Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed to reporters this weekend that he expects to meet with his American counterpart Donald Trump in person during next week’s United Nation’s General Assembly.
“We have agreed that it would be beneficial to talk all issues face-to-face,” Erdogan told reporters on his flight back to Turkey from Astana, Kazakhstan, this weekend, where he had flown to attend a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). According to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, Erdogan said he and Trump would discuss “the need to strengthen mutual relations” but did not specify what topics relevant to the bilateral relationship would come up.
Erdogan spoke to Trump via telephone on September 9. “We mentioned that the two countries are strategic partners and this should be reflected on the relations. We also spoke on regional issues. We spoke about Myanmar,” Erdoğan said, adding that he urged Trump to act on the expulsion of Muslims ongoing in that country.
The White House statement on the phone call did not mention an in-person meeting or any of the topics discussed, only that “President Trump emphasized the common commitment of the United States and Turkey to work together to increase regional stability.”
Erdogan met with Trump in Washington in May, a meeting that did not result in Erdogan achieving any of his objectives with the United States. The Islamist leader has pressured the United States for months to stop supporting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), the most effective militia in the fight against the Islamic State in that country. Erdogan has also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamist cleric he claims orchestrated the failed coup against him in July 2016. Gulen lives in Pennsylvania, from where he runs a global Islamic movement known as “Hizmet,” a group the Turkish government refers to as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO).
The United States has continued to support the YPG—who are playing a major role in the battle for Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State caliphate—since Erdogan’s visit and Gulen, who denies all involvement in the coup attempt, remains in Pennsylvania.
In addition to these diplomatic failures for Erdogan, the May visit produced a violent incident in which his bodyguards were caught on video attacking and beating Kurdish supporters protesting his visit in Washington. The U.S. State Department issued a statement assuring that American law enforcement would investigate the incident, and 19 of the bodyguards in question were indicted this month for battering peaceful demonstrators that did not show an indication of being a threat to Erdogan himself. Erdogan called the indictments, but not the attack, “scandalous.”
The United Nations General Assembly officially begins on Tuesday, September 12. The General Debate—the hallmark event of the session in which world leaders speak on whatever they wish before an audience of global representatives—begins on September 19. This year, the theme of the assembly is “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet.”