image Photo: Reuters

Biden, Erdoğan hold talks at G20

The meeting came just days after Turkey narrowly averted a a full-blown diplomatic crisis with its NATO allies.

By Erin Viner

United States President Joe Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for 70 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome on Sunday.

The two leaders agreed to form a joint mechanism to improve strained ties and “expressed their joint commitment to further strengthening Turkey-US relations,” said a statement released by the Turkish Presidency. The also discussed steps to boost bilateral trade, regional developments and “the importance of the NATO alliance and strategic partnership” in what the statement described as a “very positive” atmosphere.

Bilateral ties have been severely strained over the past 5 years. Chief among White House concerns is Erdoğan’s  strengthening ties with the Kremlin, particularly Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 aerial defense systems. Despite repeated Washington’s imposition of sanctions and warnings against further arms deals with Moscow, Erdoğan defiantly declared his intention in September to buy a second batch of the S-400s.

“President Biden reaffirmed our defense partnership and Turkey’s importance as a NATO Ally, but noted US concerns over Turkey’s possession of the Russian S-400 missile system,” the White House said in a statement after the Rome talks.

Last week 11 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken opposing Ankara’s request to buy 40 new Lockheed Martin F-16s and 80 modernization kits for the fighter jets from the US. Citing “a profound sense of concern,” the US lawmakers wrote that, “following President Erdoğan‘s September announcement that Turkey will purchase an additional tranche of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, we cannot afford to compromise our national security by sending US-manufactured aircraft to a treaty ally which continues to behave like an adversary.”

During discussion of Turkey’s request to buy the F-16s, the American leader also reportedly explained to his Turkish counterpart that the arms deal must be approved through a process, while expressing hope that disagreement between the two countries can be handled effectively.

“The president took on board his … desire to have them but made very clear that there is a process that we have to go through in the U.S. and committed to continuing to … work through that process,” said a senior administration official.

When asked about the sale as he posed with Erdoğan ahead of the talks, Biden only commented that they were “planning to have a good conversation.”

Washington has also been increasingly frustrated over Turkey’s intervention in Syria, naval provocations in the Mediterranean Sea, furious response to the Biden Administration’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide and problematic human rights track record.

A senior US administration official told reporters that Biden also raised the issue of human rights.

Only 1 week ago Erdoğan sparked the deepest rift with the West during his 19 years in power by threatening to expel the ambassadors of the US, Germany, France, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland on charges of interfering in his nation’s internal affairs, This, after the diplomats called for the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been detained for 4 years on charges of involvement in an anti-regime coup, which he denies. Erdoğan later backed down from the expulsion after the foreign embassies published brief statements vowing abide by diplomatic conventions on non-interference.

Biden warned the Turkish leader that any “precipitous” actions would not benefit Washington’s ties with Ankara and that crises should be avoided, said another US administration official.

The intergovernmental “Group of Twenty” (known as the G20) forum is attended by the leaders of 19 nations with the world’s largest economies and the European Union, to address major issues related to the international financial sphere. The next summit is slated to be hosted by Indonesia on 30-31 October 2022.