Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan touted “outstanding” relations with the United States on Tuesday but emphasized Turkey will not accept Syrian Kurdish fighters in the region while stopping short of directly criticizing a U.S. decision to arm them.
Erdogan met at the White House with President Donald Trump, and both called relations between the two NATO allies strong.
“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” Trump said in a joint appearance with Erdogan.
Erdogan said his visit would “mark a historical turn of tide” and hailed “outstanding relations” between the nations. It was an especially positive tone considering the tensions over Washington’s decision to arm the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia that Ankara regards as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
“There is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region,” said Erdogan, speaking through a translator.
He added that the activities of the YPG and its political arm in the region, the PYD, “will never be accepted.”
U.S. officials on May 9 disclosed Trump’s approval of plans to supply the YPG as it advances toward the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.
Turkey has been a crucial partner in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State forces. The U.S. alliance with Turkey has proven pivotal in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, providing the coalition with access to Turkey’s Incirlik air base to wage strikes against the militants.
Erdogan had pledged to use the White House meeting to try to get Trump to change course on the YPG. Ankara regards the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which has fought an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984 and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Turkey and Europe.
The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, effectively serves as the military of the autonomous Kurdish-led regions that emerged in northern Syria with the retreat of state authority in 2011 that accompanied the outbreak of civil war.
The United States sees the YPG as distinct from the PKK and as a valuable partner in the fight against Islamic State.
Trump and Erdogan both emphasized the positive. “The relationship that we have together will be unbeatable,” Trump said.