Presidents Donald Trump and 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 came to 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.
“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 (YPG) 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 anti-ISIL fight 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 the 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.
Washington and Ankara are bitterly at odds over US support for the YPG, a Syrian armed faction that acts as the main ground force against ISIL, but that Turkey deems a front for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
And Erdogan remains angry that the United States 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 bloody 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 the Turk responded by thanking him and declared: “I believe today’s meeting will strengthen our longstanding alliance and strategic partnership.”