U.S. President Donald Trump (L) welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on May 16, 2017. U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Tuesday to repair bilateral relationship fraught with difficulties in the past. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
WASHINGTON, May 16 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Tuesday to repair bilateral relationship fraught with difficulties in the past. However, division between the two sides still run deep.
Speaking at the White House with Erdogan, Trump hailed the Turkish people as "friends and allies for many, many decades" for the United States and pledged support for Turkish fight against the Islamic State (IS) and a Kurdish militant group known as the PKK.
However, the pledge was made as the United States and Turkey were involved in stark disagreement over the Trump administration's recent decision to arm Syrian Kurds, a key force in the fight against the IS in Syria.
Currently, the U.S.-led coalition against the IS is backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprised of mostly the People's Protection Units (YPG) Kurds and some local Arabs.
Also on the eve of Erdogan's meeting with Trump, the Pentagon was reportedly preparing to further arm Syrian Kurds with antitank weapons.
While the antitank weapons could be used to thwart IS' suicide bombing attacks by trucks, the weaponry could also be used to strike Turkish tanks in Syria.
The Turkish government had made clear their objection to U.S. arming of YPG Kurds, whom Ankara has for long regarded as Syrian branch of the outlawed PKK.
Before Erdogan's meeting with Trump, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told his party members the U.S. cooperation with Syrian Kurds "is not something acceptable" for Turkey.
During his joint press conference with Trump, Erdogan stressed that militant groups like the PKK and YPG "will never be accepted."
"We should never allow those groups to manipulate the religious structure and the ethnic structure of the region, making terrorism as a pretext or an excuse," he added.
According to Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, the issue of arming the YPG by the U.S. was among the top priorities on Erdogan's agenda.
"They see this as the United States siding with terrorists and midwifing a terrorist state on Turkey's border," said Cook in a briefing with reporters.
"President Erdogan was hopeful that he could make it clearer to President Trump why this order (to arm Syrian Kurds) that President Trump has signed is wrongheaded," he added.
While it remained unknow whether Trump would change course on arming Syrian Kurds, recent response from the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon indicated that a consensus had been reached across the Trump administration to arm Syrian Kurds in the fight against the IS.