Steve Herman – Voice of America
WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House for a second time at what is a low ebb in relations between Washington and Ankara.
"We've been friends for a long time," Trump said in the Oval Office. "We understand each other's country."
Erdogan recently infuriated U.S. officials when he ignored American warnings not to invade northeastern Syria in an operation targeting Syrian Kurds.
The Turkish leader also upset American defense officials and diplomats with the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Moscow. The purchase violated the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanction Act (CAATSA), which prohibits major purchases of Russian military hardware.
That also prompted the United States to eject Turkey from its F-35 joint strike fighter program.
"We'll be talking about the S-400," said Trump, when asked by reporters about the defense relationship. "We'll be talking about the F-35 fighter jet."
Trump also was asked whether Turkey could possess F-35 jets while owning the Russian missile defense system.
"We're having a second meeting in a little while," replied Trump, indicating there might be more to say about it at a joint news conference in the afternoon.
Erdogan recently discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin buying Su-57 and Su-35 fighter jets from Moscow if he is not able to get the American aircraft, according to media reports.
Such a move could endanger Turkey's membership in the U.S.-led NATO defense alliance.
Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of congressmen sent Trump a letter requesting that he cancel his meeting with the Turkish president because of Erdogan's "disastrous" actions in Syria and purchase of the S-400 system.
"Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States," the lawmakers wrote.
Just before Erdogan arrived at the White House, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, called it "shameful" for Trump to host Erdogan, accusing the U.S. president of “again turning a blind eye to the actions of foreign leaders who have amassed power and seek to rule as autocrats, subverting democracy in their countries and exploiting divisions and ethnic conflicts to promote their own legitimacy.”
In an interview with VOA's Kurdish service, the spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mustafa Bali, called for the United States not to sacrifice the Kurds, Christians and other ethnic and religious groups in northern Syria for its economic interests.
"President Trump should fulfill his moral obligations and prevent the ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering” carried out by Erdogan “since his forces started the occupation in Syria," said Bali, who alleged that Turkey has been violating the cease-fire and expanding territory outside the so-called "safe zone."
Turkey considers the Kurdish forces, allies of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group inside Syria, to be terrorists.
In the Oval Office on Wednesday, alongside Erdogan, Trump said "the cease-fire is holding very well. We've been speaking to the Kurds and they seem to be very satisfied."
The discussions between Trump and Erdogan began amid the first day of public testimony in the impeachment inquiry the House is conducting against the U.S. president.
"It's a witch hunt, it's a hoax. I'm too busy to watch it," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "I see they're using lawyers that are television lawyers. They took some guys off television."