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US Joint Chiefs Head in Ankara to Discuss ISIS, Sectarian Tensions

January 6, 2016 (Photo Credit: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/DoD)

ANKARA, Turkey — The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived in the Turkish capital to discuss "various aspects" of the allied fight against the Islamic State group.

US Marine Corps Gen. Dunford's visit came at a time when tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a new peak over the two countries' proxy sectarian wars in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and Iran broke off diplomatic ties after the Saudis executeda Shiite cleric on Jan. 2.

In Ankara, Dunford met with his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, chief of the military general staff. He also met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

One senior Turkish diplomat said that while Dunford's visit to Turkey was primarily aimed at discussing "various aspects" of the allied campaign against ISIS, new regional tensions broadened his agenda.

Dunford meets with Turkish counterpart
US Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signs the guestbook of Turkish Gen. Hulusi Akar, right, chief of Turkish Armed Forces on Jan. 6 prior to an office call in Ankara, Turkey.
Photo Credit: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/DoD

"Turkey has advised restraints to both Iran and Saudi Arabia … Our hopes to lower the tensions comes in line with the US priorities about bringing both sides [Iran and Saudi Arabia] for potential resolutions to conflicts in Syria and Yemen," he said.

Turkey is widely viewed as a member of the Sunni alliance, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Ankara recently had major disputes with Shiite and Shiite-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq, respectively.

Last month, the US expressed unease over Turkey's deployment of extra forces to a base near Mosul, Iraq, and worked to mediate the dispute between Turkey and its southeastern neighbor Iraq.

Turkey agreed to withdraw troops after President Barack Obama's spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the phone and urged him to ease tensions with Iraq.

But Turkish-US policy priorities in war-torn Syria diverge from time to time. Ankara is concerned over Kurdish expansion in northern Syria while Washington views Syrian Kurds as main ground troop allies.

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