A week after U.S. President Donald Trump sparked anger in Turkey by authorizing the arming of Syrian Kurds, he welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House on Tuesday.
Trump said the two leaders would hold “long and hard discussions” regarding the relationship between their countries.
“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better. So we’re going to have a very, very strong and solid discussion,” he said.
WATCH: Trump on US-Turkey relationship
The United States sees the Kurdish force, the YPG, as a key part in the fight against Islamic State and the effort to oust the militants from their de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey considers the YPG terrorists because of their links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that has been waging a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.
Erdogan called the decision to provide U.S. arms “contrary to our strategic relations to the U.S.”
He reiterated his concerns Tuesday, telling reporters Turkey will never accept the use of YPG fighters in the battle against IS.
Erdogan, however, said last week ahead of the trip that he views his visit to Washington as “a new beginning in Turkish-American relations.”
Erdogan said Tuesday that cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey is “very important for the world” and vowed to expand economic and military ties between the two countries.
“There is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region,” he said.
Prior to Erdogan’s arrival at the White House, a brief scuffle broke out between pro-Erdogan demonstrators and a group of Kurdish advocates. The two sides were quickly separated by police and Secret Service agents stationed outside the White House gates.
Both Turkey and the United States have backed rebels in Syria during the six-year war against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and allies. And the NATO allies have been heavily involved in battling Islamic State since the group swept into large areas of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria in mid-2014.
In comments to reporters, Erdogan brought up the status of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled cleric living in the United States. The Turkish president blames him for an attempted coup last year. Turkey has asked the U.S. to extradite Gulen, but that request has gone nowhere.