ANKARA, Turkey -- CIA Director Mike Pompeo will visit Turkey on Thursday in his first overseas visit to discuss security issues, including Turkey’s fight against a movement led by a U.S.-based cleric accused of orchestrating a failed military coup, Turkish officials said, in a sign of improving relations between the allies.
Pompeo’s visit was decided during a 45-minute telephone conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Tuesday, according to officials from Erdogan’s office. They briefed a group of journalists Wednesday on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.
The officials said Pompeo would also discuss the issue of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, who the Turkish government considers to be terrorists because of their affiliation with outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.
Ties between Turkey and the U.S., which are NATO allies, were troubled under the Obama administration. Turkey expressed frustrations over what it perceives as U.S. reluctance to extradite Gulen, and the support provided to the Syrian Kurdish fighters. The Obama administration regarded the fighters as the most effective group in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.
The Turkish government has pinned hopes for improved ties on Trump’s presidency and the call was being closely watched in Turkey.
The officials said the telephone conversation was “positive and conducted in a sincere atmosphere” and both leaders stressed their strong alliance and need for close cooperation. Both leaders agreed to meet “at the shortest time” possible, they said.
Trump and Erdogan also discussed a long-standing Turkish call for the creation of safe zones in Syria, the refugee crisis and the fight against extremist groups, the officials said, without elaborating.
The U.S. president reportedly told Erdogan Washington wished to develop ties with Turkey and to engage in close cooperation with the country on regional issues.
Erdogan for his part requested that Washington “stand with Turkey” in its struggle against the Gulen movement and not to support Syrian Kurdish fighters.
According to the officials, Trump and Erdogan agreed to “move together” in operations to capture Islamic State group-held strongholds of al-Bab and Raqqa in northern Syria.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking at a joint news conference with his Saudi counterpart in Ankara, sounded optimistic about the Trump administration’s future cooperation.
“On the issue of fighting Daesh, we - that is Turkey and Saudi Arabia - will be cooperating with the United States,” Cavusoglu said. “We believe that the fight from now on will be more effective and that we will be able to clear both Syria and Iraq of Daesh.” He was using an Arabic acronym for the IS group.
“We told the previous administration not to rely on or trust a terror organization to fight an organization like Daesh. We said it would be a mistake but we were not able to get them to listen,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu said members of the U.S.-led coalition against IS could send special operation teams to seize Raqqa from the extremists, without relying on the Syrian Kurdish fighters.
“The operation in Raqqa should be conducted with the right (groups) not with terror organizations,” he said.
The officials from Erdogan’s office didn’t say whether Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations was raised during their talk.
Last year, Erdogan criticized Trump - then a Republican presidential candidate - over his comments about barring Muslims from entering the United States and called for his name to be removed from the Trump Towers in Istanbul.
However, the normally outspoken Erdogan has not yet commented in public on the travel ban which is being reviewed by a federal appeals court.