Turkey’s Erdogan Postpones US Visit to Meet Biden, Official Says

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed a planned trip to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden at the White House on May 9, according to a senior official who’s familiar with the matter.

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Turkey decided to postpone the visit, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying only that the delay was related to a change in Erdogan’s schedule. A White House spokesperson said a meeting was never announced. But officials from both countries privately confirmed planning for the visit.

Turkey and the US will discuss a new date for Erdogan’s visit, said the senior official, without elaborating. US officials, who asked not to be named, confirmed that the Turkish side dropped the visit but that the Turkish president may want to come at a more convenient time later.

Planning for the meeting coincided with mutual efforts to boost defense and trade ties at a time when the Israel-Hamas war continues in Gaza and after Iran and Israel attacked each other’s territory, generating fears that a wider Middle East conflict could be approaching. Turkey is a key US ally in the Middle East that also provides some military support to Ukraine against invading Russian forces.

The postponed meeting would come at a delicate time in their political careers. Biden faces a rematch with his 2020 opponent, former President Donald Trump, in November’s election. A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll this week found that Biden is ahead in just one of the seven states most likely to determine the outcome.

Erdogan, who has led Turkey since 2003, suffered an embarrassing defeat in municipal elections last month, with voters across the nation turning against his AK party. Although parallels can’t be easily drawn, in both countries inflation has contributed to a sense of gloom and anger at the governments in power.

Erdogan, however, continues to play a prominent role on the international stage. On Friday, for instance, he received Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Istanbul as Rutte sought the Turkish president’s support to become the next secretary general of NATO.

Read More: Turkey Seen Backing Rutte for NATO Chief After Erdogan Meeting

Last weekend, Erdogan met with Hamas’s political leader to discuss a potential permanent cease-fire and accelerated humanitarian aid to Gaza. Unlike the US and the European Union, Turkey doesn’t consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Turkey and the US recently held talks to improve security and energy ties and ramp up purchases of Turkish explosives to support Ukraine against Russia. The two countries confirmed plans to jointly produce 155mm artillery shells — desperately needed by Ukraine against Russian forces — by next year. With the two largest armies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, they have good reason to maintain their seven-decade alliance.

Still, ties have been strained for years by Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system and US support for a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a mortal threat, among other disputes.

The US moved ahead with a $23 billion sale of F-16 warplanes, missiles and bombs to Turkey after Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership in January.

Turkey now wants the US to lift sanctions on its defense industry that were imposed over the S-400 system, which NATO members worry might pose a risk to advanced F-35 stealth warplanes. Erdogan is expected to negotiate the reimbursement of $1.4 billion that Turkey previously paid to the US for the purchase of the aircraft.

US officials have long demanded that Ankara get rid of the S-400s, but Turkey has signaled it would rather keep them even if it means not being able to buy F-35s.

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