Erdoğan ‘went nuts’ after U.S. Senator described Syria incursion as invasion - NYT

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clashed with Lindsey Graham at a meeting in the White House after the senior Republican senator used the word “invasion” to describe Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria, the New York Times reported.

Erdoğan had a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and five Republican senators on Wednesday, amid growing bipartisan anger in Congress over Turkey’s military offensive launched on Oct. 9 against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that made up the bulk of ground forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

While Erdoğan enjoyed a genial visit and exchanged compliments with Trump, there were some tense and awkward moments behind the scenes, the NYT said. 

In one of those instances Erdoğan showed a video on an Ipad depicting atrocities he said had committed by two Kurdish groups, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey says are the one and the same terrorist group.

Erdoğan told Turkish reporters on his plane that Trump had been “very impressed” by the video. But Axios news site reported on Thursday that the video had not been effective, citing an unnamed source in the room at the White House. 

“Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was among the Republican attendees in the Oval Office meeting, recounted on Thursday that Mr. Erdoğan — a strongman rarely challenged directly at home — “went nuts” after Mr. Graham used the word “invasion” to describe Turkey’s widely condemned military offensive against the Kurdish fighters,” the NYT said. 

The senator, a close ally of Trump, has strongly criticised Turkey’s military offensive and the U.S. president’s decision to pull out U.S. troops from northern Syria that paved the way for the Turkish incursion. 

“I said, ‘Well, the reason it’s an invasion is that’s exactly what you did,’” Mr. Graham said. “I warned you not to do it. And everything that I was worried about came true in spades.”

The NYT did not mention how Erdoğan actually responded to Graham.

Erdoğan has repeatedly lashed out at foreign politicians and media outlets that have described the Turkish offensive as invasion, saying that Turkey is in Syria only for national security reasons and respects the territorial integrity of the country. 

Erdoğan’s visit came after the U.S. House of Representatives last month approved a sanctions bill against Turkey over the military incursion in Syria and Turkey’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 air defence missiles. 

Senator Jim Risch, who serves as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the NYT that he and the other senators who had attended the meeting had explained to the Turkish president that the mood of Congress was “very clearly not in his favour”, adding that Erdoğan’s tone had been defensive.