Erdogan, Trump reaffirm joint fight against terrorism

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday stressed continued cooperation with the U.S. against terrorism during his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House.

We are committed to fighting all kinds of terrorism, without any discrimination whatsoever, that impose a clear and present threat upon our future,” Erdogan said in brief prepared remarks in the Roosevelt Room.

“There is no place for terrorist organizations in the future of our region,” Trump said.

The meeting comes amid strong disagreements between the U.S. and Turkey regarding Washington’s support for the YPG as Turkey views the group as the Syrian offshoot of the terrorist PKK organization.

The Pentagon said last week the U.S. would begin directly arming the YPG.

Engaging the YPG, and its political wing, the PYD, as partners, “no matter which country does it, certainly does not fall in line with the global agreement that has been reached” on terrorism, Erdogan said.

During the news conference, Trump voiced support for Ankara in its fight against Daesh and the PKK, saying the U.S. would work to ensure that terror groups “have no safe quarter.

“The Turkish people have faced horrible terrorist attacks in recent years, and even recently,” he said. “The relationship that we have together will be unbeatable,” Trump said of joint anti-terror efforts.

He also voiced appreciation for Turkey’s leadership “in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria”.

Among the issues the men will discuss are a mutual effort to “reinvigorate our trade and commercial ties”, Trump said.

Prior to the meeting, Trump said the discussions would be “long and hard” but fruitful.

“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” he said. That’s prompted Turkey to launch attacks into Syria targeting the Kurdish fighters. The Trump administration announced that it would provide a shipment of arms to the Kurdish fighters. But President Trump did reiterate the longstanding U.S. position that the U.S. will continue to regard the Kurdish group based in Turkey, the PKK, as a terrorist entity.

“We support Turkey in the first fight against terror and terror groups like ISIL and the PKK and ensure they have no safe quarter, the terror groups,” President Trump said.

Some analysts said the U.S. needs to maintain this separation between the PKK in Turkey and the Kurdish groups fighting in Iraq and Syria so that they can further the goal of defeating ISIL in places like Raqqa.

Despite this difficult balancing act on Syria, the two leaders pledged to continue expanding their working relationship with the goal of defeating ISIL and other terrorist entities.

Former Turkish lawmaker Aykan Erdemir argued that Erdogan’s practice has been to be “very careful with his comments about President Trump,” preferring to leave his aides to be harsher.

He predicted the Turkish leader would adopt tactics next week at the White House that he learned as a soccer player — namely, “The best defense is offense.”

“He will blitz Trump with Turkish complaints,” said Erdemir, especially over the decision to authorize the Pentagon to arm Kurdish militiamen who dominate the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Amnesty International said the meeting would be “an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the way that President Trump and President Erdogan are contributing to a global climate of toxic and dehumanizing politics.”

“President Trump recently praised President Erdogan for winning a referendum in which dissenting opinions were ruthlessly suppressed, yet President Trump has been silent on Turkey’s alarming crackdown on the media,” said Margaret Huang, the executive director of Amnesty International USA. “The world will be watching, hoping that both presidents will reaffirm their commitments to protecting human rights.” Both leaders’ reaffirmation of the importance of U.S.-Turkey ties rang hollow on Tuesday. Erdogan’s pronouncement that his visit with Trump “will mark a historical turn of the tide” and set the “foundation of new era of relations between the two nations” seemed more like wishful thinking, experts said.

“Erdogan is not stupid. He knows he won’t get what he wants,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The question now is if he is going to use the (optics) of this meeting for his domestic base, and as a backdrop to further cement his turn from the West toward Russia and Asia.”