Biden meets Erdogan of Turkey on margins of G20 Summit in Rome, both discuss Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and NATO

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met on Sunday with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on the margins of the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, and both leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including the crises in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as Turkey’s contributions to NATO.

More specifically, both leaders discussed the political process in Syria, the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Afghans in need, elections in Libya, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, and diplomatic efforts in the South Caucasus. 

“President Biden underscored his desire to maintain constructive relations, expand areas of cooperation, and manage our disagreements effectively,” the White House said in a readout. “He expressed appreciation for Turkey’s nearly two decades of contributions to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.”

The White House added that “President Biden reaffirmed our defense partnership and Turkey’s importance as a NATO Ally, but noted U.S. concerns over Turkey’s possession of the Russian S-400 missile system.”

He also emphasized the importance of “strong democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and the rule of law for peace and prosperity.”

Erdogan recently threatened to expel the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, and a senior U.S. administration official told reporters on Saturday that had that happened the meeting would have been canceled.

Before their meeting, President Biden and President Erdogan stood in front of an American and Turkish flag.

Asked if he was planning to give F16s to Turkey, President Biden said, “We’re planning to have a good conversation.”

President Biden did not respond to a question on human rights and on if Turkey was too close to Russia. 

But in a readout after their bilateral, the White House said President Biden did talk about human rights in their meeting.

A senior U.S. administration official who spoke with White House correspondents after their meeting was pressed for more details. 

“The President and President Erdogan had a very constructive conversation,” the official said. “The President made clear his desire to have constructive relations with Turkey and to find an effective way to manage our disagreements. They discussed the full range of foreign policy topics: Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Eastern Med, South Caucuses – also touched on climate. They did talk about the F16s with the President making very clear that there was a process underway that we had to go through. And the President also raised human rights issues, saying that this is a set of issues democracy, rule of law, human rights that are important to him. And that those are issues that he and his administration will continue to raise.”

Asked by reporters if President Biden was supportive of giving F16s to Turkey and if President Erdogan asked for them, the official responded, “I mean, I think the Turkish Government and Erdogan including in his public comments in the last couple of weeks have been very clear that there is a desire by Turkey to purchase the F16s. And the President took on board his desire to have them but made very clear that there is a process that we have to go through in the U.S. and committed to continuing to work through that process.”

On whether Erdogan has asked for the money back that Turkey already paid for the F35s, the official said, “I mean, I think you saw this week I believe there was a team from the Defense Department that was out in Turkey to begin to work with them on the F35 issue. So that process on the F35 is underway.”

Asked to be more specific on the human rights issues, particularly what Biden raised and Erdogan’s response, the official said, “The president in general set out his commitment to human rights, to rule of law and all of those issues and acknowledged that those are something that he cares about. And those are issues that he is going to continue to raise and that his administration is going to continue to raise.”

Asked if Biden was specific with Erdogan about what he was doing and what he needed to change: “I’m not going to get into all of the details of what they talked about. But it was an issue that the President raised, expressed his continued commitment and focus on all of these issues, and also his continued intention to continue raising them.”

Asked again if Biden raised concerns about what’s going on in Turkey with human rights, the official said, “I’m not going to go further than that in characterizing the discussion.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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