Turkey and the United States have engaged in a row over a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, with Ankara opposing the plan if the alliance fails to designate the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist organization.
Relations between Turkey and its NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, ranging from Ankara’s decision to procure Russian air defense systems to Syria policy.
Several NATO members condemned Turkey’s decision to launch an offensive into northeastern Syria against the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
While the rift between Turkey and its allies regarding the military offensive has been ongoing for a while, Ankara’s refusal to back the NATO plan added to the tensions between the country and the alliance ahead of the NATO summit in London.
Ahead of his departure from Ankara for the NATO summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda on the phone on Dec. 2 and had agreed to meet with him and leaders of Baltic countries in London to discuss the issue.
“With pleasure, we can come together and discuss these issues there as well,” he said on Dec. 3.
“But if our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations … we will stand against any step that will be taken there.”
Turkey perceives the YPG as a terrorist organization due to the group being the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terror group by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.
NATO envoys need formal approval by all 29 members for the plan to improve the defense of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia against any threat from neighboring Russia.
A Turkish security source said on Dec. 2 that Turkey is not “blackmailing” NATO with its rejection of the plans and that it has full veto rights within the alliance.
Also on Dec. 2, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged Turkey to stop holding up support for the NATO defense plan.
In an interview with Reuters ahead of the NATO summit, Esper warned Ankara that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and added he would not support labeling the YPG as terrorists to break the impasse.
He called on Ankara to focus on the larger challenges facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“The message to Turkey … is we need to move forward on these response plans and it can’t be held up by their own particular concerns,” Esper said as he flew to London.
“Alliance unity, alliance readiness, means that you focus on the bigger issues – the bigger issue being the readiness of the [NATO] alliance. And not everybody’s willing to sign up to their agenda. Not everybody sees the threats that they see.”
Turkey, France, Germany and the United Kingdom are expected to hold a separate meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Erdoğan said they would mainly discuss Turkish plans to establish a safe zone in northeast Syria, which has until now been met with criticism from Ankara’s European allies.
Separately, Turkey has been at odds with Greece and Cyprus over ownership of offshore natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Erdoğan said he will also meet with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in London.