Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News on November 14, 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump had wonderful talks, according to Trump, yet the bilateral meetings did not yield any concrete result between the two NATO allies.
Erdoğan arrived at the White House for his meeting with Trump, which was scheduled for more than three hours.
His last visit to Washington was in 2017.
The closed-door meeting lasted for about 65 minutes. Trump was scheduled to meet select senators before the leaders’ press conference.
The Turkish president also joined the sit-down with Republican senators.
Erdoğan and Trump meeting’s agenda covered bilateral relations, foreign policy issues and the recent developments in the region and around the globe.
During the meeting, the leaders tackled the extradition of FETÖ, a topic Ankara has repeatedly emphasized, the current situation in Syria- especially Washington’s approach towards the YPG/PKK terror group, and Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 defense systems.
FETÖ and its U.S.-based ringleader Fetullah Gülen orchestrated the July 15 defeated coup attempt of 2016, which left 251 people killed and nearly 2,200 injured.
‘Erdoğan returns Trump’s letter’
Erdoğan said that he returned a letter by his U.S. counterpart that threatened Ankara over its anti-terror “Operation Peace Spring” in northeastern Syria and bemoaned Washington’s treatment of the YPG/PKK terror group’s leader.
“I presented the letter to Mr. President and especially felt sorrow that a U.S. president took a terrorist called Ferhat Abdi Şahin as an addressee,” said Erdoğan.
The president’s remarks came at a press conference, after his meeting with Trump.
Şahin, also known as Mazloum Kobani, is the ringleader of the PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror organization. Trump repeatedly praised the terrorist leader and said he looks forward to seeing him.
Erdoğan said Şahin has caused the deaths of hundreds of Turkish people and is the adopted son of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK terrorist organization.
“That the U.S., which we call our strategic partner, welcomes such a person actually saddens us. Likewise, this person is welcomed by Russia. It is hard to comprehend this within the scope of the fight against terrorism across the world,” said Erdoğan.
The letter Trump sent to Erdoğan on Oct. 9 threatened Turkey with economic devastation if Ankara proceeded with its operation in northeastern Syria. It was also widely criticized as rude and ill-written.
Erdoğan also said he submitted some CIA documents which suggested that Şahin is a terrorist.
“The CIA also documented him as a terrorist and they sent us these documents, and then we presented them to Mr. President today. We also returned the letter likewise,” Erdoğan added, without elaborating how the intelligence organization provided the documents to Ankara.
‘Thousands died from delay in Syrian safe zone’
The president also put emphasis on the to-be established safe zone in northern Syria, saying tens of thousands of people died because a safe zone was not implemented quickly enough.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
On Oct. 17, the U.S. and Turkey came to an agreement to pause the operation to allow the withdrawal of terrorist YPG/PKK forces from the planned safe zone, where Ankara wants to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees it is currently hosting.
Turkey first requested the establishment of the safe zone during a G20 meeting in Antalya in 2015.
Erdoğan said that during the operation, Turkey secured the return of 365,000 Syrians to Jarablus, the northern border town that was cleared during the operation.
He also reiterated that Turkey “has no problem with Kurds” and only takes issue with terrorist organizations.
Erdoğan added that “Turkey and the U.S. can work together to bring peace, stability to Syria and completely finish” the ISIL terror organization.
Regarding the anti-ISIL fight, Trump said Turkey is helping “a lot” in the effort, capturing all ISIL terrorists escaping prisons controlled by the YPG/PKK.
For his part, Trump said the meetings with Erdoğan and his senior officials were “very productive.”
Trump said the discussions were “wonderful” during a joint press conference that took place an hour after its original start time due to the protracted conversations.
“The U.S.-Turkish alliance can be a powerful force for security and stability, not only in the Middle East, but beyond. I look forward to working with you,” Trump said, referring to Erdoğan.
‘Turkey’s S-400 acquisition creates challenges for US’
The U.S. president hailed Turkey as a “great NATO ally” after he and Erdoğan discussed a range of topics that spanned an ongoing row over Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 anti-air system, the F-35 joint strike fighter, bilateral trade and a pause in Turkey’s operation in northern Syria.
Trump said he and Erdoğan have directed their senior officials to “immediately work on resolving the S-400 issue.”
Turkey’s acceptance of the S-400, Trump said, “creates some very serious challenges for us, and we are talking about it constantly.”
“We talked about it today. We will talk about it in the future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to resolve that situation,” he said.
Erdoğan said the challenges can be overcome solely through dialogue, stressing that Ankara is committed to opening a new page with the U.S. in line with their bilateral alliance.
Turkey’s acquisition of the advanced Russian air-defense system prompted the Trump administration to remove Turkey from the F-35 fifth-generation joint strike fighter program in July. The U.S. maintains that the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the jet and is incompatible with NATO systems.
Turkey, however, counters that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Regarding the expansion of the bilateral trade volume to reach $100 billion, Trump said he thinks “we made tremendous progress on that.”
“We encourage Turkey to further open its market, and they are doing that,” he said.
The White House followed up on the meeting with a lengthy statement saying Turkey “has enormous potential as a trading partner of the United States.”
It cited American investment in Turkey in 2018 that it said totaled $4.7 billion, a 9% increase from the year prior. Turkish investment in the U.S., meanwhile, hit $2.4 billion in 2018.
“The United States encourages Turkey to further open its markets to American goods and services, and ensure a level playing field for our trade relationship,” the White House added.