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Erdogan's White House visit renews tensions on Capitol Hill over Turkey's aggression

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to the White House drew sharp bipartisan criticism from Congress and rallied protesters across the capital Wednesday who decried Turkey's recent military foray into northeastern Syria.

A long list of actions by Turkey -- a NATO ally -- has troubled Congress and human rights organizations. In Syria, Turkish army units and Turkish-backed militias have been accused of possible war crimes in the killing of Kurds, who led the U.S.-backed fight against Islamic State militants. Erdogan sent his troops into Syria last month when Trump abruptly announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces -- a decision that was met with unusually fierce opposition from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Inside Turkey, the country's president has imprisoned or fired tens of thousands of dissidents, civil servants, police, professors and military officers after a failed coup against him in 2016. Erdogan has manipulated elections to stay in power, according to pro-democracy organizations in Ankara. Turkey is the world's leading jailer of journalists.

Turkey also has turned increasingly toward Russia, recently buying military equipment -- the S-400 surface-to-air missile system -- from Moscow, which experts say may not be compatible with equipment NATO already uses.

Numerous congressional officials demanded the invitation be rescinded and expressed concern that Trump had not revealed the contents of his phone call with Erdogan that apparently gave Turkey's president a green light to invade Syria.

"It's inexcusable that this visit is going forward despite the egregious behavior of President Erdogan," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). "President Trump is once again coddling an authoritarian leader and sending a terrible message. I urge congressional leadership to seek a full accounting of discussions."

 

Some Republicans agreed.

"President Erdogan's visit comes during a deeply troubling time in our bilateral relationship," said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "President Erdogan must reverse course and recommit to NATO and our bilateral partnership."

Seventeen Republican and Democratic members of Congress wrote Trump last week urging him to call off the visit.

"President Erdogan's calamitous actions in Syria follow a long list of disconcerting steps under his leadership," they wrote, accusing Erdogan of dividing NATO, harming U.S. national security and unleashing a humanitarian disaster for Kurds and Syrians.

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