Editor’s note: On May 17, 2013 Brookings hosted Prime Minister Erdogan for an event on U.S.-Turkish relations.
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Washington this week and will meet with President Obama today. This is his first visit to the United States since December 2009. But the world and the Middle East have changed dramatically since then. Thus, the agenda for Erdogan’s talks with Obama will be a very crowded one. Four topics in particular are likely to stand out.
1. The Situation in Syria
Erdogan arrives in Washington at a time when there is growing pressure on the Obama administration to change its course on Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry has already taken some steps to increase nonlethal support for the opposition in Syria while putting growing pressure on the moderate opposition to tighten their ranks and distance themselves from radical Islamist groups. These measures are unlikely to satisfy Erdogan. He has long been a vocal critic of the international community, the United Nations Security Council and the United States for idly “watching the tragedy” unfolding in Syria.
He is likely to remind Obama quite loudly that the butchery of civilians by the Assad regime has reached levels that makes it unethical not to respond to and that, as the car bombs that exploded in Turkish border town of Reyhanli last weekend demonstrate, Turkish national security is being directly affected. He will also offer facts and figures to show how the humanitarian situation is fast deteriorating and becoming untenable with an ever expanding flow of refugees and displaced people. He will not miss the opportunity to share with Obama the evidence collected from refugees arriving in Turkish hospitals that the Syrian regime is using chemical weapons. Erdogan may go as far as to push Obama to support the idea of creating a no-fly zone along the Turkish border.