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US-Turkey Agreement Could Slow 'Jihadist Highway'


In this Sept. 2014 file photo, Syrian refugees arrive at the Oncupinar Turkey-Syria border gate near Kilis, Turkey. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

In this Sept. 2014 file photo, Syrian refugees arrive at the Oncupinar Turkey-Syria border gate near Kilis, Turkey. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The United States and Turkey are said to be close to signing an agreement to improve cooperation in fighting groups like the self-declared Islamic State.

John Bass is the U.S. ambassador to Turkey. He says the proposed deal is aimed at improving cooperation and information-sharing between the two countries’ security forces in the fight against the Islamic State.

Media reports and some of Turkey’s allies have accused the Turkish government of letting the country become what they call a “jihadhist highway” to Syria. They accuse the government of doing little to stop jihadists, Muslims who support the idea of a war against non-believers.

Turkish officials have rejected such criticism. They instead blame Turkey’s allies for failing to stop jihadists from leaving their home countries.

Semih Idiz writes about diplomacy for the Taraf newspaper and Al Monitor website. He says that over the past few months, the government appears to have changed policy. He has noted an increase in the number of arrests and expulsions of possible jihadists.

“If you ask the Turkish officials, they will say, you know: “It’s, it’s been the same all along.’ But I do think there is a change. I think initially they started off by perhaps turning a slight blind eye to groups like Al Nusra, assuming that these would get rid of (Syrian President) Assad.”

Part of the planned security deal is aimed at improving the sharing of intelligence information between Turkey and the United States. Turkish officials have repeatedly noted the failure of the country’s allies to provide current information about would-be jihadists going to Turkey.

Soli Ozel teaches international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. He says Turkish officials have widely publicized the growing number of detentions and deportations of jihadists. But Mr. Ozel says questions remain about the government’s desire to take steps against the Islamic State, often called IS.

“Turkey is doing a lot more than it did before, but I mean there was just this piece of news in The New York Times about fertilizers that can be used as explosives being freely-sent to IS-held territories. So obviously this is not a very stringent embargoing against IS at all. I don’t think Turkey has IS as its priority. I still think there is a difference between the Turkish and the American approach and I’m not sure that it can be bridged soon.”

Turkey and the United States disagree about the cause of unrest in the area. Turkey says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is to blame. The United States says the Islamic State is responsible. This disagreement has slowed a U.S.-supported effort to train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State.

In February, Turkey agreed to help train and supply 3,000 fighters on its territory. But the program was repeatedly delayed. Reports say the delay resulted from Turkish demands to use the fighters against both Syrian government troops and the Islamic State, also called “Daesh.”

At a meeting with reporters this month, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken was asked about the apparent dispute. He noted that Turkey has been helpful in fighting militants.

“Turkey is a critical partner in that effort, and what we are seeing is very close collaboration across the board in trying to deal with the threat posed by Daesh.”

Observers say the proposed security deal could improve relations between the countries. Semih Idiz says the two sides can disagree about some issues. But he says it is important to note that Turkey can still support U.S. policy in the area.

"This kind of talk is not very fruitful as far as the American side is concerned. Because there is a certain element of cooperation that is going on already. And this reinforcing of ties will create an atmosphere where, you know, the public awareness will be that the two allies are acting together again. This does not mean that the two countries (will) engage in military operations in Syria, for example, or establish the buffer zone Turkey wants there. But I think that it will probably mean things like, sort of, base facilities enabling drone flights…”

Critics are likely to argue that the security agreement will not end the deep differences over policy towards Syria and the battle against the Islamic State. But if the deal can lead to greater cooperation in some areas, observers say, that will help to reduce suspicions and tensions between the two countries.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Dorian Jones reported on this story from Istanbul. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it into Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

blind eye – idiom to look the other way; to refuse to see something

deport(ation) – v. to force (a person who is not a citizen) to leave a country; expulsion

stringent – adj. severe

embargo – n. a government order that limits trade in some way

approach – n. a way of dealing with something; a way of doing or thinking about something

bridge – v. to make a bridge over or across (something); n. a structure built over a valley, waterway or road so people and vehicles can travel from one side to the other

collaboration – n. cooperation; the result of having worked with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

across the board – idiom/adj. affecting everyone or everything in a group

element – n. a part of something (such as a situation or activity)

reinforcing – v. to give support to (an idea, behavior or feeling)

atmosphere – n. the particular way a place or situation makes you feel

buffer zone – n. an area that keeps two things separated; neutral area

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