ANKARA, Turkey — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson showered praise on Turkey’s government on Thursday, despite what some international critics see as a slide toward authoritarianism, and in response he got an earful of grievances from Turkish officials.
Mr. Tillerson’s visit to Ankara, the Turkish capital, was intended to reassure a NATO ally in the fight against the Islamic State and a regional bulwark against a resurgent Iran.
Turkish officials have repeatedly protested United States support for and reliance on Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria at the same time the Turks are waging a campaign against Kurdish militants inside Turkey.
Mr. Tillerson was vague on Thursday when discussing American support for the Kurds, saying only that there were “difficult choices that have to be made.”
Standing beside Mr. Tillerson on Thursday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey expected the United States to cut off aid to Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State, and that American law enforcement should arrest a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a coup attempt last July. “We are expecting better cooperation,” Mr. Cavusoglu said.
He accused the former United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who was recently fired by the Trump administration, of being a pawn of anti-Turkish forces, and he said a federal investigation into businessmen with ties to Mr. Erdogan was “political.” Prosecutors in New York are pursuing a case against Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader accused of violating sanctions on Iran. Mr. Bharara, asked for comment on Mr. Cavusoglu’s criticism, said in a statement, “I am not going to comment on false and silly political propaganda by a foreign official regarding a case that I no longer oversee.”
At the news conference in Turkey on Thursday, Mr. Cavusoglu also questioned Mr. Tillerson’s truthfulness when the secretary of state said that a phone call made by someone in the United States Consulate to a coup plotter days after the failed attempt — a phone record was leaked to the Turkish news media just hours before Mr. Tillerson’s arrival in Turkey — had been intended solely to inform the man that his request for a visa had been denied.
Turkish news media has suggested that the call showed collusion between American officials and people the Turkish government accuses of trying to oust Mr. Erdogan. “Of course we want to believe this explanation,” Mr. Cavusoglu said. “And we don’t want to look for anything behind that. But of course we’d like to see the details in concrete terms.”
Although Mr. Tillerson said he would convey Turkey’s concerns to the White House for further consultation, United States officials have said that the Trump administration intends to continue support for Kurdish forces and that there are no plans to arrest or extradite the cleric in Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen.
Mr. Tillerson has said that the Trump administration’s top priority in the Middle East is the defeat of the Islamic State, and he steered clear of any mention of mass arrests, a crackdown on the news media and a widespread purge undertaken by the Turkish government after the coup attempt. Nor did he speak about a referendum scheduled for next month that could bestow nearly dictatorial powers on Mr. Erdogan.
Before arriving in Turkey, Mr. Tillerson decided to lift all human rights conditions on a major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain in an effort to bolster Sunni Arab states in the Middle East and find new ways to confront Iran. Similarly, he is expected to reverse a decision to ban sales of smart bombs to Saudi Arabia because of the kingdom’s involvement in the war in Yemen.
Those decisions come as indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames and where there are alarming civilian casualties. These decisions have been welcomed by some Sunni Arab governments, which bristled at the Obama administration’s skepticism of their tactics, motives and records on human rights.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Turkey’s foreign minister in one instance. He is Mevlut Cavusoglu.
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