U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spent four hours talking with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul Saturday in what was seen as a fence-mending foray in the wake of Biden's remarks criticizing Turkey for not doing enough to keep Islamic State group supporters from joining the carnage in Syria. Biden and Erdoğan discussed a wide range of issues, including Iraq, Syria and Cyprus.
"I have great respect for the president," said Biden, who had already apologized for his earlier remarks at Harvard in early October. " And we have always had a direct, frank and open discussion on every issue because that's what friends do, that’s what allies do."
Biden and Erdoğan said the United States and Turkey are on "the same page" regarding Iraq and Syria. Today's Zaman noted Turkey has been pushing for a more comprehensive approach to Syria, not just containing ISIS but also removing President Bashar Assad from power.
"We gladly saw that we have the same opinion with the United States on most of the issues we discussed. We confirmed our decision to improve our co-operation. Most importantly, as being two NATO allies, we confirmed once more our commitment to each other's defense and security," Erdoğan said.
Biden pledged $135 million in additional aid to Turkey to help deal with the flood of refugees from Syria, saying he knows that's not enough to deal with the crisis.
"It’s the government and the people of Turkey that have often cared for those displaced by this war. Accommodating so many is a costly proposition," Biden said. "And the United States has provided humanitarian assistance inside Turkey to refugee countries holding them, but it should not in any way underestimate the amount of the requirements that have imposed upon the president and the people of Turkey."
About 300 people protested Biden's visit, USA Today and the Associated Press reported. Demonstrators chanted, "Biden get out. The country is ours." The protest was organized by the same group that targeted three U.S. sailors in Istanbul with chants of "Yankee, go home" last week.
The talks came amid a backdrop of U.S. airstrikes that have killed 910 people in Syria, including 52 civilians, since September. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 785 of the deaths were Islamic State fighters.