ISTANBUL - A day after meeting with Turkey's president, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said that he hopes U.S. President Donald Trump would not completely withdraw from Syria until the Islamic State is crushed.
Graham said Saturday in Ankara, "The goal of destroying ISIS is not yet accomplished."
The U.S. lawmaker said a U.S. withdrawal from Syria without a plan would lead to chaos and an "Iraq on steroids."
The meeting Friday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Graham in Ankara was the latest effort to defuse bilateral tensions over Syria.
Turkish forces remain massed on the northeast Syrian border, poised to launch an offensive against the YPG Kurdish militia, a critical American ally in the war against Islamic State. Ankara deems the YPG terrorists linked to an insurgency inside Turkey.
Differences over Syria saw Erdogan shun U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton earlier this month when he visited Ankara. Graham met not only with Erdogan but with Turkey's defense and foreign ministers and intelligence chief.
Ahead of his visit, Graham appeared to reach out to Ankara by addressing key Turkish concerns.
"I have long contended that there are elements among the Syrian Kurds that represent a legitimate national security threat to Turkey. Turkey's concern regarding YPG elements must be addressed in a real way to ensure that Turkey's borders are secure and are protected from any threats," wrote Graham.
The meeting Friday marks the senator's second with Erdogan in six months. Graham is a member of four powerful Senate committees: Foreign Relations, Budget, Appropriations and chairman of the Judiciary. Analysts suggest the senator's relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump explains Ankara's warm reception.
"He is very close to Donald Trump, he is a man of confidence to Trump," said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara's Middle East Technical University. "He is more politician than John Bolton who is considered more a diplomat. So Graham's visit is a higher level of meeting in Ankara's eyes, so it's welcomed in Ankara. I am sure Trump has sent him," Bagci added.
Analysts point out Erdogan sees Trump as his only trusted interlocutor, blaming U.S. officials for the current bilateral tensions. Erdogan welcomed Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria; however, the Turkish president condemned what he said were attempts by senior U.S. officials to delay the withdrawal and link it to conditions including guaranteeing YPG security.
Graham has criticized Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria, claiming it was premature in the war against Islamic State. The senator's talks in Ankara reportedly focused on America's Syria withdrawal and Ankara's threatened military operation in Syria.
Ankara is seeking common ground with Trump's proposal to create a buffer zone in Syria between the Kurdish militia and the Turkish border.
Erdogan welcomed the proposal but maintains that Turkish forces will create the 30-kilometer deep zone into Syria. The YPG leadership is strongly opposed, warning it would resist.
Turkish pro-government media are filled with reports of American conspiracies. "Their steps with respect to forming a 32-kilometer safe zone on our Syria border is a new distraction trick," wrote columnistTamer Korkmaz in Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper, Friday. "They want to delay Turkey's possible military operation, and if possible, prevent it. Would they accept the kind of buffer zone Turkey wants?" he continued.
Since Trump has proposed the Syrian buffer zone, no details have been provided by Washington on how it will be created or enforced. Graham reportedly discussed the zone during his talks in Ankara.
Analysts warn Ankara could also face pushback from Arab countries in the region if it acted unilaterally.