US, Turkey affirm ties despite division over arming Kurds

Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) praised Mr Donald Trump for his win in last year's election.
Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) praised Mr Donald Trump for his win in last year's election.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has pledged continued support for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, highlighting the importance of the US-Turkish alliance despite mounting tensions over Washington's support for Kurdish rebels in Syria.

Speaking alongside Mr Erdogan at the White House on Tuesday, Mr Trump said Turkey and the United States would act together against extremist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"Again, we seek to face this threat together," he told reporters.

Mr Trump welcomed Mr Erdogan, fresh from a narrow electoral victory that granted him wide-ranging new powers, just a week after the Pentagon announced a plan to directly arm Kurdish militiamen in Syria for the first time.

While Mr Erdogan's government had long warned US officials against expanding support for the People's Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkey sees as an existential threat, the warm public remarks from both leaders reflect the Nato allies' need to hold together a key partnership at a time of intense strain.

Mr Erdogan heaped praise on his host - saying Mr Trump had presided over a "legendary triumph" after last year's elections - but reiterated his objections to the US partnership with the YPG.

"We should never allow those groups to manipulate the religious structure and the ethnic structure of the region, making terrorism as a pretext or an excuse," he said.

Mr Erdogan also made reference to another issue creating friction in US-Turkish ties: Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, whom Mr Erdogan has accused of plotting a coup attempt last July.

Turkish officials have repeatedly asked the US to extradite Mr Gulen. The Justice Department must decide if Turkey has a case.

So far, it has made no determination.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'US, Turkey affirm ties despite division over arming Kurds'. Print Edition | Subscribe