President Donald Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the phone on Tuesday. Trump has been introducing himself and setting the tone with American allies the first three weeks of his presidency. After calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week, Tuesday’s call with Erdogan supposedly lasted 45 minutes according to local media and centered on the two nations’ common interest in fighting Islamic State.
The call comes at a pivotal time in U.S. diplomacy in the region. The United States and Turkey have a long-standing history since the Cold War where the U.S. saw Turkey as an ally and bulwark against the spread of Communism, with Turkey becoming a NATO member in 1952. Following the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Turkey’s relationship to the United States evolved into a partner in the war on terror with Islamic State representing the latest thread.
However, recent events have seen the two nations drift apart. In July 2016 there was a failed military coup, which Erdogan has since used to concentrate his power and bring the military and courts under his control. The Erdogan government believes the coup was organized by Fethullah Gülen who is living in exile in Pennsylvania, but the Obama administration had been reticent about the possibility of acting upon Turkey’s requests for extradition. Additionally, a controversial set of reforms speareheaded by Erdogan was approved by the Turkish parliament last month that will concentrate more power with the President. Creating further strain has been the topic of refugees. Turkey has accepted the most Syrian refugees at 1.9 million and has struggled to deal with the costs. Meanwhile, President Trump signed a series of executive orders on January 27th that blocked entry of anyone from 7 primarily Muslim countries for 90 days as well as indefinitely suspending the entry of refugees from Syria. In response, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek stated that refugees were welcome in Turkey.
Trump and Erdogan are expected to meet this May at the 2017 NATO Summit in Brussels.