Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump clash over role of Kurds in fight against Isis

New US administration's decision to continue backing Syrian Kurds strains relations during Turkish president’s first visit to Washington DC 

Wednesday 17 May 2017 16:38 BST
US President Donald Trump (R) and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meet in the Oval Office of the White House on 16 May 2017 in Washington, DC
US President Donald Trump (R) and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meet in the Oval Office of the White House on 16 May 2017 in Washington, DC (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan did their best to present a united front during the Turkish president’s visit to Washington DC despite anger over the US’ decision to supply more arms to Kurdish militias fighting Isis in Syria.

Speaking during a joint media conference on Tuesday, the US President said his country sought to rebuild the military and economic partnership between the two Nato allies, and called Turkey an important ally in the “fight against terrorism.”

“We've had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” Mr Trump said.

Donald Trump can't pronounce President Erdogan's name

In a later statement Mr Erdogan hailed the “outstanding relations” between the nations - positive words considering much to Ankara’s consternation the White House last week announced it had approved a fresh supply of weapons to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.

Under Barack Obama’s administration, the US has long given quiet support to Kurdish fighters in the region, which are widely viewed as the most effective ground force against Isis.

Turkey has protested the alliance for years because it views the Kurdish separatist PKK movement and its affiliates in Syria as terrorist organisations.

The new administration’s decision to continue Mr Obama’s policy means the YPG will likely spearhead the coming operation to retake the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from Isis.

Turkey has previously tried and failed to persuade the US to let up to 10,000 Turkish-backed troops lead the assault instead.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region, and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Mr Erdogan said later, referring to the both the fighting and political units of the Kurdish autonomous movement in Syria.

“In the same way, we should never allow those groups who want to change the ethnic or religious structures in the region to use terrorism as a pretext,” he added, suggesting that the Kurds were using the fight against Isis as cover for separatist nationalism.

Cops struggle to break up stunning brawl between Erdogan supporters and protesters in D.C.

Mr Erdogan's visit was further complicated by his repeated call for the US to extradite Pennsylvania resident Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric widely blamed by the president’s supporters for instigating last July’s failed military coup.

Mr Gulen has denied all involvement. International intelligence has also suggested he was not behind the attempt to overthrow the government.

Elsewhere in DC on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan’s security detail was accused of beating up pro-YPD protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the city.

Video filmed by eyewitnesses showed several men in dark suits - later identified as members of the visiting Turkish delegation - rushing at the protesters, punching and knocking several of them to the ground.

Local police said nine people were hospitalised and two arrested in the incident.

News agencies contributed to this report

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