Washington, Nov 14 (IANS) US President Donald Trump has declared himself a “big fan” of his visiting Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and defended the latter against criticism from Congress, which is still angered by Ankara’s offensive in northern Syria.
Trump’s decision to receive Erdogan in the White House barely a month after a contentious Turkish invasion in northern Syria was heavily questioned by members of both US parties, Efe news reported.
However, Trump made it clear that he has moved on and was no longer affected by tensions generated by the offensive.
“I’m a big fan of the President, to tell you that,” Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday night along with Erdogan, after nearly five hours of discussions at the White House.
“We’ve been very good friends. We’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day one. And we understand each other’s country,” he added.
Trump spoke of his personal harmony with Erdogan and implied that he understood the motives behind Turkey attacking Kurdish-Syrian militias, who have been American allies against the Islamic State group but considered terrorists by Ankara for their links to the Kurdish PKK guerrillas.
“I understand the problems that they’ve had, including many people from Turkey being killed in the area that we’re talking about. And he has to do something about that, also. It’s not a one-way street,” Trump said.
Erdogan insisted that the Kurdish militias supported by Washington for years were “terrorists”, and claimed that certain circles that empathised with them were trying to cloud American public opinion and harm Ankara.
He said that recent resolutions approved by the US House of Representatives severely affected Turkey and had the potential to damage bilateral ties, and the same message had been conveyed to Trump.
On October 29, the Lower House of the US Congress passed a resolution with overwhelming bipartisan support to impose sanctions on Turkey over its offensive in Syria, however the measure still needs the approval of the Senate as well as the US president to come into effect.
The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, also criticized the invitation extended to the Turkish leader.
“I share my colleagues’ uneasiness at seeing President Erdogan honoured at the White House,” said McConnell at the Senate.
For months, Trump has refrained from sanctioning Turkey for its acquisition, and at Wednesday’s press conference he acknowledged that the issue posed a “very serious challenge” to the relationship, and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was tasked with continuing talks to resolve issues.
Meanwhile, Erdogan announced that he had clearly communicated to Trump that, under the right circumstances, his government could also acquire US Patriot missiles.
However, such a purchase would require the approval of the US Congress, whose Lower House voted last month in favour of banning the export of American weapons to Turkey.