Erdogan, Biden put good face on meeting but contentious issues remain

Erdogan announced no progress on the S-400 dispute. “On the issue of S-400s, I told (Biden) the same thing I had in the past,” he said.
Tuesday 15/06/2021
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fist bumps US President Joe Biden during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels, June 14, 2021. (AP)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fist bumps US President Joe Biden during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels, June 14, 2021. (AP)

BRUSSELS--Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to sound upbeat after his first face-to-face talks with US President Joe Biden, Monday in Brussels, though he announced no major breakthroughs in the awkward relationship between the two allies, at odds over Russian weapons, Syria, Libya and other issues.

Erdogan characterised his talks with the new US president on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels as “productive and sincere”.

“We think that there are no issues within US-Turkey ties and that areas of cooperation for us are richer and larger than problems,” he said.

Despite their publicly optimistic tone, neither provided any details on how exactly they would mend the relationship or lay out steps that would help ease tensions between the NATO allies.

Turkey, with NATO’s second-largest military, has angered its allies in the Western military alliance by buying Russian surface-to-air missiles and intervening in wars in Syria and Libya. It is also in a standoff with Greece and Cyprus over maritime territory in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As president, Biden has adopted a cooler tone than predecessor Donald Trump towards Erdogan. Biden quickly recognised the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide, a position that angers Turkey, and stepped up criticism of Turkey’s human rights record.

Washington has already imposed sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles. It also expelled Turkey from the F-35 programme under which Western allies produce the next-generation fighter jet’s parts and secure its early purchasing rights.

Relations between the two NATO allies nosedived after Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defence system that the US believes can be used to spy on Western defences.

Erdogan announced no progress on the S-400 dispute.

“On the issue of S-400s, I told (Biden) the same thing I had in the past,” he said.

“I raised the issue of F-35s,” Erdogan said in a signal that he wanted Turkey admitted back into the programme.

“I told him what joint steps we can take on the defence industry.”

One area where Erdogan hoped to showcase a central Turkish role in NATO is Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul airport after US and NATO forces withdraw in coming weeks. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey could play a key role but that no decision was made at the Monday summit.

At the start of the main leaders’ session at NATO, Biden spoke to Erdogan at length in a small group before they took their seats.

Later in the day, the two leaders and their top aides sat mostly silent on opposite sides of a conference table, ignoring questions shouted to them by journalists briefly invited into the room.