WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will welcome his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the White House on Wednesday as part of a move aimed at improving relations between the two countries.
Relations between the two Nato allies strained last month when Turkey invaded Syria, ignoring US pleas not to do so.
President Trump reacted strongly and threatened to “destroy” the Turkish economy if Mr Erdogan were to continue his campaign against the Kurds in northern Syria. The visit, however, shows that the US leader has not only changed his mind but is also willing to publicly acknowledge this improvement.
The first indication of this change came late last month, when President Trump made it clear that he was not going to strain America’s relations with a key Nato ally for Syria. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand (Syria),” he said at a White House news briefing.
The US media interpreted the visit as a “win-win” situation for Mr Erdogan who would, at the least, be able to tell his people that he was welcomed as a friend at the White House despite ignoring US pleas on Syria.
Mr Trump, however, has already annoyed many in Washington by inviting Mr Trump to his official residence. On Wednesday, a bipartisan bloc of 17 US lawmakers urged President Trump to disinvite Mr Erdogan.
In a letter led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, the 15 House Democrats and two Republicans said Turkey’s invasion of Syria “has had disastrous consequences for US national security, has led to deep divisions in the Nato alliance and caused a humanitarian crisis on the ground.”
But such letters are unlikely to have any impact on President Trump who said in a recent tweet that he had “a very good (telephone) call with President Erdogan” on Nov 6 and was “looking forward to seeing him” at the White House on Wednesday.
And a White House statement. Issued at the time of the Turkish invasion, explains why the military expedition did not offend Washington.
“Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years,” the White House said.
The statement also noted that the US government had pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they refused.
“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” the statement added.
President Trump said that Mr Erdogan “informed me” on Nov 6 “that they have captured numerous ISIS fighters that were reported to have escaped during the conflict – including a wife and sister of (former ISIS chief) al Baghdadi,” he wrote in his tweet.
Mr Erdogan also referred to this issue on Tuesday when warned some European nations that he could send jailed fighters of the militant Islamic State group to their countries of origin if Europe did not change its attitude towards Turkey.
“You should revise your stance towards Turkey,” said Mr Erdogan in remarks to reporters in Ankara. “These gates will open and these ISIS members who have started to be sent to you will continue to be sent. Then you can take care of your own problem.”
Recently, Turkey deported a US citizen who, Ankara claimed, was associated with ISIS, but is now stuck in the heavily militarised no man’s land between Greece and Turkey, after Greece refused to take him in.
Turkey has about 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters in its detention centers and 287 captured recently in Syria, including those who have been stripped of western citizenship to prevent them from returning home. Ankara has said that it wants to repatriate as many as it can.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019