(CNSNews.com) – President Trump confirmed Wednesday that a proposed White House meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will go ahead next week, at a time when many in Congress have been sharply critical of the authoritarian Islamist leader.
Trump tweeted that, in a “very good” phone conversation, Erdogan “informed me that they have captured numerous ISIS fighters that were reported to have escaped during the conflict – including a wife and sister of terrorist killer [Abu Bakr] al Baghdadi …”
“... Also talked about their Border with Syria, the eradication of terrorism, the ending of hostilities with the Kurds, and many other topics,” he added. “Look forward to seeing President Erdogan next Wednesday, November 13th at the White House.”
Erdogan in a subsequent tweet said he believed the phone conversation and forthcoming White House visit “will be beneficial for our bilateral relations and regional issues.
(Earlier Wednesday, Erdogan during a speech in Ankara confirmed the arrest of Baghdadi’s relatives in recent days, adding “but we did not make a fuss like the U.S. did” when Trump announced the death of the terrorist leader during a Special Forces raid late last month.)
In recent days, Turkish officials had hinted that the White House visit may not go ahead, given Ankara’s anger over recent congressional initiatives and criticism of Turkish policies. Erdogan himself said there were “question marks” over the planned trip.
“Certain circles in Washington are working hard to make the U.S.-Turkey partnership unworkable,” Erdogan spokesman Fahrettin Altun complained on Twitter on Tuesday. “We hope a cool-headed approach that understands the true value of alliances will prevail in the end. The decision for the November visit ultimately lies with our President.”
The House of Representatives last week passed by large margins (405-11 and 403-16) a bill imposing sanctions on Turkey over its armed offensive in northeastern Syria, and a resolution recognizing the “Armenian genocide” a century ago.
Several senators from both parties have been urging Trump to cancel the visit, citing concerns ranging from Turkey’s offensive against Syrian Kurdish allies of the U.S. to Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, to Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system despite U.S. opposition.
Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, but some critics argue that, under Erdogan, it should no longer be viewed as an ally.
“How many more times do we need to see Turkey betray the values upon which NATO was established?” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “How many times do we need to see President Erdogan visit Moscow, Sochi, or any other Russian city to kiss [President Vladimir] Putin’s ring? How many more journalists need to be locked up by Erdogan before we stop calling Turkey a democracy?”
Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, concluded a lengthy speech by urging Trump to revoke his invitation “and side with the bipartisan consensus in the Senate and House that Turkey under Erdogan is no friend to the United States.”
Republicans who have called for the Erdogan visit not to go ahead include Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Mitt Romney (Utah).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), generally a firm ally of the president, co-authored a bill with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) last month which among things would place restrictions on Turkish leaders wanting to visit the United States.
The Senate is currently considering a Turkey sanctions bill co-authored by Menendez and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), although Risch told Politico he did not think it would be a good idea to have a hearing on the legislation during Erdogan’s visit.
Violence on DC streets
Erdogan’s last visit to Washington, in May 2017, was mired in controversy after members of his security detail and other Turkish officials crossed police lines near the Turkish ambassador’s residence and assaulted demonstrators protesting against the visit.
Video footage showed the men beating and kicking unarmed protestors in the nation’s capital, as Erdogan watched from a distance. At least nine protestors were injured.
The embassy claimed the bodyguards were acting in “self-defense” during the incident, and the Turkish government accused the U.S. of “lapses of security” during the visit.
DC Police arrested and charged two Turkish-Americans on felony and misdemeanor assault charges and announced arrest warrants for 15 Turkish security officials and two Turkish-Canadians. Erdogan angrily dismissed the warrants.
The U.S. House passed a resolution unanimously (397-0) condemning the incident and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.
A grand jury indicted a total of 19 people, including Turkish security officials, but most had left the country. The two Turkish-Americans later pleaded guilty of assault, and were sentenced the following May to one year and one day prison terms each, with credit for time already served.