American President Barack Obama has no plans for a personal meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is heading to the US on an official visit this week to take part in the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
President Erdogan had invited Obama to join him at the inauguration of a Turkish-funded mosque in Maryland, but the proposal has been turned down, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Instead, President Erdogan is expected to hold a face-to-face meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, a White House official told the WSJ.
The official said that contact between the American and Turkish presidents is regular, since they had a personal meeting in November 2015 on the fringes of the G20 summit in Turkey, and held a phone conversation in February.
“The president has been in such regular contact with few other world leaders,” the senior administration official told the media. “When it comes to the [Nuclear Security Summit], there is not a robust [bilateral] schedule, so it’s not as if Erdogan is being excluded.”
The press service of the Turkish president said it has no information about a meeting between the two presidents being canceled, RIA Novosti reports. Reportedly, Turkish officials had been preparing a Washington get-together of the two leaders for months.
The Nuclear Security Summit, or NSS 2016, kicks off on March 31. President Erdogan will arrive in the US two days before that, and is planning to leave on April 2.
Relations between Obama and Erdogan have certainly seen better times, with Obama previously naming Erdogan among his closest allies. Back in May 2013, when then-Prime Minister Erdogan and his family paid an official visit to the US, he was most welcome, with President Obama inviting him for dinner.
That was at a time when Erdogan had announced historic peace talks with Kurdish fighters and praised the further development of the economic ties between Turkey and the US.
Yet already in 2013, relations between Ankara and Washington witnessed discord, first because of a violent police crackdown against protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, allegedly staged by supporters of dissident Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who had found refuge in the US. The actions of the Turkish police drew criticism from the White House.
Then in December 2013 came the arrests of dozens of people in a political-corruption probe that exposed links to Erdogan’s family and closest associates.
Most recently, Turkey’s relations with key allies were strained by its military operation in the southeast launched against Kurdish armed militias, which then also spread to Kurds’ positions in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
The crackdown against internal critics of the Erdogan government has also put the existence of basic freedom of speech and press in Turkey under question.
Back in January, when Vice President Joe Biden visited Istanbul, he met with Turkish journalists critical of President Erdogan – a move that caused consternation among the Turkish leader and his allies.
Last week a senior aide to President Erdogan said Turkey needs no “external advice” from Washington when it comes to internal politics. “This is the behavior of a big brother giving lessons. We need friendship,” he stressed.
For the US, Turkey remains a key ally in fighting jihadists in Syria and Iraq, with the US Air Force using Turkish military airfields for operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).