It was clear in yesterday’s press briefing during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the White House, where he didn’t actually receive much push back from either President Trump or the press (at one point Trump requested that only a “friendly” reporter from Turkey ask questions of Erdogan), that the touchy subject of Turkey’s acquirement of Russia’s S-400 anti-air system was front and center in closed door conversations.
But Erdogan appeared unmoved by whatever pressure he may have faced in the Oval, given he later told reporters while standing next to the US president that Turkey cannot possibly discard the S-400 due to its strategic ties wit Russia, but he also added, “I’ve told Mr. Trump that we’re ready to buy Patriots.”
And according to Bloomberg, his only hint at “compromise” came in the form of offering to participate in a NATO-coordinated working group where defense officials from both sides would resolve issues of top concern for the alliance related to NATO’s second largest military deploying a Russian advanced system on its soil.
But more interesting are the details which came out of the unprecedented meeting with five Republican Senators at the White House who are lead Congressional skeptics of Turkey – unprecedented given that it was attended by Erdogan – in order to “clear the air” as the White House previously described it.
It appeared to to do anything but, as Axios reports, the whole meeting was upended and took a “dark turn” when Erdogan took out his iPad:
An Oval Office meeting yesterday with Turkey’s President Erdo?an took a dark turn when Erdo?an pulled out his iPad and made the group watch a propaganda video that depicted Kurds as terrorists, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.
To be expected, what was described as a “clunky propaganda film” was unpersuasive, given that Sen. Lindsey Graham, perhaps the most vocal Republican Erdogan critic, questioned sarcastically immediately after—
“Well, do you want me to go get the Kurds to make one about what you’ve done?”
The short film had depicted US-backed Kurdish militias operating in Syria and along the border as “terrorists”.
According to sources privy to the meeting, a heated exchange ensued focused on Turkey’s controversial ‘Operation Peace Spring’. Per Axios: “A source in the room said Erdo?an took exception to Graham using the word ‘invasion’ and that Graham also rebutted Erdo?an when he claimed that Turkey had fought ISIS.” Erdogan later quipped that he gave Graham “a lesson” – as reported by Bloomberg.
Sen. Graham afterward said in a statement: “The Turkish narrative that they have done more to destroy ISIS, I rejected forcefully, and I let Turkey know that 10,000 SDF fighters, mostly Kurds, suffered, died or injured, in the fight against ISIS, and America will not forget that and will not abandon them.”
On the whole during the day long events at the White House Erdogan seems to have gotten his way. During the ending press conference he even ranted freely and without interruption against the Kurdish PKK and Syrian YPG.
Later, Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement that he took the Turkish president to task on the S-400 issue, making it “clear to President Erdo?an that so long as Turkey continues to procure or deploy the S-400 air defense system from Russia, the U.S. will not sell F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.” All the senators in the room were said to be unified on the S-400 issue.
And Sen. Rick Scott raided the NATO issue, questioning to Erdogan “why Turkey should enjoy the protections of NATO when they’re cozying up to Russia,” according to a source cited in the Axios report.