Trump meeting with Erdogan made no progress in US-Turkey relations: Experts

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington on Wednesday made no real progress on US-Turkey relations and was a slap in the face to congressional lawmakers critical of the visit, experts told Al Arabiya English.

Ahead of the visit members of Congress were “very tough in their rhetoric,” condemning the Trump administration’s invitation to Erdogan, said expert on US-Turkey relations Dan Arbell. Yet Trump seemed unaffected by the criticism when he hosted the high-level White House meeting with Erdogan.

“Trump was much softer on him than anyone else in the administration or Congress. Erdogan had a good public relations achievement, showing his relationship with President Trump is solid,” said Arbell, an associate fellow at The International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an interview with Al Arabiya English. Arbell said no real progress was made in the meeting.

Farid Senzai, founder of the Washington-based Center for Global Policy, said that the visit was telling about Trump’s attitude towards Erdogan.

“The visit showed that Trump is standing by Erdogan and his support is not wavering amid political pressure,” Senzai said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Erdogan’s visit came steeped in controversy. A bipartisan group of US representatives penned a letter to Trump on November 8, urging him to rescind the invite to Erdogan, citing the Turkish leader’s foreign and domestic actions.

“President Erdogan’s decision to invade northern Syria…has had disastrous consequences for US national security, has led to deep division in the NATO alliance, and caused a humanitarian crisis on the ground…His imprisonment of innocent American citizens and local staff from the U.S. embassy is especially egregious,” the members of Congress wrote.

One of the signers, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Eliot Engel, said after the visit that Trump “let Turkey off the hook for invading Syria, causing a mass exodus of Kurds, and purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia.”

Other lawmakers were more positive about Erdogan’s visit. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the five Republican senators who attended the meeting with Erdogan, tweeted “The meeting today at the White House was frank, candid, and I hope, over time, will prove to be productive.”

Hours after the meeting with Erdogan, Graham blocked a Senate resolution to formally recognize the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War as a genocide.

Other Republicans were more critical. Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that Erdogan was heading to the US to convince Trump to waive sanctions for the S-400s, push for the extradition of Erdogan critic and cleric Fetuhallah Gulen back to Turkey, and pressure the US to stop patrolling with Kurds in Syria.

He went on to say that if US sanctions on Turkey are waived, Ankara “will conclude they can get away with buying weapons from #Russia or allowing #China military bases.”

Trump urged Erdogan during Wednesday’s meeting to walk away from the purchase of the S-400 Russian missile defense systems, the parts of which began arriving in Turkey in July.

After the meeting Erdogan said that the US proposal for Ankara to get rid of the missile defenses is not right and an infringement of sovereign rights, according to broadcaster NTV.

While the US has banned sales of F-35 fighter jets to Ankara, Erdogan told reporters afterwards that he saw a much more positive approach to the F-35 issue from Trump.

Erdogan’s favorability level in the US has deteriorated significantly over the years and even though his appearance with Trump was amiable, the visit will not improve congressional and public opinion, according to Henri Barkey, a fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The visit will not change the perception of Erdogan, on Capitol Hill or with the public. The image of Turkey has been sullied and that will not improve for a long to come,” said Barkey in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

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