WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump tried on Tuesday to lower tensions with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and predicted that the pair would enjoy a great relationship despite differences regarding Washington’s support for the Kurdish militia forces in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State.
“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” said Trump in remarks to reporters after meeting with the Turkish leader for the first time at the White House.
“The relationship that we have together will be unbeatable,” Trump added.
Erdogan, meanwhile, in his joint appearance before reporters with Trump, said his visit would “mark a historical turn of tide” and praised the “outstanding relations” between Washington and Ankara, adding that “there is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region.”
Trump’s election last November aroused the Erdogan government’s hopes for a potential improvement in bilateral relations, and up until May everything seemed to be progressing well along those lines, given that – in contrast to Barack Obama – the new US leader did not seem particularly interested in insisting that Ankara adhere closely to human rights guidelines.
With his penchant for authoritarian leaders, Trump recently congratulated Erdogan for his victory in the referendum to enhance his power, while the European Union’s reaction was much cooler.
But this honeymoon with Turkey ended last week when the White House announced that it would deliver heavy weapons to the Syrian Kurdish militias known as the YPG fighting in conjunction with Syrian Arab factions against the IS, a move that raised tensions with Turkey, which contends that Syrian Kurds are allied with the independence-minded Turkish Kurds.
Erdogan openly criticized the US decision and said he would travel to Washington aiming to convince Trump to cancel the move to arm the YPG, whom Ankara claims are “terrorists” due to their links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an active guerrilla organization on Turkish territory.
The Turkish leader did not hesitate to repeat that message to Trump and the US press, but the mogul remained silent and gave no sign that he had stepped back from his decision.
He said that the YPG’s activities in the region “will never be accepted.”
In addition, Turkey has also been pushing to get the US to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, whom the Turkish government claims orchestrated the failed coup attempt against Erdogan last July.
So far, the Turkish efforts to secure Gülen’s extradition have not succeeded, and the cleric has denied involvement in the coup, but Erdogan’s crackdown on anyone supporting the coup at home has resulted in thousands of arrests.