US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he is a “big fan” of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan who visited Washington late in the day and defended the latter against criticism from Congress, which is still angered by Ankara’s offensive in northern Syria.
On a day when Congress was holding its first nationally televised hearings in the impeachment probe against Trump, the US president spent several hours meeting at the White House with Erdogan and claimed to be paying no attention to his domestic crisis.
During a joint press conference with Erdogan, Trump said, “I would much rather focus on peace in the Middle East”.
Trump described the impeachment probe as a “hoax” and a “joke”.
However, Trump made it clear that he has moved on and was no longer affected by tensions generated by the offensive.
“I understand the problems that they’ve had, including many people from Turkey being killed in the area that we’re talking about. And he has to do something about that, also. It’s not a one-way street,” Trump said.
Erdogan insisted that the Kurdish militias supported by Washington for years were “terrorists”, and claimed that certain circles that empathised with them were trying to cloud American public opinion and harm Ankara.
He said that recent resolutions approved by the US House of Representatives severely affected Turkey and had the potential to damage bilateral ties, and the same message had been conveyed to Trump.
Erdogan’s visit to the US comes amid tense relations between the two NATO allies, Arab News reported.
Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to Trump in a letter that later made public, “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”.
The tensions between the US and Turkey escalated after Ankara launched a military offensive in northeast Syria against Washington-backed Kurdish forces, who are fighting against the terror group Islamic State.
Meanwhile, Erdogan announced that he had clearly communicated to Trump that, under the right circumstances, his government could also acquire US Patriot missiles.
The Turkish President recently signalled that he had second thoughts about the planned visit due to measures that the US legislative adopted against Ankara.
Trump had also announced to authorise sanctions against Turkish officials, raise steel tariffs and end negotiations on a USD 100 billion trade deal.
Since his announcement last December to pull out all troops from Syria, Trump has softened plans and agreed to keep a residual force in the northeastern part of the country. As part of that plan, Washington wants to continue working with SDF fighters in the region to press on Islamic State, a move Ankara dislikes.