Three-hour meet­ing at the White House was at­tempt to ease ten­sions be­tween the two Nato mem­bers

The National - News - - NEWS - JOYCE KARAM Washington

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

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