Posts Tagged ‘Biden’

U.S. Charm Offensive Fails To Calm European Anxiety About Donald Trump

February 18, 2017

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he arrives in Munich, Germany, February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle
By Noah Barkin | MUNICH — Reuters

One month into the unusual presidency of Donald Trump, his most senior cabinet members were deployed to Brussels, Bonn and Munich this week to reassure nervous Europeans that everything would be okay.

The Europeans heard from Defense Secretary James Mattis that the NATO military alliance was not “obsolete” after all, despite Trump’s repeated suggestions to the contrary.

And they were told by Vice President Mike Pence that Russia would be “held accountable” for its actions in Ukraine, despite Trump’s friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But if the aim of the visits was to reassure Europe that the pillars of U.S. foreign policy are fully intact, they fell short of the mark, European diplomats, politicians and analysts gathered in Munich said.

“What we heard here is not reassuring,” Ruprecht Polenz, former head of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, told Reuters after Pence’s speech to the Munich Security Conference. “There is absolutely no vision for how we are going to work together, going forward.”

Pence was the highest-ranking member of the Trump team to travel to Europe and his address was eagerly awaited. Eight years ago in the same hall, his predecessor Joe Biden made headlines with a promise to “reset” relations with Russia.

But unlike Biden, Pence came to Munich with a fatal handicap: the perception, fueled by the circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, that he is not part of Trump’s inner circle.

“His mission was always going to be hard, but it was made even more so by the questions about his lack of influence inside the White House,” said Derek Chollet, a top defense policy adviser to former president Barack Obama who is now with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.


The vice president tried to tackle these doubts head-on by making clear at the start of his speech that he was speaking for Trump.

But then he went on to mention the president 19 times in the course of the 20-minute speech, prompting one audience member, the author and historian Robert Kagan, to dismiss the address as a “robotic salute to the man in power”.

“Pence and Mattis and Tillerson can come here and talk about the importance of the transatlantic relationship and NATO – and that is all good,” said Elmar Brok, head of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and a party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“But we don’t know what’s coming on Twitter tomorrow morning,” he said, referring to Trump’s penchant for spilling out policy statements via social media.

Flynn’s resignation has deepened the mystery over who Trump will listen to on foreign policy, although his chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner are both seen as influential.

One European diplomat likened the challenge of figuring out who to listen to in the Trump administration to the task of “Kremlinologists” during the Cold War.

Ulrich Speck, a foreign policy analyst at the Elcano think tank in Brussels, said the conundrum that Henry Kissinger evoked when he famously asked who he should call when he wanted to talk to “Europe” seemed to have been turned on its head.

“Now Europe is asking who it should call if it wants to talk to the United States,” Speck said.

Besides his reassurances on NATO and Russia relations, Pence tried to assuage fears that the United States is moving away from democratic values under Trump, who has attacked the media and judiciary repeatedly since taking power a month ago.

“This is President Trump’s promise,” Pence said. “We will stand with Europe, today and every day, because we are bound together by the same noble ideals – freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law.”


This message was welcomed, but others went down poorly.

Pence raised eyebrows by suggesting that the nuclear deal between the world’s major powers and Iran, which has strong support across Europe, was freeing up resources for Tehran to promote terrorism.

And his repeated references to “radical Islamic terrorism” irked some who feel the Trump administration is targeting all Muslims in its fight against extremists. Merkel explicitly warned against this in a speech just before Pence spoke.

Some audience members were also dismissive of Pence’s promise to relegate Islamic State to the “ash-heap of history”, saying such hyperbolic rhetoric was better suited to a U.S. election campaign than a European audience.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed his displeasure with the fact that Pence had not sent a message of support for the European Union, something Munich organizer Wolfgang Ischinger had called on the vice president to do before the conference.

Trump has praised Britain’s decision to leave the EU and suggested other countries follow, stirring concerns that he could abandon decades of U.S. policy and actively encourage the disintegration of the 28-member bloc.

“I was struck that he never mentioned the EU,” said Ayrault.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


Turkish Shelling Presages New Rebel Offensive in Syria Against Islamic State

August 23, 2016

Military reasserts its role in wake of recent coup attempt, deadly wedding bombing

A Turkish tank and armored vehicle near Karkamis, Turkey, on Tuesday. Area residents have been advised to leave amid shelling from suspected Islamic State positions across the border in Syria.
A Turkish tank and armored vehicle near Karkamis, Turkey, on Tuesday. Area residents have been advised to leave amid shelling from suspected Islamic State positions across the border in Syria. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Aug. 23, 2016 4:34 p.m. ET

ISTANBUL—Turkey has started shelling Islamic State fighters holding a strategic Syrian border town in preparation for a new rebel offensive meant to sever the extremist group’s supply routes, Turkish officials said.

