Turkey's President Erdogan met with his American counterpart in a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly amid differences on US policy on Syria, as well as a number of other issues.

US President Donald Trump meets with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey during the UN General Assembly in New York, US, on September 21, 2017.
US President Donald Trump meets with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey during the UN General Assembly in New York, US, on September 21, 2017. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump on Thursday praised Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a friend amid a spate of disagreements between the two countries.

Meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Trump hailed Erdogan's leadership in Turkey and said Erdogan "has become a friend” of his.

"I think now we're as close as we've ever been," he said, as their hour-long meeting at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel began at 19:15 GMT.  

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansan has this report.

Accompanying Erdogan in the meeting were Turkey’s Chief of Military Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan and Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, as well as the Turkish ambassador to the US Serdar Kilic and Turkey’s envoy to the UN Feridun Sinirlioglu.

Erdogan said last week that he would bring up in his meeting with Trump the case of former Turkish economy minister Zafer Caglayan, who was earlier this month indicted in the US for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.

The indictment marked the first time an ex-government member with close ties to Erdogan was charged in an investigation that further strained already difficult ties between Washington and Ankara. 

Having never agreed to comply with US sanctions on Iran, Turkey claims the former economy minister had acted within international law.

Relations between Washington and NATO ally Turkey, an important partner in tackling the Syrian conflict, have become more strained following last year's failed military coup in Turkey.

Fetullah Gulen, the alleged orchestrator behind the coup attempt, currently lives in the US state of Pennsylvania in self-exile.

Turkey has requested Gulen’s extradition from the US, but the US has so far failed to comply. 

Erdogan was expected to bring up the topic of Gulen’s extradition during his head-to-head with Trump, Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency reported on Thursday.

In an address to American Muslim community leaders in New York before the meeting, Erdogan said he would ask for an explanation as to why Gulen-linked schools and businesses are still allowed to operate in the US.

Turkey to deploy troops to Syria

Turkish-American relations have also been strained over US policy on Syria.

The US has been supporting the YPG in the battle against Daesh in northern Syria, but Turkey insists that the YPG is in fact the Syrian branch of the PKK, which both Washington and Ankara consider to be a terrorist group. 

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Reuters on Thursday, Erdogan called the US a strategic partner, but warned Washington against its alliance with the YPG. 

"Washington should not harbor terrorists and they should be extradited to Turkey," Erdogan said. 

"Also arming and supporting the YPG can harm the United States and its friends," he added.

In the same interview Erdogan announced that Turkey will deploy troops in Syria's northern Idlib region as part of a de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia last month.

The "de-escalation" zones, agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, would be further discussed in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip to Ankara next week, Erdogan said.

"The de-escalation zone agreement was a promising idea...under which Russians are maintaining security outside Idlib and Turkey will maintain the security inside Idlib region," Erdogan said.

"The task is not easy... with Putin we will discuss additional steps needed to be taken in order to eradicate terrorists once and for all to restore peace."

Referendum in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq

Erdogan also said Turkey was considering counter-measures, including imposing sanctions, against Kurdish region in northern Iraq over a planned referendum.

Iraqi Kurdish authorities have defied growing international pressure to call off the referendum on independence. Many countries, including the US, Iran, Turkey and Iraq have voiced their concerns about the referendum and warned of serious consequences. 

The UN Security Council has, unanimously, also warned against the referendum, saying that the vote was potentially destabilising for the region. 

Turkey has brought forward a cabinet meeting and national security council session to Friday, September 22 over the referendum, Erdogan said. 

He said that parliament would also convene for an extraordinary meeting on Saturday, September 23.

Source: TRT World