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US, Turkey Working to Overcome Strains

FILE - Turkish soldiers stand guard on the Turkish side of the border in Suruc as smoke rises in the background from the Syrian town of Kobani.
FILE - Turkish soldiers stand guard on the Turkish side of the border in Suruc as smoke rises in the background from the Syrian town of Kobani.

Disagreements over Syria policies have strained relations between allies Turkey and the United States.

But analysts say there are signs both sides could be starting to work more closely together in battling Islamic State militants operating regionally from Syria and Iraq.

Ankara and Washington described as "positive" the visit this month of the head of the international coalition tasked with destroying the IS, retired U.S. General John Allen.

Past meetings have been tense and difficult, with Washington frustrated over Ankara’s insistence that the IS can only be defeated after the removal of the Assad regime.

But diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper and the Al Monitor website said Ankara and Washington could be set for a rapproachmont.

"Both sides were on different pages, especially with regards to Syria, in terms of priorities and with, especially, President Erdogan pressing hard for the toppling of Assad and his regime," he said. "But Ankara is now coming round to conclude that is not in the cards, and that this may require a political solution in the end. And the situation on the ground is driving this whole thing, because Turkey has painted itself into a corner."

There are growing voices of criticism even within the ranks of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AK Party over its Syria policy. And the party is being blamed in part for losing its parliamentary majority in last month’s general election.

The AK Party’s Islamist roots are often cited by critics as why it fails to fully back the U.S. led battle against IS terrorists.

No issue highlights AKP policy more than Ankara’s refusal to allow the full use of its massive Incirlik airbase near Syria’s border. Only U.S. drones are allowed to use it for combat support.

But columnist Idiz said Ankara could be close to meeting Washington’s demands for unrestricted use of the base.

"This is an asset that they will no doubt want to use, and this is why I feel the discussion will begin in earnest," he said. "The immediate impact as far as Turkey is concerned [is] it will put [it] on side of the fence with the allies and perhaps get rid of the cloud hovering [over] its end suggesting that Turkey is somehow soft on these groups."

Any decision is complicated by the AK Party's efforts to find a coalition partner and the prospect of a possible snap election.

Iran is also giving Washington a potential new driving force for a rapprochement with Ankara.

International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University said Turkey is key to allaying the security fears of U.S. allies in the region in the aftermath of the international deal struck with Tehran over its nuclear program.

"Since there is no country that can actually balance Iran in the region, and Obama says we will soon announce [a] package that should give succor to both Israel and the Arab allies in the Gulf, I think Turkey will be repositioned as an ally of the United States in the region," he said.