In support of the looming attack, the U.S. is being asked to carry out airstrikes and surveillance missions in Syria to aid rebels based inside Turkey who are making their final preparations, Turkish and U.S. officials said.


The pounding of Islamic State positions comes as Turkey mourns dozens of people killed in a bombing at a wedding last weekend in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the terror attack had the hallmarks of Islamic State, though there has been no claim of responsibility.

Since joining the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State a year ago, Turkey has suffered a string of bombings, including one at Istanbul’s busiest airport in June.


Turkish artillery units, along with U.S. warplanes, have been providing direct support for rebels in northwest Syria since the spring. On Saturday, hours before the wedding attack, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country would play a more robust role in Syria to help end the war, but didn’t elaborate.

For the last two days, Turkey has been shelling Islamic State positions around Jarabulus, a key town along the Euphrates River that serves as one of the group’s last remaining routes out of its de facto capital in Raqqa.

“We are providing all support to cleanse Islamic State from the border,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

The U.S. is looking to join with Turkey on the latest operation and is considering providing air, intelligence and possibly other support, a senior U.S. official said.

The official said America’s role was still being discussed, while a Turkish official said U.S. forces based at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey were expected to carry out airstrikes and surveillance missions.

Late Tuesday, as Syrian rebels were gathering at the border, Turkish officials began urging many residents to leave Karkamis, a Turkish town across from Jarabulus, which has been hit by at least nine mortar shells fired by suspected Islamic State forces in Syria.

The offensive was coming into focus as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden flew to Ankara for meetings with Messrs. Erdogan and Yildirim on Wednesday.

Mr. Biden’s visit is meant to demonstrate America’s support for the Turkish leaders, who have expressed disappointment with Western leaders for not more emphatically backing them after they put down a coup attempt last month.

The battle for Jarabulus will also serve as the first major test for the Turkish military, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member, since the failed coup. Turkey has removed at least 1,000 officers, including 150 admirals and generals, accused of playing a role in the coup attempt, creating leadership vacuums.

The battle for Jarabulus is part of a broader campaign by U.S.-backed forces that are on the offensive across Syria and Iraq. Kurdish fighters in Iraq are seizing towns around Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State.

Turkey’s support for the Jarabulus offensive is also designed to blunt the momentum of Kurdish fighters working with U.S. advisers in Syria against Islamic State.

Kurdish militants with the so-called YPG have been playing a vital role in the monthslong campaign to drive Islamic State forces away from the border and close off escape routes in advance of a threatened offensive aimed at Raqqa

Turkey reluctantly allowed the Kurdish forces to take part in the operations in northwestern Syria—with the understanding that they would withdraw when fighting was over.

By backing the new offensive against Jarabulus, Turkish officials want to ensure that the Kurdish forces don’t try to capitalize on their momentum and seize the town themselves.

Turkey views the Kurdish fighters in Syria as an extension of the Kurdish militants in Turkey, who have used car bombs and suicide attacks to try to secure more rights and autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

—Carol E. Lee in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this article.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at and Thomas Grove at


 (Obama legacy is the loss of a free South China Sea and the loss of much of the Middle East, Crimea, Ukraine)

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Joe Biden: While Trying To Criticize Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Infuriates Japan — Biden called ‘Arrogant, insensitive, wrong’

August 20, 2016
Vice-President Joe Biden speaks during campaign event with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 15, 2016. © Charles Mostoller
US Vice-President Joe Biden made a remark slamming Donald Trump, but ended up in deep water with Japan instead, saying that the US “wrote Japan’s constitution.” His comment was slammed as “arrogant”, “wrong”, and “insensitive” in Japan and beyond.

“Insensitive” and also wrong 

VOX POPULI: Biden’s remark on Japan’s Constitution insensitive:The Asahi Shimbun

Amid the trading of insults between the opposing camps on the U.S. presidential campaign trail, a re

Others pointed to the fact that Biden’s words could trigger reform in Japan.

By saying U.S. “wrote Japan’s constitution,” Biden inadvertently gives Abe reform plans a big push. (Japan needs its own constitution!)

