Turkey has been an important ally to the U.S. for years, but conflicts over fighting the Islamic State in Syria, human rights and other issues have driven a wedge into that relationship. Judy Woodruff talks with William Brangham about her interview with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in New York, including his reaction to the Trump administration not selling weapons to Turkish presidential guards.
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Turkey has been an important ally to the United States for years, but, recently, different views on how to fight ISIS in Syria, on human rights, and on a number of other issues have driven a wedge into that relationship.
Judy Woodruff is in New York. And, late today, she spoke with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — Judy.
William, yes, I'm in New York. And I just finished moments ago a lengthy interview with President Erdogan on a number of subjects.
But what I think is — may be of greatest interest is, when I asked him about the report today — again, this is a moment of tension in a season of tension between the U.S. and Turkey — a report today that the Trump administration has decided it will not go forward with selling guns and other weapons to President Erdogan's presidential guards, in a surprising twist, President Erdogan said this didn't make sense, because he claimed that the U.S. has been giving weapons to terrorists in Syria.
And by that, he was referring to the anti-ISIS — Kurdish anti-ISIS groups.
PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through interpreter):
We need to fight these terrorists with the United States.
And when we are not able to acquire those weapons from the United States, why are you giving those weapons to terrorists? It's a question that we ask our friends in the United States. And when these questions are not answered, we're feeling sorry, as the strategic partners to the U.S.
Those were some pretty tough words about U.S. foreign policy.
I know there was also a recent announcement last week that the Turks had purchased surface-to-air missiles from the Russians, Turkey being a NATO member, Russia being a pretty strong enemy of NATO.
Did you ask the president about that? And what did he say?
I did, William.
This has raised the hackles, as you can imagine, of other NATO members in Europe and in the United States, questions about, where does Turkey's loyalty really lie, if it's cutting this $2.5 billion deal to buy these surface-to-air missiles?
President Erdogan's response is that it was a logical thing to do. He said, over time, we have been asking other NATO countries for weapons. They haven't been willing to sell them to us.
He said, the United States won't even sell us drones. He said, we have had that request in for a number of years. So, he said, it was only natural that we would turn to the Russians.
And I tried to pin him down, if you will, a little bit about where his loyalty really lies. Is it with NATO and the West, or is it with Russia? And his answer was essentially neither one — both — both and neither, that we have to do what's best for Turkey.
As I said, we covered a lot in this interview, and we're going to be bringing our "NewsHour" viewers much more of it tomorrow night.
All right, Judy Woodruff from New York, thank you so much.