US Vice President Mike Pence. AFP PHOTO
US Vice President Mike Pence has told Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that the new administration wanted a “new start” in relations between the two NATO member states, local media reported Sunday.
Turkey is looking to improve relations with Washington under President Donald Trump after ties soured during Barack Obama’s time in office.
Pence said the United States was ready to further develop ties during a meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the Munich security conference, the private NTV channel reported.
Last week, new CIA chief Mike Pompeo visited Ankara less than 48 hours after Trump spoke for the first time by phone with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Yildirim told Pence that Turkey was “ready for all kinds of cooperation” on the issue of Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, NTV said.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, is accused by Ankara of ordering the failed coup which tried to overthrow Erdogan last July.
He strongly denies the charges but Ankara has repeatedly called for his extradition.
The issue became a bone of contention between Ankara and the Obama administration after Washington said a possibly slow legal process should take its course.
Yildirim said moves towards his extradition by the new administration would “open a new page” in relations, according to NTV.
The official statement from the White House on their meeting said Pence reiterated the US commitment to Turkey as a strategic partner and NATO ally.
“The two leaders also discussed ways to accelerate our joint efforts to defeat ISIS (the Islamic State group),” the White House added.
The two men also discussed finding a permanent solution to the Syrian conflict, NTV added.
Turkey launched an ambitious military operation in northern Syria in August, supporting opposition fighters to clear IS elements from its border and halt the advance of Syrian Kurdish militia.
At a rally in the southeastern city of Gaziantep on Sunday, Erdogan said one of the next steps in the operation would be to clear the de facto IS capital Raqa with the support of the US and other countries.
“If we agree with the US, if we agree with the coalition forces, if we agree with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, we will clear those killers called Daesh (IS) from Raqa,” he said.
But issues remain over whether Trump will continue to support the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) against IS and any future Raqa operation.
Turkey views the PYD and YPG as sister organisations of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.