“We’ve been clear both with the Kurds of Syria and our counterparts in Turkey that we don’t support any movement towards autonomy or separatism, which we think would be a slippery slope. We are very clear about that.” Gordon, however, also emphasized that the Syrian opposition needs to be inclusive and give a voice to all groups in Syria, including the Kurds.
Over the past two weeks, in the wake of the killing of the defense minister and two other senior officials of the Syrian administration in a major attack in Damascus on July 18, the Assad regime has withdrawn from major Kurdish cities, allowing Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria to gain control of those cities.
The emerging Kurdish rule has raised concerns in Turkey, which has vowed not to allow “terrorist formations” on its border with Syria. In very harsh remarks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asserted last week that an intervention in Syria is an “undisputed right” if terrorists in the troubled southern neighbor pose a threat to Turkey.
Gordon said the US and Turkey have very similar positions on the Syrian crisis and work together very closely. Responding to questions on the downing of a Turkish jet by Syria in June over the Mediterranean, the circumstances of which still remain unclear, Gordon said the US stands by its NATO ally Turkey in solidarity, even though “we are probably never going to have 100 percent information about exactly what happened in a situation like this.”
“What we do understand to be the case is that without warning Syria shot down the Turkish plane. That is what we are pretty clear about. That would be one more example of the regime’s disregard for human rights,” he told a group of journalists.
Coming to the Iranian nuclear issue, Gordon declined to comment on reports that the US and Israel are jointly planning a preemptive strike on the Islamic republic due to its controversial nuclear program.
“It [the nuclear issue] should be resolved diplomatically. We believe that it is necessary to keep financial and diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime until it meets its obligations on the international community,” Gordon maintained. Gordon also appreciated Turkish efforts towards a resolution of the nuclear issue, in support of the international sanctions.
The US official also encouraged Turkish plans for the reopening of a former Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off the coast of İstanbul, which has been identified as a vital issue by the Orthodox patriarchate in İstanbul for the survival of Greek Orthodox clergy.
“The US position was consistent for quite some time. ... We really encourage and would like to see the reopening of Halki [the seminary],” Gordon said during the press briefing.
The EU and the US have frequently criticized Turkey for not reopening the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary and for failing to take measures to protect the patriarchate’s property rights.
During his visit, Gordon is due to discuss a number of issues with Turkish officials, focusing on Syria and Iran. He also visited the Halki Seminary on Monday, the only school at which Turkey’s Greek Orthodox minority educated its clergymen before it was closed in 1971. He also attended a public iftar (fast-breaking dinner) in İstanbul's Üsküdar district and distributed food to people.