Trump's Meeting With Turkey's Erdogan Could Signal Turning Point In Relations

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As Erdogan heads to the United States for his first meeting with Donald Trump, Turkish opposition members and human rights defenders are urging the USA leader to raise the issue of Turkey's deteriorating human rights and democracy.

Trump's willingness to partner with authoritarian rulers and overlook their shortcomings on democracy and human rights has alarmed USA lawmakers of both parties.

Last month, Turkey voted to expand Erdogan's powers as president in a referendum that many critics decried as tainted. "The U.S. would have to make sure that he would get a fair trial back in Turkey". Erdogan's government also has insisted it may attack Syrian Kurdish fighters again.

The U.N. envoy for Syria says a government delegation attending peace talks in Geneva is "here to work", sidestepping comments by President Bashar Assad that the U.N. -mediated peace talks are just for show.

Turkey believes the Kurds in Syria are linked to a Turkish Kurdish group, known as the PKK, which the US, the European Union and Turkey all consider a terrorist organization. Erdogan's government could limit access to the Incirlik air base, which is an important hub for USA fighter jets that carry out strikes against Islamic State targets in both Syria and Iraq.

But Turkey has never offered persuasive evidence that Gulen was involved in the coup, and extradition is likely to be blocked by US courts.

Yes, theoretically speaking, this is a possibility, but given the many and repeated disappointments and frustrations Turkey has suffered because of the US, its strategic ally, would the able to afford it if the Turkish government were to take an unexpected course and defend its own national security and interests in the neighboring Syria?

"Erdogan was nearly completely absent during the Muslim travel ban which was very surprising - Erdogan usually has something to say about everything", said Cagaptay, referring to Trump's early attempts to block travel to the United States from Muslim-majority Arab countries that got shot down twice in federal courts.

"We support Turkey in the first fight against terror and terror groups like ISIS and the PKK, and ensure they have no safe quarter, the terror groups", Trump said. However, President Putin made clear that Russian Federation would not follow Washington's example to arm YPG.

Analysts are not hopeful for remarkable progress from the Erdogan-Trump meeting.

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Announcing the decision without waiting to meet with Erdogan is "humiliating" considering the sensitivity of the matter to Turkey, said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Erdogan hopes to change Trump's mind about arming the Kurdish group, he has said, but the president's advisors say he is unlikely to budge.

"We look forward to having a long and productive discussion", Trump said.

Indeed, on May 3 a group of 15 bipartisan senators - led by Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. - reasserted the need to include human rights as a central component of US foreign policy.

Trump's approach until now has been to ignore or even endorse Erdogan's autocratic abuses.

Erdogan is also seeking the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher exiled in Pennsylvania, whom Erdogan considers a terrorist. "However, at the moment it is necessary, and we will be doing that at military level at a meeting in Istanbul or in Ankara". They think "Turks are going to have to swallow it" and after protesting for a while, Ankara will not do much to hinder that decision because it will need the the long-term and have no other options.

The controversial Turkish cleric is seen by his followers as an enlightened leader and by the ruling party in Turkey as a risky enemy and traitor.

One administration official described Erdogan's White House visit as a gift that offers the Turkish leader a gesture of worldwide legitimacy a month after a disputed referendum that critics say Erdogan won by violating global standards for free and fair elections.

"To the extent that Erdogan looks like he's being flattered, he's going to love that ... to confirm to the Turks that his referendum victory was free and fair, and he's getting a pat on the back from the U.S. president".

Trump shared the threat in a meeting with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office last week, according to the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

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