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Hard talks ahead for Tillerson and Turkish officials amid Afrin operation

12 February 2018

United States officials agreed on Friday that most of Tillerson's discussions will likely be hard, saying those with NATO-ally Turkey will probably be especially prickly, given Turkish military action against US-backed Kurdish rebels in northern Syria and escalating anti-American rhetoric in Ankara.

Turkey is the second stop of Tillerson's five-nation visit to the Middle East next week, following a visit to Jordan.

"At times like this, engagement is all the more important", said a State Department official on Friday, while acknowledging, "It's going to be a hard conversation".

Tillerson will lead a USA delegation in Kuwait for a ministerial meeting of the US -led anti-Daesh coalition, and he will participate in a three-day Iran reconstruction conference.

On Jan 21, Jordan's King Abdullah told US Vice President Mike Pence that Washington must rebuild "trust and confidence" in a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians after President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The rhetoric is hot.

Another State Department official said Washington supported a "genuine and a credible electoral process". Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

"We are urging them to show restraint in their operations in Afrin and to show restraint further along the line across the (border) in northern Syria", a USA official told reporters in a conference call. He'll look to address Turkey's concerns about its borders in way to avoid killing civilians.

In Beirut, the Secretary Tillerson will meet with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. Tillerson also will raise human rights and democracy issues, according to officials, who previewed the trip on condition they not be quoted by name.

The Secretary's itinerary includes a stop in Turkey, where he will meet with senior Turkish officials to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues.

The chief USA diplomat will also lead a delegation to the ministerial meeting in Kuwait of the 74-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

The three-day Iraq Reconstruction Conference will showcase private sector investment opportunities and global support for Iraq.