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VP Biden to Tackle Key Conflicts in Travels to Ukraine, Turkey

  • Aru Pande

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will tackle two conflicts at the forefront of American foreign policy when he visits Ukraine, Morocco and Turkey next week, including continued Russian aggression in Ukraine and the fight against the Islamic State.

Biden will meet with President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine as reports surface that Russian tanks are rolling across the border and fears are rising that a new rebel offensive is underway, further threatening a fragile ceasefire deal reached in Minsk in September.

“There is a lot of indication that suggests to me that Russia is not interested in promoting a solution based on Minsk, but it is interested in a frozen conflict," said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer.

The senior fellow at Brookings Institution points to Russia’s refusal to withdraw troops and equipment, its opposition to European (OSCE or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) monitors along the Ukrainian-Russian border, and Moscow's support for rebel-organized elections in eastern Ukraine that were widely criticized by the West.

“Unfortunately we see no real interest on the part of Russians in moving to a peaceful settlement. And so what that means for the West is that the West has to continue to apply economic sanctions. There is lots of evidence that the sanctions are having a significant economic impact," he said.

Biden will tackle another seemingly long-term conflict, the battle against Islamic State militants, when he travels to Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This is their first meeting since the vice president alleged in a speech last month that Ankara helped facilitate the rise of the extremist group by allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria from Turkey. The comments outraged Turkey's president.

It is also their first meeting since the U.S. dropped weapons and other aid to Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Bulent Aliriza with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says a key sticking point is Turkey’s call for the immediate ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Until the Western allies including Turkey commit to an active program to ensure his [Assad’s] ouster, these problems will continue," said Aliriza. "Now, the Washington approach is, ‘Yes, we are committed to a Syria without President Assad, but we have to focus on the IS at the moment.’ ”

While the differences may center around the fight against the Islamic State, Biden may also address a recent incident in which three American sailors were attacked by members of an ultra-nationalist Turkish group on an Istanbul street.

Analysts say though relations between the two allies are strained, they have overcome difficulties like this in the past. In 2003, Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to use the country as a base due to Ankara's opposition to the Iraq war.

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