Heading to D.C., Turkey's President Erdogan Wants Trump to See Terrorism His Way

Patrick Goodenough | November 13, 2019 | 4:25am EST
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 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves Istanbul for Washington. (Photo: Turkish Presidency)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves Istanbul for Washington. (Photo: Turkish Presidency)

(CNSNews.com) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is placing at the top of his agenda for his talks with President Trump on Wednesday the issue of terrorism, and what he sees as Washington’s failure to fall in line with Turkey’s views on the matter.

Specifically, he wants to press home his demand for the U.S. to extradite a self-exiled Turkish cleric whom Erdogan accuses of masterminding an abortive 2016 coup attempt, and to stop treating the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish group, as an ally.

Ankara has been demanding the extradition of Fetullah Gulen since 2013, accusing him of trying to overthrow the state by infiltrating supporters into the judiciary, military and other organs.

The demands became increasingly strident after the July 2016 coup attempt, which triggered a state crackdown that saw tens of thousands of civil servants and others arrested and purged for supposed links to Gulen. The cleric, who lives in a compound near Saylorsburg, Pa., has denied involvement.

Speaking to reporters before flying to Washington from Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey would continue to press Trump for “the extradition of the terrorist leader in Pennsylvania.”

“We are determined to pursue them until all putschists are held to account before the court,” he said.

Also at the top of his agenda, he said, was the issue of the YPG (the Kurdish People’s Protection Units) in Syria.

The YPG is a leading component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an effective ally in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat ISIS and its “caliphate.”

But Turkey regards YPG fighters as terrorists because of their affiliation to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has waged a four-decade armed separatist campaign against the Turkish state.

Erdogan’s controversial military offensive in northeast Syria was designed to push back the YPG and clear a strip of territory where he wants to repatriate Syrians who sought refuge in Turkey during the civil war.

Under an agreement reached between Erdogan and Vice President Mike Pence on October 17, Turkey agreed to “pause” its offensive to allow YPG to pull back from the area its forces had invaded. The Kurdish fighters did so; Turkish forces remain in the area.

Over that period, Trump on Twitter thanked SDF leader Gen. Mazloum Abdi for his cooperation, and indicated he may meet with him.

“Thank you General Mazloum for your kind words and courage,” Trump tweeted on October 24. “Please extend my warmest regards to the Kurdish people. I look forward to seeing you soon.”

That infuriated Turkey, as did a call by a bipartisan group of senators critical of Erdogan’s policies for the State Department to expedite a visa for Abdi, to enable him to brief Congress and the administration on “the situation on the ground and the fight against ISIS.”

(A day after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed late last month, Erdogan’s interior minister said in a speech Abdi was as much a terrorist as the ISIS leader.)

Erdogan said in Istanbul he would provide Trump with “documents” showing why meeting with what he called the “murderer and terrorist” would be a wrong step to take.

“We will also tell the U.S. that it should treat the YPG/PKK terrorist organization just like they do [ISIS] and others.”

“Turkey wants to start a new period with the U.S. on the issues pertaining to security of both countries,” he added.

Erdogan also complained that despite agreements he struck last month, first with the U.S. and then with Russian President Vladimir Putin, relating to northeastern Syria, neither of those countries had been able to clear the area of “terrorist organizations within the time they promised.”

He planned to discuss the issue with Trump at the White House, and with Putin by phone later.

‘Reverse course’

Erdogan told reporters he would also raise with Trump other issues, including U.S. actions against state-owned Halkbank, which the Justice Department recently indicted for financial crimes including a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.

There are a number of other irritants in the relationship between the two NATO allies, including Erdogan’s decision to reject U.S. opposition and buy Russian S-400 air defense systems – a move which U.S. lawmakers say should trigger sanctions – his increasing authoritarianism at home, and his support for Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.

Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, the House of Representatives two weeks ago passed two measures that raised strong objections from Ankara – a bill imposing sanctions on Turkey over its Syria offensive and a resolution recognizing the “Armenian genocide.”

Seventeen lawmakers – 15 Democrats and Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis (Fla.) and Peter King (N.Y.) – signed a letter to Trump urging him to rescind the invitation to Erdogan.

On Tuesday Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on Erdogan to “reverse course and recommit to NATO and our bilateral partnership.”

McCaul said it was “imperative that all representatives of the Turkish government respect the United States’ laws, notably the right to peacefully protest.”

“The American people will not tolerate visitors disregarding our laws and violating our founding principles on U.S. soil,” he added, alluding to an incident during Erdogan’s last visit, when members of his security detail crossed police lines near the Turkish ambassador’s residence and assaulted people protesting against Erdogan.



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