News & Politics

Trump, Erdogan commit to cooperation despite tensions over Syrian militias

President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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President Trump on Tuesday pledged continued support for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, highlighting the importance of the U.S.-Turkish alliance despite mounting tensions over Washington’s support for Kurdish rebels in Syria.

Speaking alongside Erdogan at the White House, Trump said Turkey and the United States would act together against extremist groups including the Islamic State. “Again, we seek to face this threat together,” he told reporters.

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

While Erdogan’s government had long warned U.S. officials against expanding support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), empowering 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.

Aaron Stein, a Turkey scholar at the Atlantic Council, said the modest goals for Erdogan’s two-day visit reflected the constraints of a relationship that has generated friction on both sides but that both nations cannot afford to jettison.

It was “mission accomplished, if your expectations are that you want people who are smiling in the photographs,” he said.

For the United States, Turkey has been a key ally in the Middle East. Most recently, the use of Turkish military facilities has been critical in the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Syria. For Ankara, the backing of NATO’s most powerful member has been an important boost as Turkey has asserted itself on the world stage.

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