President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning participated in an unannounced meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following months of scrutiny over the administration’s posture toward Ankara and controversial shifts in Syria policy, Politico reported.
The meeting, which was absent from Trump’s public schedule, appeared to occur on the sidelines of a larger gathering of NATO leaders Wednesday in Watford, England, and was first announced in a post by the official Twitter account for the Turkish presidency.
The Turkish presidency’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted that the two leaders had a “very productive” meeting, and his office said the meeting lasted half an hour.
In a subsequent statement the White House confirmed the sit-down and said Trump and Erdoğan “discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security.”
The surprise session between the American and Turkish presidents is likely to draw attention from other world leaders who are in London this week to attend the Western military alliance’s annual meeting.
Some of those government heads, as well as Republicans back in the United States, have been outspoken in their criticism of Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria in October.
Trump granted tacit approval for the assault by Erdoğan’s military — which resulted in the slaughter of US-allied Kurdish fighters — and withdrew the last American forces from that area of Syria while maintaining a troop presence to safeguard the Middle Eastern nation’s lucrative oil fields.
During a testy exchange with Trump on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked US diplomacy in the region and denounced the Turkish invasion.
“When I look at Turkey, they now are fighting against those who fight with us — who fought with us shoulder-to-shoulder against ISIS — and sometimes they work with ISIS proxies,” he said.