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Turkey Is A 'High-Maintenance Ally' In Fight With ISIS

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I'm Scott Simon. Perhaps the most confounding element in the fight against the group calling itself the Islamic State, or ISIS, is Turkey - a U.S. ally. Or is it really? Or at least do the interests of Turkey match up with those of the United States?

Francis Ricciardone was the U.S. ambassador to Turkey until this summer. He's now director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and joins us from his office in Washington, D.C. Thank you for being with us.

FRANCIS RICCIARDONE: Delighted to be with you today, Scott. Thank you very much.

SIMON: Based on your experience with the Turkish government, are we talking about a real alliance here?

RICCIARDONE: I think we're talking about a pivotally important alliance going back many years through many changes in the complexion and the issues that we face together in that region.

SIMON: Who does Turkey consider to be public enemy number one - ISIS, Bashar al Assad, or the PKK - a pro-Kurdish group that has been classified as a terrorist organization?

RICCIARDONE: All we have to do is listen to the words of the president of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, or the prime minister who was formally their foreign minister. And they've made very clear the enemy as they see it, the most immediate enemy, is the PKK.

SIMON: The fight for Kobani continues without Turkey. They finally allowed about 200 Iraqi Peshmerga troops to pass through Turkey to join that fight. Can you help us understand the thinking of why Turkey would be on watch for that?

RICCIARDONE: The government of Turkey has been involved in a historic effort to come to terms with not only its own Kurdish citizens but with the PKK that has claimed to represent the Kurdish cause or a Kurdish cause. Knowing that is how you interpret the Turkish government's reaction to, say, the Peshmerga fighters going into Kobani under very controlled circumstances. That's usually controversial in Turkey. To see the government allow Kurdish fighters go into support what they regard as the PKK is quite difficult for the government of Turkey to do.

SIMON: What kind of efforts do you think can be made now to try and bring Turkey and the U.S. closer together or shore up Turkey's position?

RICCIARDONE: Turkey has always been for the United States a very high value but very high maintenance account. And there isn't much choice, I think, if you're a senior Turkish leader or if you're the United States but to engage with each other not only at high levels but constantly.

SIMON: Francis Ricciardone is the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, now director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Thanks so much for being with us.

RICCIARDONE: Thank you very much, Mr. Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.