Erdoğan and Trump agree to disagree

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The meeting between presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 16.
The meeting between presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 16.

The outcome of the Erdoğan-Trump meeting shows how Mr. Trump's hands are tied and he cannot practice the policies he wants

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his American counterpart Donald Trump seem to have reached an understanding that they agree to disagree especially on the active U.S. support to the PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish militants which Ankara regards as terrorists. They also agree that they have to deal with the issue of Fetullah Gülen and his terrorist apparatus holed up in Pennsylvania, but face obstacle due to the intricacies of the American legal system and have decided to move on to remain "friends" and try to cooperate in various areas despite all the obstacles.

If the conditions were ripe, the talks at the White House would have produced the best of friends and partners between Erdoğan and Trump. However, given the fact that the newly elected American president is facing some very tough domestic problems due to his intimate relations with the Russian leadership to his uphill battle with an American establishment that is trying to reject him, they could not find much room to maneuver.

It was good that Turkey sent a high powered delegation before the White House meeting to talk to the American officials so they could see the problem areas and thus, the meeting between Erdoğan and Trump was a meeting where both sides knew where they stood on respective issues and their limitations so there were no unpleasant surprises when they talked to each other for the first time.

So, Erdoğan, in a press conference, openly told the American public at the White House that Turkey is dead set against the U.S. cooperating with the PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish terrorists and that Ankara does not see this in line with the agreement among allies to confront terrorists throughout the world.

So the Americans will continue to provide arms, ammunition, equipment and training to the PKK-linked Syrian terrorists known as the People's Defense Forces (YPG) that is the backbone of the force charged by the U.S. to retake Raqqa from Daesh militants, and Turkey will continue treating these people as terrorists and thus, reserve the right to fight against them as Turkey does any terrorist group. That means, if the YPG continues to cooperate with the PKK in launching terrorist attacks in Turkey, Ankara will punish the Kurdish terrorists in northern Syria through military means. It is fresh in minds how Turkey recently launched airstrikes against the YPG and PKK positions in the Karachok Mountains in northern Syria, killing scores of YPG terrorists and smashing their installations.

Trump seems to give the message that he inherited the terrorist YPG issue from the Obama administration, that the plans to go ahead with the Raqqa operation were well in advance when he arrived at the White House so he could not reverse it and had to go along with old plans as he could not change the Obama team that is running the whole operation. He seems to suggest that his hands are tied and cannot concentrate on this problem properly in view of the massive domestic problems he faces.

It is interesting that while Erdoğan and Trump were meeting at the White House, an American administration official was briefing the militant Kurds in northern Syria, assuring them that "this is not a sellout."

On the extradition of terrorist chieftain Gülen to Turkey, the Americans realize they have to work with Turkey to solve the issue and that they too are closely monitoring the massive Gülen operation and will deal with the issue within the limitations of the American legal system that has loopholes to serve the Gülen group.

So at the end of the day at least Trump was sincere to tell Erdoğan what he can deliver and what he can't, and that what he can't is quite significant. At least he did not fool around with Erdoğan like former U.S. President Barack Obama's administration did for all these years.

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