The upcoming meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and United States President Joe Biden during the NATO summit in June, agreed upon during a recent phone call, is a “positive step forward,” the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Tuesday.
Speaking at a virtual gathering of the think tank the American Enterprise Institute, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. called Turkey "a longstanding" and "valued NATO partner," saying the U.S. has an Article 5 relationship with Turkey within NATO.
The article states that any armed attack against one member of the NATO alliance is an attack against them all.
His remarks came in response to a question on whether the increase in Turkey's military capability, especially in the drone area, would shake up the regional dynamics.
The commander said Turkey has legitimate national security concerns associated with its borders with Syria and Iraq and the U.S. also recognizes that.
"So, you know what we try to do with Turkey is we maximize the areas where we can find agreement," said the U.S. commander.
"You can still be friends, even if you disagree. There are some areas that we disagree on. So, I think a good sign is the fact that the two presidents are going to talk at the NATO summit, I think coming up in the next month or so, and I think that's a positive step forward," said McKenzie.
The meeting between Biden and Erdoğan will take place on the sidelines of the June 14 NATO leaders’ summit in Brussels, Belgium and will be used "to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues," according to the White House.
Tensions between the two NATO allies rose when Biden called the events of 1915 "genocide," breaking the long tradition of American presidents refraining from using the term.
Biden's remarks came in a customary statement on the anniversary, a day after speaking with the Turkish president. Biden reportedly acknowledged during the conversation that he planned to go ahead with the statement and was seeking to placate the expected uproar from NATO ally Turkey.
After the remarks, the Turkish nation stood united against the misrepresentation of history, as citizens from all political views flocked to social media platforms to express their anger. The Turkish government and opposition parties have also stood united against Biden’s move.
Erdoğan once again voiced Turkey's proposal to set up a joint history commission.
Turkey's position on the 1915 events is that the death of Armenians in eastern Anatolia took place when some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties that were further exacerbated by massacres committed by militaries and militia groups on both sides.
Turkey objects to the presentation of the incidents as "genocide" but describes the 1915 events as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.
Another source of tension that has been ongoing since 2019, is Ankara’s acquisition of the advanced Russian S-400 air defense system, which prompted Washington to remove Turkey from its F-35 Lightning II jet program. The U.S. argued that the system was incompatible with NATO systems and could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified information on the F-35 jets. Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
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