Erdogan is unwelcome: US lawmakers

Turkey threatens EU of ‘opening the gates’ to millions of refugees

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a press conference at Varkert Bazar cultural center in Budapest on Nov. 7, 2019. — AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a press conference at Varkert Bazar cultural center in Budapest on Nov. 7, 2019. — AFP

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of 17 US House lawmakers called on President Donald Trump to cancel a planned White House visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, as the Turkish president said Tuesday he would not give in to EU demands to stop oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean around Cyprus.

In Washington, a letter led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the 15 House Democrats and two Republicans stoked up pressure prior to Erdogan’s US visit as the war or words between EU and Turkey, over drilling in the Mediterranean around Cyprus, too boiled over.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers said Turkey's invasion of northern Syria last month "has had disastrous consequences for US national security, has led to deep divisions in the NATO alliance and caused a humanitarian crisis on the ground."

"Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States, and we urge you to rescind this invitation," they added.

The letter, dated Nov. 8, also referenced Erdogan’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 system, which the US had warned was not compatible with NATO forces and could serve to aid Russian intelligence.

Erdogan, however, was more focused with the issue at home prior to his departure as he warned Brussels from desisting to sanction his nation over the exploration. "Do not dare to give an ultimatum to Turkey about the developments on Cyprus," Erdogan said in a televised press conference. "We do not care about it, and we will proceed on our path."

Erdogan was responding to EU’s statement on Monday that a framework had been agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on the individuals and companies involved. The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a dispute between Cyprus and Turkey.

Erdogan again used the threat of "opening the gates" to millions of Syrian refugees that Turkey is hosting, and called for greater support, given its efforts in handling militant prisoners.

"Review your attitude toward a country which keeps so many Daesh (so-called IS) members in prisons and similarly controls them on the Syrian side," Erdogan said. The chilling threat to Europe was: Penalize us and we'll release Daesh prisoners back to European countries, a Fox News report said.

Turkey, meanwhile, deported three foreign militants on Monday, with more than 20 Europeans including French and Germans in the process of being expelled to their countries of origin.

Turkey has criticized Western countries for refusing to repatriate their citizens who left to join the Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and stripping some of them of their citizenship. Its Interior Ministry said it deported an American and a Dane on Monday, while Germany confirmed that one of its citizens had also been expelled.

However, there was confusion over the fate of the US citizen, with Greece saying that Turkey had attempted to deport him over their shared land border. Greek police said they rejected the man and sent him back to Turkey. Images showed him temporarily trapped between the two borders early Monday.

A State Department official said that US authorities "are aware of reports of the detainment of a US citizen by Turkish authorities" but could not comment further because of privacy rules.

Turkey said seven more Germans would be deported on Thursday, while 11 French citizens, two Irish and at least two additional Germans were also being processed. Danish authorities said their citizen was arrested upon arrival in Copenhagen on Monday, adding that he had previously been sentenced to four years in prison in Turkey.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that Turkey had nearly 1,200 foreign members of Daesh in custody, and had captured 287 during its recent operation in northern Syria. It was not clear whether those being deported were captured in Syria or Turkey.

"There is no need to try to escape from it, we will send them back to you. Deal with them how you want," Soylu said on Friday. A French official told AFP that the French nationals being expelled were mostly women. Some had been in Turkey for a long time, while others arrived recently, the official added, without giving further details.

These 11 will be tried, the official said, adding that discussions were under way to determine whether their arrival will be handled by civil or military airport authorities. A French Foreign Ministry source told AFP at the weekend that a number of militant suspects had been quietly repatriated under a 2014 agreement with Turkey, and that the current deportations were nothing new.

Turkey has lately increased pressure on Europe to take responsibility for the problem. "Turkey is not a hotel for Daesh members," Soylu said last week.

In Paris, UN chief Antonio Guterres called Tuesday for an international accord on the fate of foreign militants being held in the Middle East, saying it was not up to Syria and Iraq "to solve the problem for everyone."

"We need international cooperation to solve the problem," Guterres, who is attending the Paris Peace Forum alongside some 30 world leaders, told France's RTL radio. "We cannot just ask Iraq and Syria to solve the problem for everyone. There must be real international solidarity," he said. — AFP