The closed-door meeting is the first gathering of a working group announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a visit to İstanbul on Aug. 11. The Turkish-US working group is seen as part of US attempts to work outside of the UN Security Council to hasten the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey and the US are both seeking political change in the Syrian government and support the opposition, which seeks to topple President Assad, but their efforts to push for UN-sanctioned steps to bring about political transition have failed after being vetoed by Russia and China, two allies of the Assad government, at the UN Security Council.
Speaking after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Clinton said in İstanbul that the US and Turkey would coordinate a joint response to the Syrian crisis through the working group. She said she had discussed with Davutoğlu how best to support the opposition to President Assad.
"Our number-one goal is to hasten the end of the bloodshed and the Assad regime," she said. "Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that."
However, in Washington, the State Department trimmed expectations from the meetings of the interagency delegations. “Well, first of all, remember what the secretary committed to when she was in İstanbul, which was an interagency conversation, US and Turkey sitting down together to share operational picture, to talk about the effectiveness of what we're doing now, and about what more we can do. So this was not a bricks-and-mortar center. I don't want you to get the wrong idea. This is a bilateral conversation across the interagency,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday.
The Turkish delegation was headed by Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Halit Çevik in the closed-door talks while the US team was led by Acting Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Jones.
Nuland said representatives from the State Department and the Department of Defense as well as a representative “reflecting the entire [intelligence] community” were on the US team.
The Turkish and US teams also discussed the threat of terrorist groups that Turkey and the US fear could find fertile ground in Syria due to an emerging power vacuum, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and al-Qaeda.
Analysts say the conflict in Syria has a role to play in a recent surge in PKK attacks in Turkey. Turkish authorities have hinted at Syrian complicity in a deadly attack on Monday in the southern city of Gaziantep which killed nine civilians. The PKK denied responsibility for the attack, although this has hardly convinced Ankara.