In a quick turnaround of diplomacy, the new US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, acknowledged late on Monday that the Kurdish separatist group PKK was indeed responsible for the recent killings of 13 Turkish nationals in a cave in northern Iraq.
Additionally, Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu in a free-wheeling, wide-ranging conversation which appeared to pave the way for future talks between the new American administration and Turkey.
The initial State Department statement issued earlier on Monday after the killings were made public hinted that it was possible that the PKK was not responsible for what Turkey called the “slaughter” of the thirteen men, who had been held hostage in a cave.
The areas of northern Iraq where they were being held is often the target of Turkish military campaigns. A telephone call smoothed the diplomatic waters after Turkey’s indignant reaction to the US’ initial statement, which condemned the terror organization — but only on the condition that the news about the incident was indeed confirmed.
The initial statement appeared to cast doubt on the official Turkish line, implying that it could have been other forces which killed the thirteen men.
The second statement, issued late Monday by the office of the new Secretary of State, read “The Secretary expressed condolences for the deaths of Turkish hostages in northern Iraq and affirmed our view that PKK terrorists bear responsibility.”
Blinken-Cavusoglu conversation was first contact between the two officials
The later announcement was made after a phone conversation which was held late in the day between the U.S. Secretary of State and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
The conversation represented the first contact to be established between the top Turkish and American diplomats after the new U.S. administration took office on Jan. 20.
The phone contact appeared to have smoothed the waters between the two NATO allies, which have often been at odds since Ankara’s July 2019 purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, for which Turkish officials were sanctioned by the United States.
Russian missile system also part of wide-ranging conversation
A report in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, citing diplomatic sources, states that Çavuşoğlu and Blinken discussed a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including FETÖ – the group behind the Turkish coup attempt of 2016 – the Kurdish YPG and PKK groups, and Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.
The conversation between the two also reportedly addressed issues including the long-simmering tensions in the Mediterranean and Syria.
Blinken and Çavuşoğlu agreed to develop what was termed an “open and sincere” dialogue between Turkey and the new American administration based on mutual respect.
“All issues” to be discussed in upcoming talks
In addition, it was reported that the two nations’ representatives would discuss in detail “all issues on the agenda” in the coming days, according to sources.
Earlier on Monday, Çavuşoğlu had expressed what was called “discomfort” over the American statement on the killing of the thirteen Turkish men, and the Foreign Ministry even recalled the Turkish Ambassador to Washington to protest the statement “in the strongest terms.”
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on late on Monday “Secretary Blinken emphasized the longstanding importance of the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship, our shared interest in countering terrorism, and the importance of democratic institutions, inclusive governance, and respect for human rights.
“Both sides pledged to strengthen cooperation and support for a political resolution to the conflict in Syria,” Price added.
US Ambassador to Turkey Satterfield visits Turkish Defense Ministry
The US Ambassador to Turkey also paid a separate visit to the Turkish Defense Ministry later in the day on Monday to speak to officials there about the PKK’s massacre of the thirteen Turkish nationals.
Turkey says that the men had all been part of their Army’s operation tasked with routing out terrorists’ hideouts in the Gara region of northern Iraq.
The Turkish Defense Ministry stated that Satterfield confirmed at that meeting that the U.S. indeed holds the terrorist group PKK responsible for the massacre.
Ambassador Satterfield also offered condolences on behalf of his country for all the soldiers killed in Turkey’s anti-terror operation in Gara and the thirteen citizens killed by PKK terrorists, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.