Trump dodges US-Turkey rows to focus on Erdogan friendship

President Donald Trump on Wednesday sidestepped disputes snaring US relations with fellow NATO member Turkey, instead telling visiting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is a “fan.” 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.
“I would much rather focus on peace in the Middle East,” he told a joint press conference with Erdogan, describing the impeachment as a “hoax” and a “joke.”
But Trump steered equally clear of controversy over Turkey, which is rapidly becoming one of Washington’s most problematic partners in a tinderbox region.
Relations have been under severe strain following Erdogan’s ordering of an October offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Trump ordered US troops stationed in the border area to withdraw ahead of the Turkish invasion, while exhorting Erdogan in an extraordinarily undiplomatic letter to avoid too much bloodshed.
“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump wrote.
Despite the letter, Trump’s withdrawal of US soldiers effectively gave Turkey a green light to mount what appears to be an extended occupation of a large swath of Syria where ethnic-Kurds had held sway.
This outraged many in Congress, which saw the move as an abandonment of the Kurds, who died in large numbers while fighting alongside US forces against Islamic State jihadists in the area.
The reshuffling of forces in the region was also criticized in Washington as a boon for Russian ambitions.
“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,” a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to Trump last week in a letter made public Monday.
Initial reports said that Erdogan not only ignored Trump’s letter but threw it in the trash. On Wednesday, he told the press conference that he had used the trip to return the letter to its sender.–DT

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