Ilhan Tanir
Mar 22 2018

Trump-Erdoğan call readouts short, sweet and shallow

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to his U.S. counterpart President Donald Trump in a phone call on Thursday.

According to the readout issued by the White House, both leaders "to reaffirm the importance of strong relations between the United States and Turkey, as NATO Allies and strategic partners, and to exchange views on regional developments."  

Thursday's readout is by some way shorter than that of the most recent phone call, held on January 25th. In that phone call, President Trump warned Erdoğan, to avoid risking military conflict with the United States during the ongoing Turkish military incursion into Syria, a White House statement said.

This time, the White House's readout was composed of just two sentences. "The two leaders committed to continue efforts to intensify cooperation on shared strategic challenges and to address the concerns of both countries that affect the bilateral relations," it said, after an introductory sentence.

U.S.-Turkish relations have hit some serious issues in recent times, whether over their starkly diverging policies in northern Syria or the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic cleric the Turkish government blames for plotting the failed the coup attempt in 2016.

The phone call in January ended up something of a train wreck, due to differences over the readouts issued by Washington and Ankara. 

The details of the call had been wrongly reported by the White House in its readout, Turkish presidential palace sources told pro-government television channel NTV after the call. The main objection to the White House readout was over its statement that Trump and Erdoğan had discussed U.S. citizens imprisoned in Turkey in previous phone call. 

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu appeared to be backtracking on a previous statement that Turkey had reached an agreement with the United States over the Kurdish-controlled Syrian town of Manbij, a potential flashpoint between Washington and Ankara after Turkish leaders threatened to capture the area where U.S. troops are training Kurdish fighters.

"We did not say we had an agreement with the U.S. We said we have reached an understanding," Çavuşoğlu said after a telephone conversation with outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

However, a few hours after Çavuşoğlu's remarks, Erdoğan during a speech struck one of his harshest tones against the Trump administration yet, sayaing, "They (say they) are not going to withdraw from Manbij. For once forget withdrawing, you have no right to be there (in the first place).”

On Thursday, during a daily briefing at the State Department, the U.S. spokeswoman Heather Nauert called it “hair-splitting” when asked about Cavusoglu's remarks that “there is no agreement but an understanding” between Turkey and the U.S. over Manbij. Nauert said, “I can say that talks with Turkey ongoing, not concluded at this point."

When asked about Turkey's threats to attack Manbij, Nauert said, "US forces are located in Manbij. We made it very clear with Turkey that we continue to operate there. We made our concerns very clear to Turkish gvt. that we have a right to defend ourselves on the ground there."

Nauert also said "we encourage Turkey to de-escalate overall. That is why we continue to have conversation with that government.” “We have no intention to leave” Manbij, Nauert concluded.

"U.S. troops are in Manbij to keep the peace, and our troops are not leaving," a U.S. spokesperson told Ahval on Wednesday.

Manbij is not mentioned on the readouts issued by either capital with regards to Thursday's phone call between the leaders.