ISTANBUL—President Biden met with Turkey’s President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
for the first time since taking office, as the two NATO allies attempt to repair a frayed relationship by seeking common cause over their security interests across the world, from Libya to Syria and Afghanistan.
“There is no problem with the U.S. that we cannot solve,” Mr. Erdogan said following the meeting in Brussels on Monday.
Mr. Biden told reporters that the meeting was productive and said he believed they could make “real progress.”
The longtime allies’ relationship has deteriorated in recent years over several issues. Washington has criticized Ankara’s human-rights record and its increasingly assertive role in the Middle East. Ankara is opposed to U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria. The U.S. penalized Turkey over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile-defense system.
In April, Washington recognized the early 20th century Armenian genocide under the Ottoman Empire for the first time despite Ankara’s vehement opposition.
Mr. Biden has vowed to take a tough stance on governments he views as authoritarian, including Turkey’s, in spite of the country’s role as an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. security partner. Mr. Biden has also been critical of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince
Mohammed Bin Salman
as the new administration seeks to overhaul relations with autocrats that enjoyed a warmer reception from former President
Much is at stake for both sides as Messrs. Biden and Erdogan meet in Brussels.
Mr. Erdogan faces a range of domestic pressures including an economy that is struggling from the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from his firing of the Turkey’s central bank chief in March. The surprise decision prompted foreign investors to flee and caused the currency to slide in value. A strong economic and political relationship with the U.S. would help bolster his stock at home.
“Erdogan is in trouble in every aspect of political and economic life and in foreign policy,” said Ilhan Uzgel, an independent Turkish analyst and former chairman of the political science department at Ankara University. “He needs U.S. support desperately.”
For the U.S., its plan to remove troops from Afghanistan by September could be affected by Turkey’s decision on maintaining a military presence there. Without that, embassies and foreign aid organizations could be forced to close.
Mr. Erdogan said that during the meeting he suggested that Turkey could secure the Kabul airport along with Pakistan and Hungary.
“If they don’t want us to pull out of Afghanistan, the U.S. diplomatic, logistical and financial support is important,” Mr. Erdogan told journalists after the meeting.
Asked whether the two discussed U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide, Mr. Erdogan said, “Thank God, it didn’t come up.”
Turkey also has a potential role to play in Mr. Biden’s broader strategy of rallying allies to oppose the influence of China and Russia. Turkey has a warming relationship with China, including a new $3.6 billion currency swap agreement with Beijing, which Mr. Erdogan confirmed on Sunday.
Turkey is an adversary of Russia in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, where Turkish drones and air defenses were critical to pushing back an offensive by a Russian-backed warlord last year. Turkey also sided with Ukraine during a recent flare-up with Russia.
The meeting in Brussels on the sidelines of the NATO summit comes before another critical meeting. Mr. Biden will meet on Wednesday with Russian President
during which the two leaders will discuss a range of issues, including Russia’s possible veto of a United Nations resolution that would allow aid to continue to flow into rebel-held sections of Syria via Turkey.
“It’ll be an interesting chance for him to compare notes with Erdogan before seeing Putin,” said national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to Brussels.
Write to Jared Malsin at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications
has been critical of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. An earlier version of this article omitted the crown prince’s last name. (Corrected on June 14)
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