The United States and Turkey have a shared perspective and see the same threats posed by extremist jihadists in the Middle East, a senior U.S. defense official has said, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
"The U.S. and Turkey see very much the same threats in this region and have a shared perspective. I think it is much broader than the U.S. and Turkey, I'd say," Derek Chollet, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, told daily Hurriyet in an interview following Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's trip to Ankara.
Hagel instructed Chollet to stay one day longer in Ankara to follow up his Sept. 8 talks with Turkish officials that were focused on Washington's proposal to gather a coalition of willing countries against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
"Secretary Hagel wanted to come to Turkey because Turkey is an indispensable ally of the United States on many challenges we face in the world, whether it be the threat from ISIL or broader regional issues happening in the Middle East," Chollet said.
He declined to comment on a question whether the İncirlik Base in southern Turkey would be used as part of the anti-ISIL campaign.
"Turkey sits on the border of Iraq and Syria and has over 1.3 million refugees, so we fully understand that for Turkey this is a central security issue regarding ISIL and what's going on in Iraq and Syria. We did not come to Turkey with a list; we came to really talk with our Turkish counterparts about the ways we can work together. We are not making demands on one another," Chollet added.
He also echoed President Barack Obama's statement that the struggle against ISIL would require a long term effort, "with many countries contributing their resources and efforts."
One of the issues that Turkish and American officials discussed in detail during Hagel's visit to Ankara was the problem of foreign fighters and the measures countries should take to stop the flow of fighters into Syria and Iraq.
"In terms of the issue of foreign fighters, it was discussed to the extent that President Obama is hosting a summit on foreign fighters in the U.N. Security Council. The specific resolution was not discussed in any of our meetings. We are very focused on foreign fighters; I know the government here is and many of our European partners are as well, as Secretary Hagel observed yesterday," Chollet said.
Border security is a general problem in the entire Middle East and is not just Turkey's problem, he added. "One of the conversations we had was about how we can work together to help strengthen border security. That's not a unique conversation between the U.S. and Turkey at all; it's something we have talked about with many partners around the world," he said.
Upon a question on cooperation with Turkey to increase border security, Chollet declined to "go into specifics."
Turkey is concerned that 49 of its citizens have been held as hostages by ISIL since June 11, so any active contribution from Turkey to the coalition could put their lives in danger.
Chollet said the U.S. was very aware of the sensitivity of this situation. "This is something that we fully understand the urgency of. We have had our own situation with hostages, as it's unfortunately been seen in the press with some of these hostages being killed by ISIL. So we are very aware of the urgency of the situation and the threat it poses," he said.
Another concern that Turkey has is that weapons to be provided to the groups fighting ISIL may end up in the wrong hands, such as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Chollet said this worry was also being taken seriously "because it is the last thing we want."