On June 14, on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Joe Biden held their first bilateral meeting since the inauguration of the latter back in January. The meeting has been long-awaited considering the escalating tensions between the two NATO allies in recent months, which have been fueled by the issue of Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400s and, more recently, Biden’s definition of the events of 1915 as a ‘genocide’.
While Biden’s remarks on the 40-minute talk were limited to “a very good meeting”, Erdoğan spoke in-depth on his meeting with his US counterpart. Following the end of the talk between the two leaders, Erdoğan said that they had a comprehensive exchange of views with Biden, with whom he underlined having a “long-standing friendship”. The Turkish president further expressed, “We discussed the issues on which we disagree, as well as the areas of cooperation in areas where we have common interests. We discussed the work we will do in areas where we need effective cooperation.”
In response to a question on terror, a topic expected to be discussed prior to the meeting, the Turkish President stated that “the US continued its ambivalent stance about this issue. This kind of attitude will not end terrorism. The fact that you cannot eliminate a terrorist organization with another has become apparent.” In this regard, Turkey and the US have had diverging outlooks on the definition of the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist organization. Erdoğan also expressed that he conveyed the necessity of Washington’s termination of its support towards the YPG.
Another topic of mammoth importance between the two countries has been the acquisition of the Russian S-400 defense system by Ankara. The impact of this transaction has been important, as Turkey was removed from the F-35 program which it had joined in 2007. Within the framework of the program, Turkey was a supplier of critical parts and pledged to purchase 100 of the F-35 fighter jets. Following a journalist’s question about whether the S-400 was discussed during the Q&A session, Erdogan underlined that he expressed his previous opinion on the S-400. “I also expressed our opinion on the F-35, and what are the steps we can take. Of course, this process does not end here, our ministers will discuss this process as a result of their exchanges,” he said. This has left the future of this topic in an ambiguous state on the bilateral level.
A third subject touched upon during the Q&A session was the Afghan peace process. In recent months, Turkey has been an active participant in the Afghan peace process illustrated by its hosting of a US-backed peace conference alongside representatives of Afghan and Pakistani officials. Although this conference was later postponed due to the non-participation of the Taliban, Ankara has been vocal in the country’s transition. In this sense, Erdogan said, “We have clearly expressed our thoughts on Afghanistan to Biden. If Turkey is not asked to leave Afghanistan, especially if support is desired, the support of the United States in diplomatic and financial matters is important.” Erdoğan also highlighted that they are in agreement of the fact that it is not possible to put aside the reality of the Taliban. The US has previously announced the withdrawal of its troops from the country by September 2021, leaving the current situation of the peace process in intermission.
Other subjects have also been declared by the media to have been on the agenda of the meetings. The most notable of these has been the ‘genocide’ declaration published by the White House on April 24. The usage of the term was expected by many prior to the declaration, as the first phone call conducted between the two presidents coincided with the date chosen by the Armenians in commemoration of the events. Erdoğan confirmed the subject was not discussed in response to a question asking if the subject was brought up during the meeting.
The first in-person meeting between Joe Biden and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a pivotal point in the contemporary relations between the US and Turkey, as the two NATO allies strive to find a balance in the bilateral and regional sense.