Scandals Buried Erdogan’s Hope For Fruitful Meeting With Trump

Before arriving in Washington D.C. to meet with President Donald J. Trump, Turkey’s authoritarian president had high hopes. He described his meeting with Mr. Trump as the new beginning (milat) in relations with the U.S., confident that he can convince the U.S. president to change course in policies related to Turkey.

Just hours before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plane landed in Washington, the White House was in shambles. A new revelation that Mr. Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister sent White House officials scurrying to contain the damage.

During the press conference with Mr. Erdogan on Tuesday, journalists did not ask what the two leaders were going to discuss or what Mr. Trump’s foreign policy for Turkey would be. The reporters showered questions about the latest scandal, insisting on his views.

President Erdogan praised his American counterpart who found himself at the center of this damaging political maelstrom. Mr. Trump’s breach of U.S. diplomatic norms by sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russians over an Islamic State plot in Syria cast shadow over Mr. Erdogan’s meeting as the entire media community in the U.S. was occupied with the still unfolding saga.

Mr. Erdogan’s trip to Washington also came with a disappointing start since the U.S. decided to arm Syrian Kurds just a week before the Turkish president’s visit, a move that drove a wedge between two NATO allies. President Erdogan arrived in Washington D.C. to build a common ground over a number of matters that strain relations. It is not yet clear if he secured Mr. Trump’s much-needed support.

Both leaders had a brief meeting that lasted 20 minutes and held a very short press conference. It was followed by a working luncheon, joined by Turkish army and spy chiefs, foreign, economy, defense, and energy ministers. Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, sat just opposite to Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

 

“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” President Trump said in Oval Office during the meeting. “We look forward to having very strong and solid discussions.”

“Today, we face a new enemy in the fight against terrorism, and again we seek to face this threat together,” President Trump said, after praising Turkey as a key, stalwart ally in the fight against terrorism. Whatever the discord that recently beset bilateral ties, Mr. Trump appeared to put aside differences.

Mr. Erdogan praised President Trump for “legendary triumph” in the U.S. presidential election and defined it as the beginning of a new awakening in the Middle East. He also voiced his expectation that his first meeting would be the historical turn of the tide in the bilateral relations.

“We are committed to fighting all forms of terrorism, without any discrimination whatsoever, that impose a clear and present threat upon our future,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Before his visit to the U.S., the Turkish president offered a sharp criticism of the U.S. alignment with the Syrian Kurdish militia, YPG, and its latest move to send heavy arms to the group which Turkey deems a terrorist organization. The thorny issue bedevils a healthy cooperation between Turkey and the U.S., hobbles American efforts to crush and defeat ISIS in Raqqa, its last stronghold in Syria.

During the meeting, Mr. Trump steered clear of any mention of the rift in their approach to the Kurdish group. But the Turkish leader named YPG as a terrorist group in his speech during the press conference.

The American side did not appear to offer anything of substance to the large Turkish delegation led by Mr. Erdogan.

The American president who has a tendency to cozying up to authoritarian leaders across the world did not mention about the political crackdown in Turkey, skipped domestic issues that spawned attention from human rights groups.

On the day of Mr. Erdogan’s meeting with President Trump, the Turkish officials launched a new phase of the crackdown on dissidents and perceived enemies of the government, purging and arresting dozens of public workers in the Energy and Education Ministry.

Since a failed coup last summer, the Turkish government purged more than 150,000 public servants, including generals, judges, prosecutors, teachers and businessmen.

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