Some said that Biden didn’t check his facts properly, as he “essentially refuted the historical fact that Article 9 was proposed by then Japan PM Shidehara and approved by Gen. McArthur [sic].”

Biden’s remark came at a speech in Pennsylvania on Monday, referring to Donald Trump’s earlier statement: if Japan doesn’t cash in to keep the US presence in East Asia, it may be forced to defend itself without Washington’s assistance, and maybe even have its own nuclear weapons.

So Biden lashed out at those words, saying that “he [Trump] talks cavalierly about encouraging other nations … to develop nuclear weapons.”

“Where was he when in school?” Biden asked. “Someone who lacks this judgment cannot be trusted,” he said. “He’s not qualified to know the [nuclear] codes.”

“Does he not understand we wrote Japan’s constitution to say they couldn’t be a nuclear power?” he added.

His words got enormous backlash from both Japanese and international media, with the majority of outlets saying that it’s out of extraordinary for such a high US official to put it quiet so straightforwardly.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment on Biden’s remark, but referred to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement of March 2015, in which he said that the constitution had been written by occupying forces over a short period of time.

Japan’s constitution was adopted in 1947, and was indeed compiled under the US occupation that started after WWII.

US authorities made the first draft and edited it following consultations with Japanese officials. The document was then approved by the Diet, the Japanese parliament.

However, the constitution doesn’t mention nukes specifically: Article 9 urges the Japanese to “forever renounce war” and never have “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

In the 1950s, Japan set up the Self-Defense Forces including ground, sea and air forces, with the authorities saying the force wasn’t gathered to wage wars.

Obama Administration sent U.S. taxpayer money to campaign to oust Israel’s Netanyahu

July 12, 2016
– The Washington Times – Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The State Department paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers grants to an Israeli group that used the money to build a campaign to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in last year’s Israeli parliamentary elections, a congressional investigation concluded Tuesday.

Some $350,000 was sent to OneVoice, ostensibly to support the group’s efforts to back Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement negotiations. But OneVoice used the money to build a voter database, train activists and hire a political consulting firm with ties to President Obama’s campaign — all of which set the stage for an anti-Netanyahu campaign, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said in a bipartisan staff report.

In one stunning finding, the subcommittee said OneVoice even told the State Department’s top diplomat in Jerusalem of its plans in an email, but the official, Consul General Michael Ratney, claims never to have seen them.

He said he regularly deleted emails with large attachments — a striking violation of open-records laws for a department already reeling from former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s handling of official government records.

Mr. Netanyahu survived the election, and the U.S. spending was not deemed illegal because the State Department never put any conditions on the money. Investigators also said OneVoice didn’t turn explicitly political until days after the grant period ended.

“The State Department ignored warnings signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” said Sen. Rob Portman, chairman of the investigative subcommittee. “It is completely unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East. American resources should be used to help our allies in the region, not undermine them.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said the Obama administration followed the law.

But she said their investigation exposed “deficiencies” in the State Department’s policies.

OneVoice had been politically active in Israel’s 2013 elections, which should have been a red flag to U.S. officials to put strict controls on how American taxpayers’ money was spent, the investigation said.

While it wouldn’t have necessarily disqualified the group, the State Department should have written a specific prohibition against using American money to influence a foreign election, the subcommittee said.

It’s part of a pattern of bad behavior at the State Department. The Government Accountability Office reviewed more than five dozen department grants and found officials cut corners and missed red flags in 80 percent of them.

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.



President Obama Visiting With Families and Victims Of Terror Attack in Orlando

June 16, 2016

President Obama arrives in Orlando to console fammilies of those killed and wounded in Sunday’s terror attack — and is met by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Jun 16, 2016, 1:47 PM ET

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are now in Orlando meeting with the families of victims and first responders there, after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the deadliest attack in the United States since 9/11.

A gunman killed 49 people in Sunday’s early morning massacre, and the president is offering his condolences to the victims’ families. It’s his 10th visit to a community victimized by a mass shooting during his presidency.

Despite the political differences between the two, Obama was joined on Air Force One by Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla., for the trip to the senator’s home state amid their calls for unity and solidarity.

Upon arriving in Orlando, Obama and Biden met with law enforcement officials and first responders to the Pulse nightclub, they then stopped at the Orlando Amway Center in downtown Orlando to meet with survivors and victims’ families.

