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Turkish president Recip Erdogan attempted to justify his aggression towards the Syrian Kurds during a Wednesday meeting with five Republican senators by showing the room a Turkish video depicting the Kurds as terrorists, according to multiple reports.
After the video, Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) — an outspoken defender of the Kurds — reportedly asked Erdogan, “Well, do you want me to go get the Kurds to make one about what you’ve done?”
In an interview with Axios, Graham confirmed that he had clashed with Erdogan over Turkey’s military offensive in Northern Syria. Erdogan reportedly took issue with Graham’s use of the word “invasion,” while Graham challenged Erdogan for claiming to have assisted in the fight against ISIS.
“The Turkish narrative that they have done more to destroy ISIS, I rejected forcefully, and I let Turkey know that 10,000 SDF fighters, mostly Kurds, suffered, died or injured, in the fight against ISIS, and America will not forget that and will not abandon them,” Graham said Wednesday night.
A senior White House official said that President Trump, who has been criticized for his Syrian withdrawal, brought the senators to show “Erdogan that they’re serious about sanctions, and Trump doesn’t have to be the bad guy.” Earlier this week, NSC Adviser Robert O’Brien said that the U.S. could impose new sanctions on Turkey for its strategic partnerships with Russia, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the U.S. relationship with the Syrian Kurds “great.”
Senators Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Rick Scott (R., Fla.) challenged Erdogan on Russian relations.
Cruz said in a statement that he “made clear to President Erdogan that so long as Turkey continues to procure or deploy the S-400 air defense system from Russia, the U.S. will not sell F-35 fighter jets to Turkey,” while Scott reportedly asked Erdogan “why Turkey should enjoy the protections of NATO when they’re cozying up to Russia.”
Senator Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Senate Foreign Relations Chair Jim Risch (R., Idaho) also attended the meeting.