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Biden Arrives in Turkey With Full Agenda

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 21, 2016.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 21, 2016.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has arrived in Turkey amid the ongoing fight against the Islamic State militant group and before next week's peace talks in Vienna on Syria.

During his two-day visit Biden is expected to press Turkey to do more to prevent jihadist infiltration through its border with Syria. The visit comes as Ankara is demanding Washington rein in recent gains by the Syrian Kurdish militia, the PYG, against Islamic State militants. Turkey accuses the Syrian Kurdish militia of being linked to PKK rebels, which Turkish forces are fighting.

Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, says next week’s Syria peace talks in Vienna could prove the thorniest issue for Biden.

"Two differences remain - one is the near-term future of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and the role he will play during this process and, secondly, the set-up of the opposition groups that will be represented at the table. There is no willingness on the Turkish side [for] the presence of the Syrian Kurds," he says.

According to Ulgen, Human rights could also be a difficult issue during the U.S. vice president’s visit.

Turkey’s domestic situation concerns primarily the ongoing fight against the PKK, but also beyond the rule of law issues, of which the United States has been critical.

Other issues

Biden is also scheduled to meet with representatives of Turkey’s civic society. U.S. ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, last week strongly condemned the prosecution of academics, calling for a resumption of a peace process with the PKK. Ongoing tension between Ankara and Baghdad over Turkey's unauthorized deployment of military forces to Bashiqa in Iraq is also expected to be brought up by Biden; but, efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus find both sides in agreement, says political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University.

"The reunification talks are going very well; the president of the Republic of Cyprus has just announced a deal can be secured in the course of this year, and, the Americans are very active behind the scenes in these talks, together with the United Nations," Aktar says.

Turkey, along with Greece and Britain, are guarantor countries of Cyprus. Ankara has committed itself to ongoing unification efforts, which observers say Biden has been involved in for decades.