Syria, NATO, jihadists: Trump receives Erdogan in a climate of tension

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Discussions are likely to be lively on a very large number of topics. After weeks of tense and sometimes confused exchanges, head-to-head: Donald Trump receives on Wednesday at the White House his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss Syria, the fate of jihadist prisoners or NATO.

Read also These jihadists in the service of the Turks

The joint press conference of the two leaders, scheduled for the beginning of the afternoon, looks bright. Especially as it coincides with another major event in Washington: the first public hearings in Congress in the investigation for a possible dismissal of Donald Trump.

"Do not play hard! Do not fool!"

The tenant of the White House is proud to know how to negotiate with authoritarian rulers. But his dealings with Recep Erdogan over the past weeks have been chaotic to say the least, raising real questions about his long-term strategy in Syria. Following Donald Trump's announcement of the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria, Ankara on 9 October launched a military offensive against Kurdish allied forces of the International Coalition in the fight against jihadists.

"Do not play hard! Do not be fooled!" Donald Trump said in a surprising letter to his Turkish counterpart. Strongly criticized, including in his own camp, he then hardened the tone, threatened to "destroy" the Turkish economy and authorized sanctions against Turkey, which were lifted after an agreement reached in mid-October.

Read also Syria: Erdogan, crimes and impunity

But the abandonment of Kurdish forces and the place left to Russia in the Syrian conflict have outraged many elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans. "We think the time is particularly bad to receive President Erdogan in the United States, we urge you to withdraw your invitation," wrote elected officials from both sides in a letter made public Monday.

Is not it a gift to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to receive him with great pomp at the White House? "We must talk with Turkey about Syria," said a senior State Department official on condition of anonymity. "We should not see this kind of visits as rewards but as tools of diplomacy."

NATO in turmoil

Donald Trump's procrastination and turkish offensive have also sparked fierce tension within the Atlantic Alliance – of which Turkey is a member – which fears a resurgence of the Islamic state group. French President Emmanuel Macron deplored in very strong terms the total lack of coordination with the United States on this issue, saying that NATO was in a state of "brain death".

Head-to-head talks between the two leaders comes on the eve of a meeting in Washington of ministers of the international anti-jihadist coalition. It was urgently requested by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian after the announcement of the withdrawal of US soldiers. Beyond the Syrian file, sources of friction are numerous.

Read also Erdogan, the eradicator

Despite Washington protests, Turkey has bought S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia. In response, the United States has removed Turkey from the development program of the US stealth fighter F-35, despite significant investments by Ankara in this project. "We are very angry," CBS Robert O'Brien, Donald Trump's national security advisor, said Sunday. "There is no place in NATO for major arms purchases from Russia".

For its part, Ankara has let out its discontent after the vote in late October a text by the US House of Representatives qualifying as "genocide" the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, a term that Turkey rejects. The last visit of the Turkish president to Washington in May 2017 was marked by violent clashes between his security services and pro-Kurdish protesters in a posh neighborhood of Washington, in front of the residence of the Turkish ambassador.

Republican President Liz Cheney has sent a letter to Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo asking him to ban access to US territory to anyone traveling with the Turkish president who has participated in "the attack on US citizens who were demonstrating peacefully ". "The use of violence by the Erdogan regime, wherever it may be, is inhuman and unacceptable," she wrote.

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