US and Turkey attempt to make up over Syria

Evidence of a battle in Syria, near the Turkish border.
Evidence of a battle in Syria, near the Turkish border. Photo credit: Reuters

The United States and Turkey have pulled back from the brink of crisis, agreeing to normalise badly strained relations over Syria and other issues that had threatened the NATO allies' longstanding ties.

The two sides have agreed in principle to form working groups to examine points of contention and try to resolve them.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday announced the creation of new "mechanisms" to improve the relationship, starting with the question of American support for Kurdish rebels in northern Syria, after talks in Ankara.

Those talks followed a lengthy meeting among Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Cavusoglu and Mr Tillerson late on Thursday.

"We brought forward proposals on how we can address all of the critical issues that are standing between our countries," Mr Tillerson said during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart.

He said that joint working groups would take up specifics issues including troop deployments to address Turkish border security concerns.

Turkey is riled over Washington's support to the Kurdish YPG - the top US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Turkey considers it a "terrorist" group linked to Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Ties have also sunk to an all-time low over, what Turkey perceives to be Washington's reluctance to extradite US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for a failed coup in 2016.

The US for its part is angered by the detention of US citizens and of Turkish employees of US consulates in Turkey on alleged terror charges.

"We find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship," Mr Tillerson said on Friday.

"We're going to work together moving forward."

Mr Tillerson said the first committee would begin working in mid-March and deal with the issue of the town of Manbij, held by the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia and where the US has a military presence.

Turkey has long pressed the US to ensure that the YPG leave Manbij and has threatened to extend an offensive to drive Syrian Kurds out.

"Our relations were at a critical turning point," Mr Cavusoglu said. "We were either going to correct this or it was going to take a turn for the worse.

Mr Cavusoglu repeated that promises made by the previous US administration about the YPG moving to the east of the river Euphrates were broken.

Mr Tillerson said the United States was open to hearing more "evidence" against the organisation.

The US considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters the most effective fighting force in the battle to defeat IS in Syria.