Trump, Erdogan meet to mend frayed US-Turkey ties

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with President Trump on Tuesday, amid tensions over the US decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria.

WASHINGTON • Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan met United States President Donald Trump at the White House yesterday, hoping to repair ties frayed over Syria and the presence in the US of a bitter political foe.

The meeting came after Mr Erdogan won a hotly contested referendum boosting his powers and as he aims to entice the American leader into major policy shifts to solidify an increasingly strained relationship.

US-Turkish ties became poisoned in the waning months of former president Barack Obama's administration by venomous disputes over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Turkish officials had hoped for a "new page" after the bickering with Mr Obama, but the Trump administration's announcement that the US would arm the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - which Ankara views as terrorists - put a damper on such optimism.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Ankara regards the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

"YPG and PKK are both terror groups. There is no difference at all between them.

"They only have different names," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said recently.

Although they are allies in Nato, conflicting goals between Turkey and the US in the Middle East are seen as one factor leading Ankara to cultivate closer ties with Iran.

Turkey has also forged ahead with an increasingly close relationship with Russia's President Vladimir Putin to the alarm of its Western allies.

Another stumbling block to improved US-Turkish relations has been the presence in the US state of Pennsylvania of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr Erdogan blames for a failed coup in July last year.

Mr Erdogan has made clear he expects steps from Washington over the fate of Mr Gulen, who denies any role in the coup but whom Turkey wants to see extradited and face trial at home.

Yet analysts warn that Mr Trump - even if he wanted to - cannot simply promise Mr Erdogan that Mr Gulen will be extradited as the process depends on the independent American judicial system.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Trump, Erdogan meet to mend frayed US-Turkey ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe