US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have held a joint press conference which can only be described as cold and overly scripted.
In the awkward exchange Donald Trump spoke of Turkey’s role on America’s side in the Korean War and subsequent Cold War.
Trump then pledged to support Turkey against terrorist groups such as ISIS as well as the Kurdish PKK.
Erdogan spoke for a lengthier period than Donald Trump. He reiterated his stance against the PKK as well as the Kurdish YPG militias currently fighting in Syria.
The only problem is that America is a strong supporter of the YPG in the form of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) which are compromised primarily of YPG fighters and commanders. America has recently given heavy weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria as they prepare to advance on Raqqa, the capital of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
It remains unclear how America can be a Turkish and Kurdish ally at a time when both sides are fighting an open war in Syria and also in Iraq where America continues to maintain a large military presence.
It was one thing being a Turkish ally and covertly supporting Kurds in places like Iraq when Turkey wasn’t directly engaged in fighting Kurds in Arab countries, but now that this reality has changed, it is difficult to see how anyone, let alone a confused American administration could juggle this mutually incompatible alliance.
Indeed, recently, one of President Erdogan’s advisers spoke of how Turkish missiles might ‘accidentally’ strike US troops acting as a buffer between Turkish and Kurdish fighters in Syria. These are hardly the words of ‘allies’.
Erdogan also spoke of his continued fight against the proscribed Gulen organisation whose leader, Fethullah Gulen remains asylumed in the United States. America’s refuse to extradite Gulen who is wanted in Turkey on terrorism charges, continues to plague Washington-Ankara relations.
Beyond this, the two leaders spoke about continuing cooperation in trade, including in respect of arms sales, a somewhat strained topic as Turkey continues to pursue the purchase of Russian made missile defence systems.
Both leaders appeared less than exuberant during the press conference. This was miles away from the smiles and grins seen during Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Ministery Sergey Lavrov.
Much like the infamous 1960 US Presidential debates, those who listened on radio thought Richard Nixon won, but those who watched on television gave top marks to John F. Kennedy. The script from today’s press conference was predictable. The appearance of the two leaders looked anything but pleasant.