Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump greeted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House for a high-stakes meeting Wednesday that underlined his claim to be ignoring the impeachment drama unfolding simultaneously in Congress.
The two leaders were to hold several hours of meetings, including lunch, before giving a joint news conference.
While Congress listened to evidence against Trump from two diplomats in the impeachment inquiry, the US president met Erdogan on the White House’s South Lawn, together with a military honor guard, before heading straight to the Oval Office.
In the run-up to Erdogan’s arrival, Trump did not tune into the nationally televised impeachment hearings, because he was “too busy,” he told reporters.
If Trump was ignoring the drama on Capitol Hill, he was also turning a deaf ear to opposition from many in Congress, including in his own Republican party, to rolling out the red carpet for Erdogan.
The US-Turkish relationship has been under severe strain following Erdogan’s ordering of an October offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Trump ordered US troops stationed in the border area to withdraw ahead of the Turkish invasion, while exhorting Erdogan in an extraordinarily undiplomatic letter to avoid too much bloodshed.
“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump wrote in the letter, which was reportedly thrown by Erdogan into the trash.
Despite the letter, Trump’s withdrawal of the US soldiers effectively gave fellow-NATO member Turkey a green light for what appears to be an extended occupation of a large swath of Syria.
This outraged many in Congress, which saw the move as an abandonment of the Kurds, who died in large numbers while fighting alongside US forces against Islamic State jihadists in the area.
The reshuffling of forces in the region was also criticized in Washington as a boon for Russian ambitions.
“Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States, and we urge you to rescind this invitation,” a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to Trump last week in a letter made public Monday.
Trump was defiant Wednesday, saying: “We have been friends for a long time.”