At Wednesday’s White House briefing, Josh Earnest said that “the profound sense of survivor’s guilt that some people are expressing is painful just to read, and I think it is important for the president of the United States, on behalf of the country, to show his support for these families and for these individuals.”

Earnest spoke about the emotional toll of these events on Obama, who has frequently traveled to the affected areas after catastrophes and attacks. “It would be impossible for him to not be personally affected by these kinds of conversations and these kinds of interactions,” he said. “I think the president in the past has indicated that he draws on his faith as he considers fulfilling these kinds of responsibilities.”

Obama was greeted upon arrival in Orlando by the state’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Scott complained in recent days that the president has not directly called him, even after he reportedly received calls from Trump and former President George W. Bush.

Russia Says Demands That Assad Should Leave Hinder Syria’s Political Process — Syrian Opposition Says “U.S. Is No Longer a Great Ally to Have”

April 4, 2016


MOSCOW — Demands for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down restrict perspectives for political settlement in this country, Russia’s RIA news agency on Monday quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Moscow proposes to put off discussions about Assad’s fate, Ryabkov said, adding the issue should be decided later by the sides involved in the Syrian conflict.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)


Syria Opposition Not Happy With US ‘Ambiguity’ on Assad — “Putin Has Hijacked The Obama Administration Plan”

April 3, 2016


© SANA/AFP/File | President Bashar al-Assad has demanded that any transitional government must include his regime as Syria struggles to emerge from five years of civil war

PARIS (AFP) – A Syrian opposition figure on Sunday criticised perceived “American ambiguity” on the future of President Bashar al-Assad and urged Washington to confirm he will not be “rehabilitated” in a future government.

“We have American ambiguity that is very damaging for us,” Bassma Kodmani, member of the main opposition High Negotiations Committee which attended last month’s peace talks in Geneva.

The committee has rejected Assad’s demand for any transitional government to include his regime as Syria struggles to emerge from five years of civil war.

The White House last week indicated Assad should not feature in a transitional unity administration, White House spokesman Josh Earnest dubbing his participation a “non-starter” for Washington.

But Kodmani said the committee wanted confirmation of that stance two days after high level US-Russian discussions on ways of strengthening a fragile ceasefire.

“We don’t know what the United States are discussing with Moscow,” Assad’s long-time ally, said Kodmani.

“We are awaiting confirmation that the USA are maintaining their position to refuse to rehabilitate Assad,” she told French media.

Kodmani stressed “Assad’s departure must be negotiated. The end of the regime must be a controlled, not a chaotic, transition operation.”

But she warned that if Moscow “continues to think Assad should continue to govern then we shall not have a solution in Syria. He cannot remain in power.

“The opposition’s position is clear — negotiation will occur while Assad is still in power, but the transition cannot happen with him.”

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura wants fresh peace talks to start next week in Geneva on ending a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 dead with a transitional government being formed in six months to draft a new constitution ahead of presidential elections in 18 months time.

U.S., Russia Call for Restraint After Outbreak of Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh

April 3, 2016

Dozens killed amid clashes between Armenian, Azeri forces

A picture taken on Saturday and obtained from Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Ministry reportedly shows the remains of a downed Azerbi Mi-24 helicopter in a field.
A picture taken on Saturday and obtained from Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Ministry reportedly shows the remains of a downed Azerbi Mi-24 helicopter in a field. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Updated April 3, 2016 8:32 a.m. ET


MOSCOW—The U.S. and Russia urged the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan to end fighting around the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region, after an outbreak of intense combat over the weekend claimed the lives of at least 30 people and injured many more.

Late Friday, Azeri forces launched a bid to seize positions in Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave that lies within Azerbaijan’s borders and was overtaken by Armenia during a six-year war that ended with a 1994 cease-fire.

The outbreak of fighting—some of the heaviest since the Russian-brokered cease-fire went into effect—quickly raised alarms in Washington and Moscow.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the large-scale cease-fire violations along the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, which have resulted in a number of reported casualties, including civilians,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement late Saturday. “We urge the sides to show restraint, avoid further escalation, and strictly adhere to the cease-fire.”

A video grab made on Saturday shows an image taken from a footage made available on the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry's website reportedly showing a damaged house following clashes.
A video grab made on Saturday shows an image taken from a footage made available on the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry’s website reportedly showing a damaged house following clashes. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called on both sides to end hostilities and show restraint, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the news agency Interfax.

