Trump’s warm welcome to Erdogan at odds with wider US sentiment
US angry at Turkey’s incursion into Syria and purchase of Russian missile defence system
US president Donald Trump and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a meeting at the Oval Office. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty
US president Donald Trump on Wednesday lauded his relationship with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the leaders met to overcome mounting differences between the two Nato allies ranging from policy on Syria to Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defence system.
Mr Trump’s warm welcome of the Turkish president came amid anger in the US Congress about Ankara’s offensive into Syria to drive out a Kurdish militia, Washington’s main partner in the fight against Islamic State.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day one,” said Mr Trump of Mr Erdogan as they sat next to each other in the Oval Office. “We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from.
“They’re highly respected in their country and in the region,” Mr Trump added of Mr Erdogan and his wife, Emine.
In front of the White House, protesters denounced Mr Erdogan’s visit and urged Mr Trump to protect Kurds threatened by Turkey’s incursion into Syria. One sign read: “America Stand With Your Kurdish Allies.”
Mr Trump also said they would discuss Ankara’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defence system. Mr Trump also added that the two sides would talk about a potential $100 billion trade deal.
“We’re also talking about the trade deal . . . Frankly, we’re going to be expanding our trade relationship very significantly,” Mr Trump said.
Despite his warm welcome, the two Nato allies have been at loggerheads for months now and their ties hit a new crisis point last month when Mr Erdogan began a cross-border incursion against the US’s Kurdish allies in Syria and upended the US presence there. The United States has also been livid over Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defence systems.
Turkey shrugged off threats of US sanctions and began receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July. In response, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme, in which Ankara was a manufacturer and buyer. But so far, the United States has not imposed any sanctions.
Five Republican senators, including vocal critic of Turkey Lindsey Graham, came to the White House and spoke with Mr Erdogan and Mr Trump about the F-35 programme.
“That’s what we’re here for, we’re talking with our great senators. There are a lot of alternatives. We’ll work something out. I project that we will work something out,” Mr Trump said.
Turkey’s S-400 purchase infuriated the US Congress. The House of Representatives last month passed a sanctions package to punish Turkey over its Syria operation, which key members of the Senate, such as Mr Graham, have vowed to advance if Ankara endangers Kurds.
Republican senator Ted Cruz pressed Mr Erdogan on Turkey’s treatment of Syria’s Kurds.
“The Kurds have risked a lot to stand with America and fight our shared enemy, and there is very real concern that we do not want to see Turkey engaged in offensive actions against the Kurds,” Mr Cruz said.
The House also voted last month in favour of a non-binding resolution recognising the killings of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago as a genocide, a symbolic but historic vote denounced by Turkey. – Reuters