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US and Turkey discuss potential Erdogan-Biden meeting

Talks underway as Turkey clashes with Nato ally Greece and floats potential arms purchase from Russia
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (c) leaves following the inauguration of an eco-mosque and Islamic centre named after him, in Sisak, about 60km from Zagreb, Croatia, on 8 September 2022 (AFP)

Talks are underway between Turkish and US officials to arrange a potential meeting between President Joe Biden and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan later this month, Reuters reported Friday.

Discussions would include the war in Ukraine, relations between Turkey and Russia, and the Ukraine grain export deal, according to a senior Turkish official, cited by the news agency.

The two leaders met in June during a Nato summit in Madrid, where Biden thanked Erdogan for dropping his veto on the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance.

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Despite policy differences over the Eastern Mediterranean, Kurdish militias in northern Syria, and concern over human rights issues in Turkey, Washington has courted Ankara amid the war in Ukraine.

Turkey has sent armed drones to Kyiv and helped to broker a UN-backed deal to unlock grain shipments from Black Sea ports, but in recent weeks Erdogan has given a nod to Russia on key developments.

The Turkish leader met Russia's President Vladimir Putin last month in the Russian resort city of Sochi, where they pledged to boost political and economic cooperation including in energy and trade. Turkey agreed to set up a partial payment system for Russian gas in roubles.

'Sending signals'

On Friday, Erdogan floated the idea of turning to Russia if the US failed to allow it to purchase F-16 fighter jets.

"The US is not the only one selling war planes in the world. The UK, France and Russia sell them as well," Erdogan told reporters after attending Friday prayer.  

"It is possible to procure them from other places, and others are sending us signals," he added.

He also accused the West of staging "provocations" against Russia by supplying Ukraine with weapons, and blamed European sanctions against Moscow for the continent's energy crisis.

Erdogan also revealed he had asked Putin to offer Turkey a discount on the natural gas it imports from Russia. Turkey, along with some Gulf countries, have refused to sign on to western sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow.

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Erdogan's comments come amid a flare-up in tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean with fellow Nato member Greece, and Turkey's tough rhetoric against its neighbour has emerged as an obstacle to its goal of upgrading its air force.

This summer, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would bar the Biden administration from selling or transferring F-16s or modernisation kits to Turkey unless the administration ensured the armaments were not used for unauthorised military flights over Greece. The bill must be passed by the Senate before it becomes law. 

Washington's support for Kurdish militias in Syria has also proven a stumbling block in the relationship. The YPG is a US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, though Ankara sees it as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and the US.

Erdogan said he would raise the issue of US assistance to the group if he had a chance to meet Biden on the margins of an annual UN General Assembly meeting starting on 13 September.

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