Azerbaijan’s armed forces said the incursion was in response to “provocations” by Armenian separatists, the Azeri military said in a statement to news agency APA. The statement said Azeri forces broke through Armenian-held defensive lines to capture “settlements of strategic importance,” including the heights around the village of Talish.

The separatist government’s foreign ministry said Sunday that Armenian forces “took back a tactically important stronghold” near Talish from Azeri forces, claiming to have inflicted heavy losses.

It wasn’t immediately possible to verify those claims independently, but the fighting, which involved armored vehicles, artillery and aircraft, was some of the most intense since the 1994 cease-fire. The Azeri military said 12 of its soldiers were “martyred,” according to a statement carried by APA.

An Azeri Mi-24 helicopter gunship was downed and an Azeri tank was also destroyed by a mine, the statement added. Separatists posted photographs and videos online of destroyed Azeri hardware, including drones, and damage to civilian homes.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said in a national security council meeting Saturday that 18 people were killed and 35 wounded on the Armenian side.

“These are the largest by-scale operations after the establishment of cease-fire in 1994,” Mr. Sargsyan said. “The [Azeri] opponent used air forces, all types of artillery and armored vehicles.”

In a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said his country’s forces had “repulsed the Armenian provocation on the Line of Contact and gave a decent response.”

Messrs. Sargsyan and Aliyev had both been in Washington to attend the Nuclear Security Summit before the fighting broke out. Both presidents met with Vice President Joe Biden and Mr. Kerry on the sidelines of the summit.

According to a White House readout, Mr. Biden “expressed concern about continued violence, called for dialogue, and emphasized the importance of a comprehensive settlement for the long-term stability, security and prosperity of the region” in his meetings with both leaders.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh traces back to the late 1980s, when both countries were still republics inside the Soviet Union. The war was preceded by ethnic violence inside the Armenian enclave and anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan; both sides have accused the other of ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

The conflict also has a regional dimension, and relations between Armenia and neighboring Turkey are particularly fraught. The mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman authorities in 1915—a gruesome chapter described by most scholars as genocide—are part of the collective memory of Armenians. Turkey disputes any suggestion that Ottoman forces committed genocide in 1915, and the government in Ankara strongly backs Azerbaijan, where Azeris, a Turkic ethnic group, are the majority.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned Armenian artillery fire that Ankara said hit civilians. Ankara called on Yerevan to adhere to the truce and “immediately” halt hostilities.

In a statement Saturday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry also reiterated its call for a peaceful settlement in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions. Turkey’s president, foreign minister and defense minister have all talked with their Azeri counterparts about the latest developments, Ankara said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Lanham, Md., on Saturday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Lanham, Md., on Saturday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed solidarity with Azerbaijan amid renewed clashes, while blaming the Minsk Group’s leaders—France, Russia and the U.S.—for failing to take “just, determined” steps toward a resolution over the long-standing dispute.

“We will continue to provide all the help that we can until the very end,” Mr. Erdogan said Saturday in the U.S. during an opening ceremony of a Turkish-American Culture and Civilization Center in Maryland. “We said our prayers, God willing our Azeri brothers will succeed in this undertaking with minimum casualties.”

Turkey’s president arrived in Washington on Tuesday for a Nuclear Security Summit. Mr. Erdogan met with President Barack Obama and other world leaders on the sidelines of the gathering, discussing a range of matters from the international fight against Islamic State and terrorism, to the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Nagorno-Karabakh figured into Mr. Erdogan’s bilateral talks, but the Turkish president said the effort to strike a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the regional conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe umbrella had mostly failed because the leading three world powers treated the matter lightly and showed weakness by not pressing for a common solution.

Write to Nathan Hodge at

At least 30 soldiers and a young boy have been killed in clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictured, a car riddled with bullet holes after today's conflict

At least 30 soldiers and a young boy have been killed in clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictured, a car riddled with bullet holes after today’s conflict


A car lays destroyed with blood showing in the aftermath of heavy fighting in Terter, Azerbaijan, between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh

A car lays destroyed with blood showing in the aftermath of heavy fighting in Terter, Azerbaijan, between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh

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Obama reaffirms U.S. commitment to Turkey’s security during Erdogan visit

April 1, 2016


WASHINGTON/ANKARA — U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Turkey’s security during a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, while also discussing both countries’ efforts to fight Islamic State, the White House said.

