CIA chief to visit Turkey, discuss Kurds, Gulen — officials
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CIA chief to visit Turkey, discuss Kurds, Gulen — officials

In first overseas trip, Mike Pompeo will review Ankara's request to extradite cleric accused of plotting coup, US support of Syrian rebels

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, walks to greet Ethiopia's President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu, at the Presidential Palace, in Ankara Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, walks to greet Ethiopia's President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu, at the Presidential Palace, in Ankara Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo will visit Turkey on Thursday in his first overseas trip to discuss security issues, including Turkey’s fight against a movement led by a US-based cleric accused of orchestrating the 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 US President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late on 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 Syrian Kurdish fighters — backed by the United States — which Ankara considers to be terrorists because of their affiliation with outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

Turkey wants the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, extradited from the United States. It is also demanding that Washington stop backing the Syrian Kurdish groups.

US Vice President Mike Pence, right, swears in Mike Pompeo as CIA director as his wife Susan looks on in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office at the Eisonhower Executive Office Building on January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/ NICHOLAS KAMM)
US Vice President Mike Pence, right, swears in Mike Pompeo as CIA director as his wife Susan looks on in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office at the Eisonhower Executive Office Building on January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/ NICHOLAS KAMM)

Ties between NATO allies Ankara and Washington were troubled under the Obama administration, with Turkey expressing frustrations over what it perceives as US 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.

Turkish cleric and opponent to the Erdogan regime Fethullah Gülen speaks at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania on July 18, 2016 (AFP/Thomas Urbain)
Turkish cleric and opponent to the Erdogan regime Fethullah Gülen speaks at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania on July 18, 2016 (AFP/Thomas Urbain)

Ankara 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. The two leaders agreed to meet “at the shortest time” possible, they said.

Trump and Erdogan also discussed a longstanding 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 US 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.

Fighters from the Kurdish-Arab alliance, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, prepare for an assault on the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Raqqa on December 10, 2016. (DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP) A US-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters announced "phase two" of its campaign for the Islamic State group's Syrian bastion of Raqa. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN
Fighters from the Kurdish-Arab alliance, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, prepare for an assault on the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Raqqa on December 10, 2016. (DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP)

The officials did not 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.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.

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