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Tillerson Denies Syria Border Force    01/18 06:06

   PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday 
the United States owes Turkey an explanation for saying it is supporting the 
creation of a border security force in northern Syria --- a proposal that has 
drawn furious reaction from Ankara.

   Tillerson told reporters "that entire situation has been mis-portrayed, 
mis-described, some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security 
force at all."

   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed to "drown this army 
of terror before it is born." He warned U.S. troops against coming between 
Turkish troops and the Kurdish forces in Syria that Ankara views as an 
extension of Turkey's own Kurdish insurgency.

   The top U.S. diplomat said he had a brief meeting Tuesday with his Turkish 
counterpart on the sidelines of a meeting of American allies in Canada on North 
Korea policy. He clarified America's intentions, which he said were to provide 
training to local elements in areas liberated from the Islamic State group.

   "We have ISIS still attacking in parts of northwest Syria and along the 
Euphrates valley, so this is just more training and trying to block ISIS from 
their escape routes," Tillerson told reporters on his flight back to Washington 
after making a speech on U.S. policy on Syria at Stanford University in 
California.

   Tillerson said of Turkey, "We understand why they reacted the way they did."

   He said had spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday to make sure 
they are on the same page.

   U.S. officials have said it plans to expand a training program for local 
Kurdish and Arab border guards in Syria. The U.S.-led coalition says the force, 
expected to reach 30,000 in the next several years, would be deployed along 
Syria's borders with Turkey and Iraq. Some 230 cadets have already been 
recruited to the new border force, according to the coalition.

   Speaking earlier at Stanford, Tillerson indicated the U.S. would address 
Turkey's concern about "PKK terrorists" --- a reference to a Kurdish group 
inside Turkey.

   The speech was used by Tillerson to signal a deeper American commitment to 
Syria. He indicated that U.S. forces, currently numbering more than 2,000, 
would remain there for the forseeable future.

   He said it was crucial for the U.S. to maintain a military presence to 
prevent an Islamic State resurgence and avoid the "mistakes" of Iraq. He also 
said the U.S. would step up its diplomatic efforts and push for broader 
political changes in Syria, roiled by war that has claimed up to a half-million 
lives since it broke out in 2011.

   "Let us be clear, the United States will maintain a military presence in 
Syria focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge," Tillerson said.

   Recounting what went wrong in Iraq, Tillerson said, "We cannot allow history 
to repeat itself in Syria. ISIS presently has one foot in the grave, and by 
maintaining an American military presence in Syria, until the full and complete 
defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two."

   He told reporters that the overall U.S. mission remained defeating the 
Islamic State group and preventing its re-emergence. He said the U.S. would not 
be drawn into fighting against the forces of President Bashar Assad, despite 
Washington's desire to see him step down, or against Iran, despite the U.S. aim 
of ridding Syria of Iranian influence.

   "We've been very clear we're not there to in any way engage with the regime. 
We're not there to engage with Iran. We're there to defeat ISIS," Tillerson 
said.

   Backed by Russia and Iran, Assad has reasserted control over much of Syria. 
And Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. have grown worried that both of 
Assad's allies are now entrenched in the country, with Iran in particular 
posing an immediate threat to neighboring Israel.

   Tillerson illustrated how the U.S. would continue trying to isolate Assad's 
government even as the U.S. objective is "stabilization." Washington won't 
allow international reconstruction aid to flow to any part of Syria under 
Assad's control, he said. It will discourage countries from trading with his 
government.

   More immediate, Tillerson called for Russia to continue working with the 
U.S. on a "de-escalation" area in southwest Syria and stick to commitments to a 
U.N.-led peace process. The U.N. mediation has languished for years without any 
progress and fighting between Assad's military and rebel groups persists.


(KA)

 
 
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