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Trump, Erdogan to Meet Wednesday       11/13 06:13

   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Donald Trump will meet 
as relations between the two NATO allies are at their lowest point in decades, 
with Turkey rebuffing the U.S. and turning toward Russia on security issues and 
Ankara facing a Washington backlash over attacks on Kurdish civilians during 
its incursion into Syria last month.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President 
Donald Trump will meet as relations between the two NATO allies are at their 
lowest point in decades, with Turkey rebuffing the U.S. and turning toward 
Russia on security issues and Ankara facing a Washington backlash over attacks 
on Kurdish civilians during its incursion into Syria last month.

   Erdogan and Trump have a difficult agenda Wednesday that includes Turkey's 
decision to buy a Russian air defense system and its attack on U.S.-allied 
Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Their scheduled afternoon news conference, 
however, will give Trump a stage to counter the first public hearings in the 
House impeachment inquiry.

   Trump says Turkey has been a critical U.S. ally for decades, cites the 
strong economic upside to the relationship and maintains that the two countries 
have enough in common to overcome their differences. Some in Congress say 
Erdogan should never have been invited to the White House in the first place.

   Last month, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to sanction senior 
Turkish officials and its army for the military incursion into Syria to fight 
the Kurds. Erdogan sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of a separatist 
Kurdish group that's been fighting inside Turkey since the 1980s.

   In the Senate, two Democrats introduced legislation denouncing Turkey's 
targeting of journalists, political opponents, dissidents, minorities and 
others. They said the Turkish government had imprisoned more than 80,000 
Turkish citizens, closed more than 1,500 non-governmental organizations on 
terrorism-related grounds and dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil 
servants from their jobs.

   "This is not the time or place to be extending hospitality and exchanging 
niceties with a dictator," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat 
who sits on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

   In October, Trump moved U.S. troops in Syria out of the way of invading 
Turkish troops, a decision that critics said amounted to abandoning America's 
Kurdish allies to be attacked.

   "It has upended what was an oasis of stability, damaged U.S. credibility and 
standing on the world stage and strengthened the hands of Russia, Iran" and the 
Syrian government of Bashar Assad, Shaheen said.

   Trump administration officials have said the president told Turkey not to 
invade Syria. But when Erdogan insisted, they say Trump decided to move 28 
Green Berets operating on the Turkey-Syria border so they wouldn't be caught in 
a crossfire between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurds.

   A State Department official said Trump is not rewarding Erdogan with a White 
House visit but is conducting diplomacy. The official said high-level 
consultations are needed because of the volatile situation in Syria that has 
displaced tens of thousands of people.

   Amnesty International recently released a report documenting killings, human 
rights violations and possible war crimes caused by Turkey-backed forces in 
northern Syria.

   "There has been a callous disregard for civilian lives, including attacks on 
residential areas," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty 
International USA. "Over 100,000 people have fled this offensive and there are 
fears that the displaced are not getting access to food, to clear water, or to 
medical supplies."

   She said Trump must send a message to Erdogan that these actions and 
unlawful behavior must stop and that those responsible be held accountable.

   A senior State Department official said that the U.S. is following up on 
reports of human rights violations and indiscriminate killings. The official 
was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke only on condition of 
anonymity.

   The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Turkey to investigate 
reported cases of summary executions committed by a Turkish-backed armed group 
in northern Syria. The U.N. cited video footage showing fighters with the Ahrar 
al-Sharqiya armed group filming themselves capturing and executing three 
Kurdish captives on a highway in northern Syria.

   The State Department has looked into these killings and has asked Turkey to 
investigate. The Turks have told the U.S. that the Syrians have set up a 
commission, the official said, but it's unclear what, if any, action the panel 
will take.

   Turkey reached truce agreements with Russia and the United States last month 
that halted the incursion and forced Kurdish fighters to retreat from Turkey's 
southern border. But Erdogan claims the Kurds have not vacated border areas and 
says he will give Trump a list of attacks carried out by Mazloum Abdi, the 
commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish-led force.

   On the U.S. side, Trump will be expressing continued concern about Erdogan's 
purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The U.S. and fellow NATO 
nations say the S-400 would aid Russian intelligence and compromise a U.S.-led 
fighter jet program.

   The U.S. has since kicked Erdogan out of a multinational program producing 
components of America's high-tech F-35 fighter jet. In response, Erdogan 
attended an annual Russian air show this summer in Moscow and expressed 
interest in buying the latest Russian Su-35 fighter jets.

   Trump has not yet decided whether to impose congressional sanctions on 
Turkey for the S-400 purchase.

   During his visit, Erdogan will be trying to get Turkey back in the F-35 
program and also try to end an ongoing prosecution against a major Turkish 
bank, said Max Hoffman at Center for American Progress. Halkbank is accused of 
carrying out a scheme to evade sanctions against Iran by moving billions of 
dollars of Iranian oil revenue illegally.

   Birol Baskan, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, says Turkey needs the 
U.S. on its side to balance Russia and Iran's interests in Syria. "The problem 
is, the U.S. seems not to be interested in doing that," Baskan said. 


(KR)

 
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