Trump To Meet With Turkish President Erdogan At The White House

Nov 12, 2019
Originally published on November 12, 2019 8:09 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is scheduled to meet with President Trump tomorrow at the White House. The last time Erdogan was in D.C., things didn't end well. Protesters clashed with Erdogan's security guards outside the Turkish ambassador's residence.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST AMBIENCE)

CORNISH: That violence is one of the many issues raised by U.S. lawmakers who are balking at Erdogan's return. NPR's White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is here to tell us more.

And, Ayesha, first, just let's start with what the White House is saying about these concerns.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Well, the White House isn't really saying much. Lawmakers, including Trump allies, raised concerns about those bodyguards who roughed up protesters last time being allowed back in the U.S. President Trump, though, hasn't really touched on that, and he's welcoming Erdogan. Trump's been focused on pulling U.S. troops from northern Syria. That decision cleared the way for Turkey to lead an offensive into Syria against Kurdish forces who had been allied with the U.S. That Turkish offensive really upset lawmakers from both parties. And now there has been this cease-fire agreement reached. But there's still a lot unknown about how this arrangement will work and whether it will last. There are questions about what happens to those captured ISIS fighters that had been guarded by the Kurds. And Erdogan today threatened to send some of those militants to Europe. And Trump has warned that the U.S. will take strong action against Turkey if the country fails to protect religious and ethnic minorities in Syria. So basically, Turkey and the U.S. really need to get on the same page on what's happening in Syria.

CORNISH: For background here, we should mention that the president wrote this unusual letter last month to Erdogan, saying to the Turkish president, don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool, when it came to this invasion into northeast Syria. Will that impact this meeting?

RASCOE: So there were reports that Erdogan didn't like the tone of that letter and even that he threw it in the trash. But since then, Trump has really been more complimentary. And either way, Trump and Erdogan are definitely on better terms than Erdogan and Congress right now. And experts I've talked to say that's really the win for Erdogan. Just being able to go to the White House and be seen with Trump is good for him and shows that he still has support in the U.S. I spoke with Heather Conley, who is director of the Europe Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Trump's liked strongman leaders like Erdogan. And this visit allows Trump to show that he won't bow to criticism.

HEATHER CONLEY: It's sort of, I think, in many respects, the president's style of doubling and tripling down when he wants to demonstrate his position on this, no matter how much the outcry from Congress.

RASCOE: And Trump feels that Erdogan has really helped him in the region, and so that seems to be why he has kind of stuck with him.

CORNISH: What are some of the other topics that are going to be on the agenda?

RASCOE: So a major point of contention right now between the U.S. and Turkey has been Turkey's decision to buy a Russian air defense system. Turkey bought this S-400 missile defense system from Russia. And now the U.S. has barred Turkey from buying U.S.-made fighter jets. National security adviser Robert O'Brien said that Trump plans to tell Erdogan tomorrow that as a NATO ally, Turkey should not be buying Russian military equipment. So far, Turkey hasn't really budged on this issue, and it's not clear how it's going to be resolved.

CORNISH: Backdrop to this - the public impeachment hearings. How is the White House trying to play both these stories?

RASCOE: So the meeting was in works before this. But there is going to be a press conference, so the issue of those impeachment hearings could come up and give Trump a chance to make his case on that.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe at the White House.

Thanks for your reporting.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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