TURKEY AND US LEADERS ‘UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER’
Three-hour meeting at the White House was attempt to ease tensions between the two Nato members
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan experienced a different calibre of welcome yesterday than on his last visit to Washington, meeting protests outside the White House and tough questions from US politicians.
Demonstrators criticising Mr Erdogan’s human rights record and calling for Turkey to leave Syria made their presence known with chanting and placards outside the US president’s residence. Inside, uncertainty about Turkey-US relations clouded a three-hour meeting between the two leaders.
Differences on Syria, Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defence system and a lawsuit against Turkish bank Halkbank were all on the table. An incentive package including a $100 billion (Dh367bn) trade deal between the countries, and a hold on Congressional sanctions were expected to be floated by Mr Trump, according to the Washington Post, but experts and one US official who spoke to The National did not expect a breakthrough.
Before the meeting, Mr Trump hailed the long friendship between he and Mr Erdogan, saying the pair “understand each other very well”. He said the US-brokered ceasefire in Syria reached on October 17 is “holding up very well”. On the ground, however, clashes have continued between Turkey and Kurdish forces.
Mr Trump also thanked Mr Erdogan for the “job he is doing”, and defended his decision to withdraw troops from the Turkish-Syrian border area. But, he said, “we are keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil”.
Mr Erdogan said he looked forward to the extended meeting with the president, but “I don’t feel the need to come up with longer statements here”.
In an attempt to help Mr Erdogan counter Congressional pressure, Mr Trump planned to host a meeting between the Turkish leader and a small group of Republican senators, CNN reported. Ankara is facing criticism about its incursion into Syria last month, and has been the target of several sanctions bills in Congress. But a US official described Mr Trump as driving his own policy with Turkey and ignoring his high ranking defence and diplomatic advisers on the need to pressure Mr Erdogan.
Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Centre for New American Security think tank, said the standing of the US-Turkey relationship is at an all-time low, but that Mr Erdogan’s personal relationship with Mr Trump would go a long way in easing Ankara’s concerns.
“The state of US-Turkish relations is in free fall, but as long as Erdogan holds Trump close to him on a personal level, neither leader is too worried,” Mr Heras told The National.
While he did not foresee a breakthrough coming from the White House summit, he described a balancing act when it comes to Syria. “The Trump administration has made it clear that it will not bother Turkey too much about issues concerning the Syrian-Turkish border areas,” Mr Heras said. Instead the US administration “will try to get Ankara not to expand the aperture of Turkish operations in a manner that would put the stability of the Syrian Democratic force in jeopardy.” A US official said on Tuesday that US-SDF co-operation and relationship is needed and would continue.
Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, did not expect a breakthrough either but said there could be movement in the right direction. “The best we can hope for is some movement towards compromise,” Mr Stein said.
He said it was unlikely that Turkey would just give up the S-400 system. “They spent $2.5 billion on a weapon. Would you eat that cost?”
Experts say Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting yesterday with Donald Trump is unlikely to lead to a major breakthrough