“The president extended condolences to President Erdogan on behalf of the American people for those killed and injured in today’s terrorist attack in Diyarbakir, and reaffirmed the support of the United States for Turkey’s security and our mutual struggle against terrorism,” the White House said.

“The leaders also discussed how to advance our shared effort to degrade and destroy ISIL,” it said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

In a statement on Friday, Turkey’s presidential office said the two NATO leaders discussed cooperation on resolving the refugee crisis and how partners in the fight against Islamic State can ramp up their efforts.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Orhan Coskun; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)



WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House said that US President Barack Obama met his Turkish counterpart in Washington, amid tensions over human rights and the crisis in Syria.

“President Obama this evening met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit,” the White House announced, having previously stated the pair were unlikely to hold sit-down talks — a decision widely perceived as a snub by Washington.

Turkey’s President Erdogan Visits Washington — But Obama Ducks One-On-One Meeting Opportunity

March 31, 2016


When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Washington this week, he’ll open an Islamic cultural center in Lanham, Md., attend the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit and meet with Vice President Biden.

One thing he likely won’t do is have a formal meeting with President Obama.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that Erdogan and Obama are expected to meet informally and “at least have a conversation.” They won’t meet because more than 50 world leaders are in town and Obama’s time is limited, Earnest said.

But analysts detect a snub reflecting U.S. discomfort with Erdogan’s crackdown on free expression in Turkish news media and political opponents.

On security matters, however, Erdogan and Obama are closer. Turkey supports a U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State and backs Obama’s call for new leadership in Syria to end the five-year civil war.

Erdogan was to arrive Tuesday evening and hopes to meet with Obama at some point during his visit, said Fatih Oke, spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

Earnest said Monday that Obama and Erdogan met several times in recent months, including at the Paris climate summit in November, and both leaders will attend the nuclear security summit Thursday and Friday.

“We’ve got a lot of important business with the Turks to do, and we’ve made important progress through that diplomacy,” Earnest said.

Erdogan, who has pushed his majority Muslim nation away from its traditionally secular culture to a more religious one, has been severely critical of the West. After the Paris terrorist attacks in November, Erdogan called European leaders hypocrites for not taking a stronger stand against anti-Muslim hate speech and attacks on mosques. He also has called for the West to do more to help Turkey deal with millions of refugees from Syria’s civil war.

“He believes the Western world is decadent and immoral,” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Erdogan’s visit comes weeks after Turkish officials seized the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman, which authorities accused of being a mouthpiece for Fethullah Gullen, a former political ally who it now accuses of trying to overthrow the government. The newspaper’s staff was replaced and its content turned overnight from critical of the Erdogan government to complimentary.

State Department spokesman John Kirby described the seizure as “troubling,” and said it was just the latest in a string of seizures of media companies and charges filed against journalists accused of insulting the Turkish leader.

The arrest last week by U.S. officials of a prominent Turkish-Iranian financier adds to the awkward timing of Erdogan’s visit. Reza Zarrab is accused of funneling money through U.S. banks from illegal oil and natural gas sales from Iran to Turkish companies, in violation of nuclear sanctions. Zarrab was at the center of a Turkish corruption scandal in 2013.

That investigation resulted in no charges, while Erdogan’s government reassigned police officers and a prosecutor who they accused of working for political enemies.

Although Turkey and the United States agree on some aspects for ending the Syrian civil war, they have a fundamental disagreement over support for rebel groups fighting the Syrian regime.

Erdogan wants the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State to do more to support nationalist and Islamic militants fighting against the Syrian government and its allies. The United States worries that Syria’s rebels are too close to al-Qaeda and prefers to support Kurdish militia, which Turkey views as terrorists because of their links to the PKK, a Turkish terrorist group that seeks independence for Turkish Kurds.

“American officials have been in Turkey every two weeks since the start of the anti-Islamic State campaign,” said Aaron Stein, a Turkey and Iran analyst at the Atlantic Council. “Those engagements are reaching dead ends because of these substantial differences.”

Turkey, a member of NATO, hosts U.S. and other coalition member aircraft at its Incirlik Air Base, but hasn’t flown missions in Syria since November, when it shot down a Russian military jet that it accused of crossing into Turkish air space.

On Tuesday, the U.S. government ordered families of U.S. diplomats and military personnel to leave Incirlik and two other bases in southern Turkey because of “increased threats from terrorist groups” operating across the border in Syria.