U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expects "difficult" talks during his Middle East trip, especially in Turkey, where he will urge the NATO ally to show "restraint" in its military offensive in northern Syria, U.S. officials say.
Officials briefed reporters on February 9 ahead of Tillerson's February 11-16 journey that will also take him to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Kuwait.
Despite U.S. objections, Turkey on January 20 launched an air-and-land operation, dubbed Olive Branch, against members of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria's Kurdish-run Afrin region.
The Turks accuse the YPG of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkish for more than 30 years. The PKK is regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.
But Turkey's Western allies have worked closely with YPG fighters in the battle against Islamic State (IS) extremists and do not consider it to be a terrorist group.
The United States and Turkey back differing rebel groups fighting against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia and Iran support Assad.
"We are urging [Turkey] to show restraint in their operations in Afrin and to show restraint further along the line across the [border] in northern Syria," a U.S. State Department official told reporters in a conference call. "That's going to be a difficult conversation."
"You start with asking for restraint and look for ways that you can help bring it to an end as quickly as possible," the official said.
"Look, it's difficult. The rhetoric is hot. The Turks are angry, and this is a difficult time to do business, but it's our belief that there are still some very fundamental underlying shared interests."
Turkey's ambassador in Washington, Serdar Kilic, defended the offensive in Afrin and criticized the U.S. pleas to limit the operation, calling on Washington to "cease their support" of the YPG.
"We are going to terminate that threat," Kilic told reporters in Washington.
Among other hot issue facing Tillerson is the decision by President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his move to suspend some aid to the Palestinians, actions that particularly angered the Jordanian leadership.
Palestinians regard Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and declared the city as its capital, a move never recognized by the international community.
The UN General Assembly on December 21 voted 128-9 in favor of a draft resolution rejecting Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem, and the issue is certain to come up during Tillerson's stop in Amman.