Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he will meet in Washington next month with U.S. President Donald Trump, who called Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on narrowly winning a disputed referendum that will significantly expand the powers of his presidency.
Erdogan said Thursday in an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber that the two leaders would meet May 16-17 for the first time since Trump was elected in November.
“I hope and pray that this tete-a-tete meeting in the United States in May will lay the foundation for a stronger cooperation,” Erdogan said.
The White House has not confirmed the meeting, which would take place before the NATO summit in Brussels later in the month.
Trump’s congratulatory call to Erdogan contrasted sharply with the muted reaction of European leaders who are concerned about the results of the referendum, which are being challenged by the opposition.
While announcing the meeting with Trump, Erdogan also said challenges to the referendum’s results were beyond the authority of the European Court of Human Rights.
Erdogan’s controversial victory essentially reaffirms his authoritarian rule. The result is an amended Constitution that scraps the current parliamentary political system and allows the victor of the 2019 presidential election to take complete control of the government.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cazvusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday that the U.S. and Turkish leaders expressed a common desire to meet in Washington “to improve bilateral relations.”
Turkey wants a strong relationship with the Trump administration. The country’s relations with NATO and former President Barack Obama soured over Syria as well as Turkey’s repeated requests for the extradition of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Ankara has accused Gullen of ordering last July’s failed coup, an accusation Gulen strongly denies.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson became the most senior American official to visit Turkey. Tillerson met with Turkish leaders and discussed the Syrian civil war and the battle against Islamic State (IS).
The U.S. and Turkey are at odds over whether Kurdish militia are the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria. Turkey claims the Kurdish militia are composed of terrorists who are associated with outlawed Kurdish militants leading an insurgency in Turkey.
The U.S. and Turkish presidents are in agreement, however, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be punished for using chemical weapons against civilians. A White House statement issued after they talked Monday said “President Trump thanked President Erdogan for supporting this action by the United States” — a reference to a U.S. missile strike April 7 on a Syrian airfield.