US and Turkey seek to repair strained ties at White House meeting
WASHINGTON // The presidents of the United States and Turkey vowed on Tuesday to repair a relationship battered by years of disputes over Syria’s civil war and its various fighting groups.
Delivering a statement alongside Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Donald Trump said the US would re-establish its military and economic partnership with Turkey and was committed to backing Turkey’s fight against ISIL and the Kurdish insurgency.
Such groups will “have no safe quarter,” Mr Trump said in the White House’s historic Roosevelt Room, where he also commended Turkey’s “leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria.”
In his statement, Mr Erdogan congratulated M Trump on his presidential election victory.
Fresh from securing his grip on Turkey with a referendum to centralise power, Mr Erdogan was on a mission to restore frayed ties.
The biggest dispute between the two Nato allies in recent days has been America’s plans to arm Kurdish Syrian militants to help them fight ISIL. Washington and Ankara are still bitterly at odds over US support for the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), a faction and fighting force that the Pentagon sees as a vital ally against ISIL in Syria but that Turkey regards as a front for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Mr Erdogan had earlier warned, “If our alliance is going to be overshadowed, then we should take care of ourselves. We can’t allow this alliance to be taken over by policies against Turkey.” Only hours before the two leaders met, Turkey’s prime minister Binali Yildirim criticised America’s decision to to arm the Syrian Kurds, and vowed to fight the YPG if Turkey does not receive adequate guarantees of security for itself.
Ankara remains angry that the United States continues to host the cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally who chose exile in Pennsylvania and who Mr Erdogan is convinced masterminded last year’s bloody attempted coup in his homeland. Mr Erdogan will have sought assurances that Mr Gulen will be closely monitored while the US courts examine a Turkish extradition request and that — once ISIL has been driven out of the Iraqi city of Mosul — Washington will endorse a Turkish offensive against PKK bases in Sinjar, northern Iraq.
Both issues poisoned ties between Mr Erdogan and former US president Barack Obama, but this was an opening for Mr Trump to rebuild bridges.
Turkey believes the Kurds in Syria are linked to the PKK. The US sees the Syrian Kurds as their best battlefield partner on the ground in northern Syria.
Last month, the Turkish military bombed Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, in one case with American forces only about 10km away. Mr Erdogan’s government also has insisted it may attack Syrian Kurdish fighters again.
Mr Trump did not directly address his decision to arm the Kurds, but he asserted America’s and Turkey’s mutual commitment to ending Syria’s conflict.
The meeting took place with a White House still responding to president Trump’s alleged disclosure of classified information about an ISIL terror threat involving laptop computers on aircraft — supposedly shared with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador when they met in the Oval Office last week.
The US is relying on regional allies including Turkey for intelligence-sharing and military assistance as it crafts a Syria policy, particularly as Iran and Russia work to bolster Syrian president Bashar Assad’s government.
Mr Trump has gone out of his way to foster a good relationship with Mr Erdogan and was one of the first world leaders to congratulatehim on winning the April 16 vote to strengthen his powers, despite concern in some other capitals that Turkey has taken a dangerous turn towards authoritarianism.
* Associated Press
Updated: May 16, 2017 04:00 AM