Thu, May 18, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Trump, Erdogan vow to strenghten ties

DIFFERENCES:Washington and Ankara are at odds over US support for the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units in Syria and the US hosting Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen


Opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rally in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House as he was meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA

US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stood side by side at the White House on Tuesday and promised to strengthen strained ties, despite the Turkish leader’s stern warning about Washington’s arming of a Kurdish militia.

Fresh from securing his grip on Turkey with a referendum to enhance his powers, Erdogan visited the Oval Office with complaints about US support for Kurdish fighters and what Ankara says is Washington’s harboring of the mastermind of a failed coup, but both leaders also tried gamely to put a brave face on their differences and to renew a key alliance between NATO’s leading power and its biggest Muslim member, partners in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units in Syria.

“In the same way, we should never allow those groups who want to change the ethnic or religious structures in the region to use terrorism as a pretext,” he added, suggesting that the Kurds are using the fight against the Islamic State group as cover for separatist nationalism.

Trump was one of the first leaders to congratulate Erdogan on winning the April 16 vote to strengthen his office and his Turkish counterpart repaid the compliment on Tuesday by hailing his host’s “legendary triumph” in last year’s US presidential race.

“Of course, Mr Trump’s victory has led to an awakening of new expectations for Turkey and the region it is in. We know the new US administration will not let these hopes be in vain,” Erdogan said.

The US president paid tribute to Turkey’s historical contributions to the Western alliance’s Cold War battles and promised: “Today, we face a new enemy in the fight against terrorism and again we seek to face this threat together.”

Washington and Ankara are bitterly at odds over US support for the YPG, a Syrian armed faction that acts as the main ground force in the Pentagon’s plan to defeat the Islamic State group, but that Turkey deems a front for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdogan is also angry that the US continues to host Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former ally who chose exile in Pennsylvania and who has now been accused of masterminding last year’s attempted coup in his homeland.

While the pair shared warm words at their joint public appearance, Erdogan again made it clear that he would never accept an autonomous YPG-led Kurdish area in Syria and that he had “frankly communicated” his expectation that Washington hand over Gulen.

After their meeting, Trump and Erdogan exchanged friendly tweets.

The US leader said it was a “great honor” to welcome his guest, and Erdogan responded by thanking him and declared: “I believe today’s meeting will strengthen our longstanding alliance and strategic partnership.”

Trump hoped to secure at least grudging Turkish agreement not to oppose the US-led drive by YPG fighters to oust the Islamic State group from their Syrian stronghold of Raqa.

In return, Trump might have had to give Erdogan assurances that Gulen would be closely monitored while the US courts examine an extradition request and pledge that Washington would eventually endorse a Turkish offensive against PKK bases in Sinjar, Iraq.

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