In an Oval Office meeting with President Trump and five GOP senators Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pulled out an iPad and forced the group to watch a propaganda video that depicted Kurds as terrorists, according to an Axios report.
The report, published Thursday morning states, “the meeting hosted by President Trump included five Republican U.S. senators who’ve been among the most vocal critics of Turkey’s recent invasion of Syria and attacks on the U.S.’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS,” but that Erdoğan “apparently thought he could sway these senators by forcing them to watch a clunky propaganda film.”
The film was ultimately unpersuasive as the senators in the meeting — Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) — repeatedly pushed back against Erdogan.
The meeting comes amidst potential U.S. sanctions against Turkey for their purchase of an S-400 Russian air defense system.
Fireworks in the Oval Office
According to sources speaking to Axios, after the film ended, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Erdoğan: “Well, do you want me to go get the Kurds to make one about what you’ve done?”
Graham later confirmed to Axios that he and Erdogan clashed in the meeting, saying, “The Turkish narrative that they have done more to destroy ISIS, I rejected forcefully, and I let Turkey know that 10,000 SDF fighters, mostly Kurds, suffered, died or injured, in the fight against ISIS, and America will not forget that and will not abandon them.”
In a statement after the meeting, Sen. Ted Cruz described Turkey as “a deeply problematic ally, but an ally nonetheless” and said that he “made clear to President Erdoğan that so long as Turkey continues to procure or deploy the S-400 air defense system from Russia, the U.S. will not sell F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.”
According to Axios sources, Sen. Rick Scott pressed Erdoğan during the meeting on “why Turkey should enjoy the protections of NATO when they’re cozying up to Russia.”
All the senators in the room were in agreement over the insistence that Turkey cease their S-400 dealings with Russia.
A bit of background
Last month, shortly after President Trump made the decision to pull ground troops out of Syria despite bipartisan opposition out of the House, Turkish forces invaded territory in northern Syria previously held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.
President Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey in retaliation for the offensive, which he warned Erdoğan against initiating.
Later, after Turkey agreed to permanently halt their invasion, Trump ceased all sanctions on the country.
Now, ahead of the Oval Office meeting with Erdoğan Wednesday, President Trump is again considering enforcing sanctions on Turkey unless they get rid of the S-400 air defense systems they purchased from Russia.