Trump sets his mind on tough meeting with Erdogan
Tomorrow the U.S. President Donald Trump meets the leader of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan now that the United States has decided to arm a group of Kurdish fighters in Syria. See Turkey warns U.S. of blowback from decision to arm Kurds in Syria. What could have been an opportunity for both leaders to make good on promises to mend relations was thrown into doubt when Trump approved a Pentagon plan to arm Kurdish fighters known as the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group. The Hill reports in its article Trump set for tense meeting with Turkey after ISIS decision that now experts and lawmakers debate whether Trump made the right call arming the YPG and what he could do next week to assuage Turkey’s concerns.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this year predicted a “train wreck” in Syria if the Trump administration didn’t better address Turkish-Kurdish tensions, expressed tepid support Thursday for the idea of arming the Kurds. “It’s very complicated,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I think it should be done, but we have a lot of work to do with the Turks.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there are “no other options” than to work with the Kurds, “our most effective fighters.” Cardin said he’s hoping there’s a “candid conversation” next week between Trump and Erdogan. “Turkey is a tough, complicated country,” Cardin said. “They’re our NATO ally. They’re very important to us in our campaign [against ISIS]. It’s a country we have to work with, but they’ve done things that made our mission more difficult. So I hope we’ll have a candid conversation back and forth and try to strengthen our common strategies.”
One of Turkey’s chief concerns is that the Kurds will stay in Raqqa as they work to carve out their own territory. There are also concerns about the Kurds taking over a largely Sunni Arab city. Trump could also promise to put pressure on Fethullah Gülen, the cleric Erdogan blames for the coup, and his organization, Jeffrey said. And he could give Erdogan more specifics on how the United States plans to counter growing Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq.
Aaron Stein, a senior fellow Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said the decision to arm the YPG would be a “serious hindrance” to U.S.-Turkish relations. The Turks are “really steaming mad” about the decision, he said, but are “holding their fire” until after the meeting. “There’s unanimity in Turkey that this isn’t a good idea,” he said. Still, he said, people such as Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster knew that when they made the recommendation. “This story was written in 2015,” Stein said. “The U.S. should not have intervened in Syria to begin with, but this is a natural outcome of that intervention. If both presidents, both Obama and Trump, articulated an ISIS first strategy, you only have one option.”
Bulent Aliriza, the director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump’s decision makes next week’s meeting much less predictable than before. The Turks, he said, “have not given up” on getting Trump to reverse course. “ISIS trumped everything else,” Aliriza said of Trump’s thinking. “He wants to get Raqqa. Certainly it would be a feather in his cap to do something not done during the Obama period. This is the quickest way.”