Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was welcomed by the US President Donald Trump at the White House for a high-stakes meeting on Wednesday that underlined his claim to be ignoring the impeachment drama unfolding simultaneously in Congress.
Before giving a joint news conference, the two leaders were to hold several hours of meetings. Ahead of reaching to the Oval Office, the US president met Erdogan on the White House’s South Lawn together with a military honor guard. On the other side, Congress listened to evidence against Trump from two diplomats in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump did not tune in to the nationally televised impeachment hearings, as he was “too busy” in the run-up to Erdogan’s arrival, he told reporters. Trump’s ignore the drama on Capitol Hill indicates that he was also avoiding the opposition from many in Congress along with his own Republican party to rolling out the red carpet for Erdogan.
The relationship between the United States and Turkey has gone through severe tensions after Erdogan’s ordering of an October offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Trump has ordered to full withdraw the US troops in the border area ahead of the Turkish invasion while exhorting Erdogan in an extraordinary undiplomatic letter to avoid too much bloodshed.
Trump wrote in a letter, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” that was reportedly thrown by Erdogan into the trash. Trump’s withdrawal of the US soldiers effectively gave fellow-NATO member Turkey a green light for what appears to be an extended occupation of a large swath of Syria.
However, many in Congress considered the move as an abandonment of the Kurds who died in large numbers while fighting alongside the US forces against Islamic State jihadists in the area.
Trump’s move of withdrawing forces was also condemned by Washington as a boon for Russian ambitions. Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to Trump in a letter that was made public on Monday, “Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States, and we urge you to rescind this invitation.”
After Erdogan announced of purchasing the Russian S-400 anti-craft missile system, Turkey’s role in NATO is under question. Turkey has been barred by Washington from the F-35 stealth warplane program over the purchase by suggesting he could instead buy Russian warplanes as well.
A senior White House official, who has asked not to be identified, acknowledged the high tension but said Trump wanted to find solutions. The official said that “This is nearly a 70-year alliance. It has helped both of our countries through very, very dark times. We are not going to throw it away lightly if there is a way forward.”