ANKARA — With Greece worried which way the United States would go if a conflict broke out with Turkey, US President Donald Trump has apparently shown his bent toward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had a direct line to the US leader.
Erdogan, whom Trump has called a friend and “a hell of a leader,” admiring the Turkish President’s authoritarian style, calls the US President as much as twice a day and was “put through directly” to the US president, CNN said.
Citing sources with knowledge of hundreds of confidential telephone calls between Trump and foreign heads of state during his four years in office, CNN said that Erdogan was among the leaders who was most frequently in contact with Trump.
“The frequency of the calls with Erdogan – in which the Turkish President continually pressed Trump for policy concessions and other favors – was especially worrisome to McMaster, Bolton and Kelly, the more so because of the ease with which Erdogan bypassed normal National Security Council protocols and procedures to reach the president,” CNN said, citing two sources, and referring to former national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, and White House chief of staff John Kelly.
The same sources indicated that Trump was “woefully uninformed” over the issues discussed with Erdogan and was unable to “engage on equal terms in nuanced policy discussion,” in over his head with the experienced Turkish leader.
“Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” CNN’s Carl Bernstein quoted a source as telling him, indicating that Erdogan was able to steer policy in Turkey’s favor, such as Trump’s decision to pull American forces out of Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s operation against the Kurds who had been American allies there.
The United States and Greece last year renewed a military defense deal and engaged in a US-Greece Strategic Dialogue but Trump also tried to get the US Congress to go along with selling F-35 fighter jets to Turkey that could be used against Greece.
The US Navy has a base in Souda Bay on the island of Crete, has drones in operation in Greece and has engaged in joint military exercises but the US also has a military presence in Turkey and has been reluctant to get tougher on Erdogan.
Turkey has been stepping up provocations in the Aegean and the East Mediterranean, where Turkish drill ships are looking for oil and gas in Cypriot waters and Erdogan saying he would do the same off Crete under a maritime deal signed with Libya.
A book by Bolton claims that Trump agreed to intervene in a federal investigation into Turkish state-owned Halkbank at the request of Erdogan, who was said to have told Trump the bank was innocent and the US President wanting to do the Turkish leader’s bidding.
Halkbank, one of Turkey's biggest banks, has been under investigation by US prosecutors since 2018, when it was accused of using its currency businesses and front companies to transfer $20 billion in oil revenue to Iran – which was restricted by Washington's sanctions against the Islamic Republic.