Will Tillerson visit be a disappointment for key United States ally?

A US official says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has met the wife of an American pastor who has been jailed in Turkey over terror-related charges.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, looks on during a joint news conference with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, following their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, March 30, 2017.

The Turkish government is also expected to push Mr Tillerson on its extradition request for Fethullah Gulen, the cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Ankara blames for last year's attempted coup.

Speaking Thursday after meeting Cavusoglu in Ankara, Tillerson said the two governments were looking at "a number of options and alternatives" to keep up the fight against ISIS and to retake the terror group's stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, and he acknowledged there were "difficult decisions" to be made. "Secretary of State Tillerson wanted to make sure he met with Mrs. Brunson to share the most recent information he had on Pastor Brunson's case", the official said.

Just before Tillerson's arrival, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced the end of Turkey's military operation in Syria, declaring it a success.

Ties between Ankara and Washington were strained during Barack Obama's administration, particularly over USA cooperation with Syrian Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State group. Turkish officials accuse him of plotting last year's failed attempt to overthrow the government.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that former Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn - while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign - had met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing Mr. Gulen from the USA and taking him to Turkey.

"There should be no meaning taken from this that Turkey will remain indifferent to the security risks or will not engage there", Kalin told reporters in Ankara.

Even before Tillerson landed, Turkish officials this week leaked to the local news media a damaging rumor about the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul that seemed timed to put pressure on the secretary's visit.

The Turkey and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation visits come a week after Mr. Tillerson hosted diplomats from 68 nations in Washington for a meeting of the global coalition against the Islamic State - an event that sought to pump new energy into the multilateral fight against the terror group.

At the news conference Thursday, Cavusoglu also cast doubt on the embassy's account, saying, "We want to see the details in concrete terms".

"Supporting a terrorist organization that targets Turkey is disappointing and has had a negative impact on the Turkish people's attitude towards the United States", added the top Turkish diplomat.

The top United States diplomat did acknowledge, however, that there were "difficult decisions" to be made in the fight against ISIL.

"We stand alongside Turkey in their fight to stop terrorism directed against its country and its people".

Cavusoglu described the arrest of the banker as a "political" move and said the USA attorney who launched the case against Zarrab had close ties with Gulen's supporters.

Tillerson is in Turkey in large part to listen to the concerns of an important USA ally, but as Palmer reports, early indications are that he is unlikely to announce any new deals with Ankara that would require a change in American policy. In the months since Trump took office, the United States and Turkey have managed to avoid any open confrontation over their differences, with Turkish officials showing optimism that the relationship could only improve.

  • Leroy Wright