Turkey’s recent offensive against a key U.S. ally in Syria has not stopped President Trump from honoring Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a White House visit and joint press conference. Mr. Trump had approving words for the authoritarian leader, whose military invaded northern Syria and forced out America’s Kurdish allies.
“I’m a big fan of the president, to tell you that, and I know that the ceasefire, while complicated is moving forward, and moving forward at a very rapid clip,” Mr. Trump said during his joint news conference with Erdogan in the White House’s East Room.
Asked for his general reaction to the first day of impeachment hearings, the president said he hadn’t watched a “minute” of the hearings because he was too busy meeting with Erdogan, but added he wants to know who the whistleblower is. Later in the press conference, the president said he did not recall a conversation that Taylor testified took place between Mr. Trump and Sondland. According to Taylor, an aide heard the president ask Sondland about “the investigations.” Mr. Trump, responding to a question from Fox News’ John Roberts, said it was the first time he heard about that.
In an Oval Office meeting before their news conference, Mr. Trump thanked Erdogan, and emphasized that the U.S. wants to shift its focus to its own borders, not others’ borders.
“I want to thank the president for the job they’ve done, again, this has been thousands of years in the process between borders, between these countries and other countries that we’re involved with 7,000 miles away,” Mr. Trump said of Erdogan. “So, we want to worry about our things.”
Mr. Trump added he and Erdogan have been “very good friends,” almost from “day one.” He mentioned that many of Turkey’s people are being killed “in the area that we’re talking about” and it’s “not a one-way street.”
In the afternoon, the president held a meeting with Erodgan, Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst and Jim Risch.
“I’ve never had an opportunity like this before. I appreciate it. The purpose of this meeting is to have an American civics lesson for our friends in Turkey. And there’s a pony in there somewhere if we can find it,” Graham said during that meeting.
How to watch Trump and Erdogan at the White House
What: Trump and Erdogan hold a press conference at the White House
The president noted Wednesday that he and Erdogan would be discussing the Russian S-400 missile defense system Turkey has purchased, along with the F-35 fighter jet program. The U.S. kicked the Turks out of the U.S. F-35 fighter jet program during the summer over their decision to buy the S-400, which could be a threat to F-35 planes and which is also not compatible with NATO systems. Turkey could also face U.S. sanctions over its purchase of the Russian weapons system.
Asked by a reporter whether there was any way that Turkey could use the S-400 system and participate in the F-35 program at the same time, the president said that he and Erdogan were talking about the issue.
Erdogan’s visit comes weeks after Turkey launched its assault on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria. Some human rights groups are criticizing the visit, and some members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — including some Republicans — have asked the president to rescind the invitation.
“President Erdogan’s decision to invade northern Syria on October 9 has had disastrous consequences for U.S. national security, has led to deep divisions in the NATO alliance, and caused a humanitarian crisis on the ground,” the lawmakers, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, said in a letter to Mr. Trump last week. “Turkish forces have killed civilians and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a critical U.S. partner in the fight against ISIS, and displaced over one hundred thousand people from their homes in northern Syria.”
Turkey launched its offensive after Mr. Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Days later, Mr. Trump said Turkey had called to say there would be a “permanent” ceasefire with the Kurds, and he announced the U.S. was lifting sanctions on Turkey.
Mr. Trump later offered warm words for Erdogan, calling him a “friend of mine” and “a hell of a leader.”
Meanwhile, the president said the Kurds are “not angels.”
On Tuesday, the president told his audience at the Economic Club of New York that he’ll talk with anyone — dictators and all.
“Anybody that wants to come in — dictators — that’s okay. Come on in,” he said.