ISTANBUL: United States Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul in a bid to ease strains over the Syria crisis and persuade Turkey to step up its support for the coalition against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
The trip to Istanbul by Biden, the highest ranking US official to visit Turkey since Erdogan was elected president after over a decade as prime minister, came amid unusual tensions in the traditionally strong relationship between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.
The pair did not announce any breakthrough after some four hours of talks at an Ottoman palace on the Bosphorus Istanbul. But Biden insisted that the relationship was “as strong as ever it has been.”
Biden described the talks as “candid” while Erdogan said the two sides had held “detailed” discussions about the threat posed by IS.
Washington has been frustrated by the relatively limited role played by Turkey in the fight against IS fighters who have seized swathes of Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border.
Turkey in turn is upset that its contribution in hosting 1.6 million refugees from the Syrian conflict has gone relatively unrecognized and is wary of supporting the Kurdish fighters battling IS.
“On Syria we discussed the full range of issues and the options available to deal with those issues,” Biden said after the talks.
He said this included “strengthening the Syrian opposition” and seeing a “transition” from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Biden had personally stung Erdogan last month by suggesting his policies in supporting Islamist rebel forces in Syria had helped encourage the rise of the IS militant group, a slight that prompted Erdogan to warn his relationship with the US number two could be “history.”
But the straight-talking Biden emphasized that openness was a key part of the US-Turkey relationship.