U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson won’t meet with Turkish opposition figures or imprisoned journalists during his visit to Turkey on Thursday that is designed to deepen the cooperation with Ankara in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Right now, Secretary Tillerson is planning to meet only with government ministers and the staff of the U.S. embassy. His schedule doesn’t allow time to meet with anyone else,” a U.S. State Department official said in calls with reporters.
Mr. Tillerson’s visit to Turkey comes just 2 weeks before a referendum on constitutional changes that would grant sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and dismantle checks and balances. It appears that Mr. Tillerson, who did not even present his department’s annual human rights report this month, will distance himself from lecturing Mr. Erdogan over his dismal human rights record. U.S. officials said the secretary’s work will mostly focus on discussions around Turkey’s contribution in anti-ISIS efforts.
It is not clear how Turkish officials, who blasted the U.S. and European nations in the past few weeks, will receive Mr. Tillerson. US Embassy in Turkey issued a travel warning to its citizens, cautioning that rising anti-Americans may inspire individual attacks on American citizens.
The U.S. official said there will be other State Department representatives who, over the weeks between now and the April 16 referendum, will have an opportunity to meet with opposition party members and others.
For the government of Turkey, Mr. Tillerson’s visit will be a chance to demand the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt last summer. U.S. officials said they’re expecting that the case of Mr. Gulen would be raised by Turkish officials.
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