its border into Syria and then ISIS began attacking Turkey when they allowed the US-led coalition to use its Incirlik Air base," he explained. "Now Turkey’s participating in the war on ISIS.  However, I think the US and Turkey are not going to be able to square the circle when it comes to the Kurds."

"The central contradiction of the Trump administration foreign policy," he added, "[is that] they claim that it wants to destroy extremism in the region, however, it is unable to grapple with the fact that its closest allies, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are the primary sponsors of that extremism."

Norton pointed out that recently Washington has been strengthening ties with Riyadh by building up its economic and military cooperation, especially as it pertains to oil, and President Trump himself met with Saudi leader Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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He called Iran "the elephant in the room" in the discussion because Tehran "is leading the fight against ISIS and other extremist groups." 

"It’s important to understand that the Trump administration and even many Democrats try to lump Iran in with other Islamist extremists but basically all the groups we’re talking about – al-Qaeda, ISIS – are hardline extreme Sunni groups, that see Shia as apostate and have a genocidal hatred towards them. Iran of course is the largest Shia majority country."

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