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Turkey-US ties in spotlight as Erdogan faces tough talks with Trump

17 May 2017

But the issue is still likely to be among the top issues on the agenda when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Trump in Washington on Tuesday. The Washington Post reported late Monday that Trump shared classified information obtained from a US ally with the pair, and that senior White House aides reached out to the Central Intelligence Agency and NSA to advise them of the disclosure.

Since entering office, Erdogan has systematically eroded the country's democratic institutions, restricted a free press, and undermined the rule of law. Will it be conciliatory, said the trying to take steps?

Just days before Erdogan's visit, the Trump administration announced it would arm the Syrian Kurdish group, which it regards as a reliable fighting force against ISIL, outraging Ankara, which labels the YPG as a terrorist organization.

The White House meeting comes amid intense and complex global diplomacy over the war in Syria, where Turkey and the United States both support forces in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

USA -backed Kurdish-led Syrian forces are advancing toward Raqqa after capturing several nearby towns and villages recently. And it raises a crucial question: Is Turkey willing to seriously disrupt the US -led war against Islamic State to undermine Washington's support for the Kurds?

So far, the US has managed to stay on speaking terms with Turkey; but the decision of the Trump administration to send arms to the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units group (known by its Kurdish abbreviation, the YPG) in the campaign against Islamic State has thrown the bilateral relationship into crisis. Erdogan may be persuaded not to act as a spoiler in Syria if Trump gives him a green light in Iraq.

Turkey considers a Turkish Kurdish group, known as the PKK, a terrorist group because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party inside Turkey. A firm owned by his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, received more than $500,000 during the election campaign, initially undisclosed, for work to help discredit an Erdogan political rival.

Trump and Erdogan's meeting comes ahead of the 2017 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

The relying on regional allies including Turkey for intelligence-sharing and military assistance as it crafts a Syria policy, particularly as Iran and Russian Federation work to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

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On the contrary, one week before Erdogan's visit to Washington, Trump has given his authorization for the direct arming of the YPG fighters in an apparent message that Pentagon will continue cooperating with local Kurdish fighters as USA proxy on the ground for upcoming Raqqa offensive.

However, Trump also has a record of turning such criticism over by going tough on other nations.

Erdogan's other demands will likely include the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the USA -based spiritual leader whom Ankara blames for a failed 2015 military coup.

In an exclusive interview with CNN last month, Erdogan said that he planned to have a "tete-a-tete" with Trump on Gulen, claiming that there was now sufficient evidence pointing to the cleric as the attempted coup's mastermind.

But he is also concerned about the PKK's growing presence in Sinjar, and would have the support of local Kurdish authorities if he were to launch a cross-border operation to destroy the group's highland bases.

US prosecutors say the 2013 charges pertained to a massive bribery scheme executed by Zarrab involving the payment of tens of millions of dollars to Cabinet-level Turkish officials and high-level bank officers in Turkey to facilitate Zarrab's transactions on behalf of Iran.

"We've had a great relationship and we'll make it even better", added Trump. The Turkish government asks Zarrab to be given to Turkey since he is a citizen.

During his White House visit, Erdogan had planned to lobby Trump to drop his administration's support of the YPG, and instead back Turkey's favored Syrian rebels to capture Raqqa.

Zarrab's prosecution had been brought by Preet Bharara, the former USA attorney for the Southern District of NY, who was sacked in March along with other US attorneys named under President Barrack Obama. "Our fight is against ISIS", Trump told reporters in response to a question about whether he had revealed classified information in a May 10 Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials. "I don't think we have anything to lose in this meeting".