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US-Turkey Relations Suffering Over Islamic State

Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speak to the media before a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 12, 2014.
Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speak to the media before a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 12, 2014.

Turkish state sources say that relations with the West are strained and Turkey may not allow coalition planes to use Turkish airspace for attacks against the Islamic State militants in Iraq. The Turkish government is facing growing pressure from Washington amid allegations that it provides tacit support for the militants.

Turkish officials say that relations with the United States has been suffering from ups and downs behind the scenes.

Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria, and there are Islamic State bases close to its frontier. Ankara is seen as key to the U.S.-led coalition against the jihadist group. In the past few weeks, both the U.S. secretary of defense and secretary of state have visited Ankara.

Secretary of State John Kerry this week told the U.S. Senate that Ankara knows what is expected of it.

"Turkey understands the challenges, believe me. We have had some very candid conversations about it. Turkey will have to make its decisions in the days ahead. We will see what happens," said Kerry.

But some regional analysts say there is little room for compromise on the issue of the Islamic State. One of the main reasons is an incident last June when the militants overran Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. The group took over the Turkish consulate there, capturing 49 people, including the consul general. They are still held hostage.

But political scientist Nuray Mert of Istanbul University says there are growing questions beyond the issue of the hostages regarding the motives of the Turkish government's strategy in dealing with the militants.

"The hostage issue, it's not even certain it is using it as a pretext not to do anything. Turkey is losing more and more creditability in the eyes of its Western allies in terms of taking enough measures against radical Islamist groups," said Mert.

Turkey officially lists the Islamic State a terrorist group, but Ppesident Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been reluctant to use that label.

At the end of June, shortly after the militants captured the consulate, he warned Turkish media and the political opposition not to pressure him into making “provocative statements regarding this group.” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu more recently referred to Islamic State as “a radical organization with a terrorist-like structure.”

As a result, Ankara is being accused of turning a blind eye to the Islamic States recruitment efforts in Turkey.

President Erdogan this week angrily condemned such claims.

He says some international media outlets try to equate Turkey with terrorism. There is no such thing as Turkey offering weapons and medical aid to terrorist groups.

This week U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations committee, voiced his concern.

"These foreign fighters are crossing often from Turkey, which either because of fear or maybe ideology has declined to participate to stop that flow of fighters and to counter ISIL," said Menendez.

Analyst Mert says the conservative Islamist background of the country's ruling party means Turkey needs to be far clearer in words and actions in its condemnation of the Islamic State fighters.

"They have been reluctant to be seen as critical of any movement, no matter how brutal or whatever, to be critical of anything made in the name of Islam. So it leaves room for skepticism. Let alone all these accusations especially on the behalf of Kurds, that Turkey is helping some radical groups, against Kurdish advances in Syria," he said.

With the international coalition rapidly stepping up efforts against the militants, some regional analysts warn that pressure on Ankara to take an unequivocal stance is likely to grow.