ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday called on the Trump administration to replace its envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition — the latest sign of Turkish frustration with the US war strategy in Syria amid mounting tensions between the two NATO allies.
Turkey has forcefully protested the Trump administration’s decision to arm a Syrian Kurdish force for an assault on the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa. Turkey regards the force as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Ankara and Washington have both listed as a terrorist group.
In an interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV, the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, accused US envoy Brett McGurk of ‘‘providing support’’ for the PKK and the Syrian Kurdish force, known as the YPG.
‘‘It would be beneficial for this person to change,’’ Cavusoglu said, referring to McGurk, adding that Turkey ‘‘would not meddle in the domestic issues of another country.’’
The unusually pointed Turkish attack on an American official came days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a trip to Washington that was dominated by issues dividing the two countries, and that delivered mixed dividends, at best, for the Turkish leader.
While President Trump’s invitation to Erdogan — and his lavish praise for Turkey during the visit — were widely seen as having enhanced Erdogan’s stature at home, the administration did not appear to budge on any of Erdogan’s most pressing requests, including the demand not to arm the YPG.
The visit was also marred by a shockingly violent coda: an attack on protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington on Tuesday that US officials said was carried out by Erdogan’s presidential guards. Footage of the assault showing protesters being kicked, choked and stomped drew widespread outrage as it was circulated on social media.
The Turkish Embassy in Washington released a statement Wednesday that made no mention of any role played by the presidential guards but said that a group of Turkish American citizens who had gathered to greet Erdogan ‘‘responded in self-defense’’ to a ‘‘provocative demonstration.’’
On Thursday, in response to the clash at the residence, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, called for the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador to the United States. ‘‘This kind of thing cannot go unresponded to diplomatically,’’ the senator said in an interview with MSNBC. ‘‘We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America.’’
In Turkey’s vigorous but so far faltering attempts to shift US policy, the government has increasingly taken to blaming disagreements with the Trump administration over Syria on President Barack Obama and, specifically, holdovers from the Obama administration, including McGurk, who has served as the president’s envoy to the
anti-ISIS coalition since November 2015.
A State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said in a statement Thursday that McGurk had the ‘‘full support and backing of Secretary Tillerson and the White House.’’
‘‘Turkey is a key NATO ally that faces legitimate domestic security concerns emanating from ISIS, PKK, and other designated terrorist organizations,’’ Nauert said. ‘‘We respect those concerns, and continue regular consultations with our NATO ally on this and other topics of mutual importance.’’
US military officials in both the Trump and Obama administrations have concluded that there is no effective alternative to the military plan that relies on the Kurdish fighters, despite Turkey’s insistence that it could muster an equally effective force with Syrian Arab fighters.
Last week, the Trump administration said it would arm the YPG as a delegation of high-level Turkish military and intelligence officials were visiting Washington in advance of Erdogan’s meeting with Trump. In response, Turkish officials told their US counterparts that they reserved the right to step up military action against the YPG in Syria.