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What Turkey will be looking for when Trump calls Erdogan?

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The Washington Post Columnist  Kareem Fahim published an article on the relations between Turkey and US.

When President Trump speaks to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a much-anticipated phone call late Tuesday, Erdogan is certain to press his counterpart to reject Pentagon proposals to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria and to quickly extradite a Turkish cleric exiled in Pennsylvania regarded by Turkey as an enemy of the state.


Meeting either demand could be problematic for the new administration, analysts said, and the call could quickly test a relationship between the two men that for months has been filled with high hopes and mutual admiration.

During the U.S. presidential campaign, Trump referred in glowing terms to Erdogan’s handling of a failed coup that shook Turkey last summer. He spoke optimistically about the bilateral relationship, telling the New York Times that he hoped that Turkey “can do a lot about ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State extremist group.

In the same interview, Trump declined to criticize Erdogan for a campaign of mass arrests and dismissals that followed the attempted coup. “I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country.”


Erdogan hailed Trump’s election, quickly extended an invitation for him to visit Turkey and even praised Trump for putting a CNN reporter “in his place” during a news conference a few weeks ago. More recently, the Turkish president has avoided condemning Trump’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries — despite the fact that Erdogan is the Islamist leader of a Muslim-majority country who has spoken out forcefully in the past against perceived anti-Muslim bias.

On the call, which is scheduled to take place at midnight in Turkey, it may be difficult for Trump to show much flexibility.

The Pentagon is still weeks away from completing a Trump-ordered 30-day review of its strategy to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Top U.S. military commanders had pushed the Obama administration for months to directly arm Kurdish fighters in northern Syria for a final assault on the city of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital. Turkey has long warned that it considers the Syrian Kurds to be part of Turkey’s own Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which both Turkey and the United States have labeled a terrorist group.

Obama deferred the decision on the Kurds to his successor, while noting that Pentagon plans for a Raqqa offensive were dependent on a quick determination.

Trump’s advisers have not ruled out the military plan but have asked the Pentagon to explore other options, including the possibility of adding Turkish troops to an Arab force that would be aided by an increased U.S. military presence in Syria.

President Trump also may have difficulty with Erdogan’s request to extradite the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for masterminding the failed coup. Turkish officials were encouraged when Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, published an article on Election Day calling Gulen a “radical” and saying that the United States “should not provide him safe haven.”

 A decision on whether Turkish evidence is strong enough to merit extradition rests with the Justice Department. Even if it recommends such a move, the final decision must be made by a U.S. federal court, where Gulen can contest and appeal if he loses, a process that could take months if not years.

Gulen has denied he played any role in the failed coup.

Semih Idiz, a Turkish political analyst and columnist who writes for the Al-Monitor news site, said Turkey had left “too many unanswered questions” about its proposed alternative to the Kurdish fighters, including how many Turkish troops would need to be mobilized to replace them. Erdogan’s advisers also were well-aware of the legal hurdles to extradition, he said.

Even so, any demands made on the phone call could aid Erdogan. “There is public opinion that has to be fed,” Idiz said. “They have to appear to be pushing this to the limit.”

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