TURKISH and US officials were plotting yesterday to expand Turkey’s invasion of Syria — even as nations talked peace in Kazakhstan.
Speaking at the same Nato defence ministers’ summit in Brussels, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said Washington was not ready to co-operate militarily with Russia.
That appeared to conflict with US President Donald Trump’s claim that the two countries would fight Isis together in Syria.
Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said US chief of staff General Joe Dunford was set to arrive today for talks on a possible joint operation to occupy the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, a city in central Syria.
He said the impression he had from meetings with Washington officials was that the Trump administration does not intend to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to liberate Raqqa.
Invading Turkish forces have targeted the YPG, with Ankara claiming that it and its parent organisation the Democratic Union Party are linked to Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Gen Dunford was later set to meet his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku — their first encounter since Mr Trump was elected last year.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government held a second face-to-face meeting with Western-backed insurgents in the Kazakh capital Astana, ahead of next week’s twice-postponed peace talks in Geneva.
Russian representative Sergei Vershinin said his country, Iran and Turkey had agreed to form a permanent contact group to “preserve and strengthen the cessation of hostilities” in Syria.
But Syria’s representative, UN ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, slammed Turkey for its continued support of terrorist groups in the six-year war.
He said Ankara “cannot be fanning the flames and be extinguishing them at the same time.”
He demanded that Turkey withdraw its troops from Syria and accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of continuing to facilitate the entry of “tens of thousands of mercenaries” into Syria.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura in Moscow.
Mr Mistura said Syrian government and insurgent delegates would start arriving in Geneva on February 20, three days before the official start of the talks, for bilateral meetings with UN officials.
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