Turkey seeks US support to maintain troops in Afghanistan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday his country would need “diplomatic, logistic and financial assistance” from the United States if it were to maintain troops in Afghanistan to protect and run Kabul's international airport, following the withdrawal of other NATO troops.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a series of meetings with NATO leaders on the sidelines of the alliance summit, Erdogan also said Turkey was seeking Pakistan and Hungary's involvement in a new mission in Afghanistan following the departure of the US-led NATO force.
Turkey is reported to have offered to guard the airport as questions remain on how security will be assured along major transport routes and at the airport, which is the main gateway to Kabul.
“If they don’t want us to leave Afghanistan, if they want a [Turkish] support there, then the diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States will give us will of great importance,” Erdogan said. Turkey, a majority Muslim nation which has close historic ties to Afghanistan, currently has some 500 soldiers in the war-torn country.
Erdogan also said he held a constructive meeting with US President Joe Biden and invited him to visit Turkey. The two leaders have known each other for years, but it was their first face-to-face meeting as heads of state and came at a difficult time in the two NATO allies’ relations.
“There is a strong will for the start of a new era in all areas, based on mutual respect and interest,” Erdogan said. “There is no problem in Turkey-US relations that cannot be solved.”
Biden told reporters he was “confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey.”
On Afghanistan, Biden said: “There was a strong consensus in the room among the leaders ... on Afghanistan. Our troops are coming home, but we agreed that our diplomatic, economic, humanitarian commitment with the Afghan people ... will endure”
Turkey has been angered by US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria while the US has sanctioned Turkey over its purchase of a Russian weapons system. In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide.”
Turkey denies the deportations and massacres, which began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, amounted to genocide.
Erdogan said the Armenian issue was not discussed during the meeting. The Turkish leader however, renewed a call for an end to US support for the Syrian Kurdish fighters, who Ankara argues are inextricably linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
“I openly stated that the support given to the [Syrian Kurdish fighters] should be ended,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan signaled that the two leaders failed to find a way to overcome difference over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 advanced Russian missile defense systems which Washington says is a threat to NATO. It has removed Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program and imposed sanctions on defense industry officials. It has demanded that Ankara abandons the $2.5 billion system.
“Our thoughts on the S-400 are the same as before, I relayed our same thoughts to Mr. Biden,” Erdogan said.
Earlier, Erdogan who is trying to mend battered relations with Turkey's Western partners, said that a revival of dialogue with fellow NATO member Greece to resolve long-standing disputes will serve “stability and prosperity” in the region.
Last summer, a dispute over boundaries and rights to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean flared anew after Ankara sent research vessels into waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction.
Diplomats from the two countries have held two rounds of talks in recent months for the first time in five years, while the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey also held reciprocal visits.
Erdogan said on Monday he and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to call each other over a direct line “without involving others.”
The Turkish strongman has recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country, which has been troubled by a currency crisis and an economic downturn made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Brussels, Erdogan also met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
After his meeting with Erdogan, Macron tweeted that he wants to “move forward” with Turkey.
Macron later told reporters that he and Erdogan have found some areas of convergence to preserve the ceasefire in Libya and meet the goal to hold elections in December in the country.
France and Turkey agreed to work together over the summer on the “departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries,” he said, calling that a “major step.”
Erdogan expressed his will that they leave Libya “as soon as possible,” he added.
It was their first meeting since a dispute between the two countries reached its peak in October, after Erdogan questioned Macron’s mental health.