After meetings at the White House Tuesday, President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, praised the strength of the two countries’ relations, while at the same sidestepping their differences over strategies for confronting Islamic State extremists in northern Syria.
Both Trump and Erdogan described bilateral ties as strong. “We’ve had a great relationship,” the U.S. president said, “and we will make it even better.”
Neither leader mentioned Trump’s decision last week to supply heavy weapons to Syrian Kurdish rebel militias, the YPG, who make up a key part of a U.S.-backed alliance preparing to march on the Islamic State’s de-facto capital, Raqqa, later this year.
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Turkey, which has battled Kurdish separatists since 1984 in its southeast, has voiced broad opposition to the presence of YPG fighters in the anti-jihadist coalition. Erdogan has argued that YPG’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party make it likely that any U.S. weaponry supplied to the Syrian Kurds will eventually end up in Turkey, in the hands of the outlawed PKK.
Erdogan has called the decision to provide U.S. arms “contrary to our strategic relations to the U.S.” But there were no public signs of friction Tuesday, as Trump and Erdogan struck public poses suggesting full agreement on the need to capture the IS stronghold at Raqqa.
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“There is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region,” Erdogan said.
Ahead of his visit, the Turkish leader had pledged he would try to persuade Trump to change his mind about arming the YPG. Erdogan also ordered airstrikes last month on sparsely-populated Kurdish areas along the Iraq-Syria frontier; the retired Turkish General said those raids “were intended to reinforce verbal threats and warnings.”
Turkish journalist Semih Idiz, writing for Al Monitor, said the strikes appeared to carry a domestic political message, showing the depth of Erdogan’s determination to fight the PKK.
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