Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would meet US President Barack Obama at a nuclear summit in Washington this week, amid differences over Syria and Turkey’s domestic policy direction.
Erdogan will be among more than 50 world leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit on Thursday and Friday. There has been intense speculation in the Turkish media as to whether he would meet Obama, with some suggesting a failure to do so would be a deliberate US snub.
NATO member Turkey is part of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but the two allies are sharply divided over a Kurdish militia in northern Syria. It has enjoyed US military support but Turkey sees it as a threat to its national security.
Washington has also grown increasingly critical of Turkey’s record on freedom of expression. US Vice President Joe Biden said during a visit in January that Turkey was setting a poor example for the region in intimidating media and accusing academics of treason.
“Our colleagues have planned a meeting with Obama, just as we met at the G20,” Erdogan told a news conference in Istanbul before his departure for the United States. The two leaders last met at a G20 summit in Turkey in November.
“More than 50 leaders are attending the summit upon Obama’s invitation, and we are going to talk with a majority of them. We are going to hold a bilateral meeting with Obama,” he said, adding he did not know how long the meeting would last.
Erdogan also said he wanted the US authorities to take steps against a network of schools run by a movement affiliated with Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric whom Erdogan has accused of running a “parallel” state and of plotting to overthrow him.
Erdogan was once an ally of Gulen, whose network of followers runs schools worldwide. The two publicly fell out after police and prosecutors Erdogan saw as sympathetic to Gulen launched a graft probe that touched on the Turkish leader’s inner circle in 2013.
Gulen, who faces terrorism charges in Turkey, denies his followers tried to topple Erdogan.
The arrest last week in Florida of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who was at the centre of that graft investigation, was not a concern for Turkey, Erdogan also said.
“The real money launderers are there (in the United States). Have the authorities taken any steps towards them?,” Erdogan said in reference to Gulen’s network.