Donald Trump (R) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) - Creative Commons
CAIRO – 15 May 2017: Donald Trump hosts Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 16-17 at the White House, in the first meeting between the two leaders. Erdogan’s last visit to the United States was in March-April 2016 when he attended the Nuclear Security Summit.
There are many issues to be discussed between the two leaders; Syria is on the top. A high-level delegation, including the head of Turkey’s Armed Forces, the Intelligence Service and Erdogan’s chief adviser, paid a visit to Washington for meetings ahead of the anticipated summit between Trump and Erdogan.
Turkey is always sensitive towards the Kurdish file. Almost a week ago, the Trump administration announced it will provide Syria’s Kurdish fighters with arms to restore control of Raqqa city, while Turkey sees the Kurds as terrorists. The Syrian Kurdish group, known as the YPG, announced earlier it will start the “liberation of Raqqa” by the beginning of this summer.
Raqqa is one of the key strongholds of ISIS. The U.S. sees the ground battle should be carried out by Syrian forces only. As a result, the American administration is eager to equip the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as its most effective battlefield partner against ISIS in northern and eastern Syria. The White House did not mention the kinds of arms to be provided to the Kurdish forces.
Undoubtedly, Erdogan will try to illustrate how the Kurds are not trusted. He highlights the expected strategic threats if the Kurds play the key role in the Raqqa operation. Erdogan believes the Kurds’ are a threat to Turkey’s national security, considering the YPG as an extension of the PKK terrorist group, according to the Turkish regime’s categorization.
Trump’s administration faces a critical moment, as it regards the Kurds as the only player on the ground fighting against ISIS in Syria. In the meantime, it is not ready to give up on boosting its ties with Turkey, considering Turkey to be a liaison with Iran in the region.
Erdogan previously expressed support for Trump when the U.S. government fired missiles at Syrian planes in retaliation for a chemical weapons’ attack in April. The two leaders are expected to attend the Brussels meeting later in May at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit.