Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Washington today to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House amid an intense crisis between the two NATO allies.
Erdogan says he will press the US president on the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a request the United States has long rebuffed. And The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Trump sent a letter to Erdogan ahead of the meeting offering not to implement legally mandated sanctions on Turkey. He reportedly floated a $100 billion trade deal in the letter as well. In return, Trump wants Erdogan to adhere to an October agreement where Turkish troops would refrain from venturing further into northeast Syria beyond the border area they already control.
Why it matters: Trump’s proposed counteroffer could fan the flames in Congress. Already outraged by Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria following Trump’s military withdrawal from the border, lawmakers have called on Trump to cancel the meeting. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has urged “congressional leadership to seek a full accounting” of today’s White House talks.
Trump’s apparent desire to avoid sanctioning Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system could be a particularly sore spot on Capitol Hill. Congress overwhelmingly passed a 2017 law sanctioning any country that “engages in a significant transaction” with Russia’s defense and intelligence sector. Turkey received the first S-400 in a July shipment despite US concerns that the system’s radar could be used to spy on US military hardware.
What’s next: Following Turkey’s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, the House infuriated Ankara by passing an even more stringent sanctions package 403-16 last month alongside a symbolic resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide 405-11. The Senate has yet to take action on either measure amid opposition to sanctions from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
But Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., could also use expedited procedures to force a vote on their own resolution that could ultimately lead to a ban on arms sales for Turkey. There’s also bipartisan support for a provision in the annual defense authorization bill that would lift the longstanding arms embargo on Cyprus, which Turkey partially occupies.
“I think it's absolutely helpful for the Turkish government to understand where Congress is on this in a bipartisan fashion, and that the president is charting a diplomatic course with that behind him,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.
Know more: Read Al-Monitor correspondent Amberin Zaman’s in-depth look at Erdogan’s agenda heading into the meeting. And for more details on the myriad efforts targeting Turkey on Capitol Hill, read congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ reports on the House sanctions and Armenian genocide votes, the legislative mechanism that could allow lawmakers to ban US arms sales to Ankara and their efforts to lift the Cyprus arms embargo.
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