Ahead of their meeting on Tuesday, Obama and Erdoğan, in comments to reporters, focused on deadly attacks in Turkey which they agreed underscored the need for cooperation on counterterrorism.
“This reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world, and Turkey and the United States are going to be strong partners in preventing terrorism,” Obama said.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference following the meeting, Erdoğan stated that his one-and-a-half-hour meeting with Obama focused primarily on counterterrorism efforts and added that Obama vowed to support Turkey in its fight against the PKK.
“[The president] told us that the US was ready to provide every kind of support in the joint fight against terrorism,” said Erdoğan, adding that the US has stuck to its position that the PKK is a common enemy of both Turkey and the US. The US administration is likely to agree to a Turkish request to base its unmanned drones in Turkey after the US withdrawal from Iraq, Erdoğan added.
“I think there will be no problem regarding the Predators issue,” he said.
Turkey has requested the US base a fleet of Predator drones on Turkish soil for cross-border operations against the PKK, which uses bases in northern Iraq for attacks on Turkish targets. The Obama administration has yet to decide on the request.
Erdoğan said Turkey could buy or rent Predators and that Turkey has conveyed a request to that effect to the US. “Their approach is positive,” Erdoğan said, adding that there is no problem in intelligence sharing between Turkey and the US about PKK activities.
“Our request concerns the question of what the US will do with weapons [in Iraq] following the withdrawal. We have already conveyed these request to them,” Erdoğan said. Speaking to reporters, the prime minister disclosed that Turkey is considering sanctions on Syria and will coordinate its actions with the United States in this regard.
“I terminated my contacts with the Syrian administration. We never wished to arrive this point but unfortunately the Syrian administration has led us here,” he said, noting that his government had ended contacts with the Syrian administration. Erdoğan said Turkey is now preparing sanctions on Syria and said the preparations will be coordinated with the US.
“They [the US] have their own sanctions against Syria that are already under way. Our foreign ministers [Turkey and US] will jointly review what our sanctions might be,” said Erdoğan, adding that Syria’s conditions and its demographic features will be taken into consideration while these sanctions are drafted. “We have made our preliminary preparations. But we will review these preparations together with the US, see what their approach is, and will take our own steps on the basis of the results of the joint work of our foreign ministers,” he said.
Referring to a Greek Cypriot-Israeli drive to explore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean as “madness,” Erdoğan said it was a blow to negotiations to reunite Cyprus, but said Turkey does not consider use of military force to deter the move for now. Turkey has decided to begin its own gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and boost its military presence in the region after the Greek Cypriot government vowed to go ahead with plans to drill for gas in Cyprus’ south. Erdoğan said earlier this week that Turkey would send fighter planes and gunboats to patrol the area. Asked whether a military option was on table, Erdoğan replied succinctly, “Not at the moment.” When asked whether Turkey would stop Greek Cypriot exploration ships or simply conduct its own gas exploration, Erdoğan said, “No, we are doing our own exploration.”
“The Greek Cypriot administration and Israel are engaging in oil exploration madness in the Mediterranean,” Erdoğan said.
The crisis in Turkey’s relations with Israel is a source of concern for the United States, although Erdoğan said the US side “confirmed Turkey’s rightfulness” in regard to the killing of its nationals by Israeli commandos in the international waters during the 2010 raid. “They [the US] are in no position to tell us not to do it because they know we are right,” he said, referring to US calls for resolution of the crisis in Turkish-Israeli ties.
“The president underscored his interest in seeing a resolution of that issue between those two countries and encouraged continuing work toward that end,” White House adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall spoke to reporters after the Obama-Erdoğan meeting, saying Obama also emphasized the need to calm tensions throughout the region.