Biden and Erdogan play nice at NATO summit, showing the US and Turkey still need each other despite tensions

Biden and Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets President Joe Biden ahead of their meeting within the NATO summit at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on June 14, 2021.

  • Biden and Erdogan met on Monday with US-Turkey relations at a historic low.
  • It’s unclear what they discussed specifically but Biden said the meeting was “good.”
  • Erdogan’s autocratic leadership style and purchase of a Russian missile defense system has strained ties.
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President Joe Biden met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time as commander-in-chief on Monday on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, and the leaders were all smiles despite recent tensions.

That both leaders were on their best behavior and presented a united front was indicative of fact the US and Turkey still need one another despite recent disagreements.

Images of Biden and Erdogan showed them fist-bumping as they met at the NATO summit, and the Turkish president’s official Twitter account shared images of them talking, smiling, and bumping elbows.

As of Monday afternoon, it remained unclear what specific issues Biden and Erdogan discussed.

Without offering specifics or elaborating further, Biden told reporters at the end, “We had a very good meeting.”

Relations between the US and Turkey are at a historic low, with Erdogan’s increasingly anti-democratic behavior and moves like the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system driving a wedge between Washington and Ankara.

Erdogan had an amicable relationship with former President Donald Trump, but his approach to foreign policy put Turkey and the US at odds so often that even the Trump administration took moves to punish the Turkish government.

Biden and Erdogan have a particularly contentious dynamic. They had only spoken once prior to their meeting on Monday. On the 2020 campaign trail Biden referred to Erdogan as an autocrat, which prompted outrage from the Turkish government. In March, Erdogan slammed Biden for referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer,” stating it was “truly unacceptable, not something that can be stomached.”

More recently, Biden’s formal recognition of the Armenian genocide infuriated Erdogan, with Turkey warning that the move created a “deep wound” in relations between the two countries.

Despite the evident animosity and strains on relations, the US continues to view Turkey as an important NATO ally. By virtue of the fact it’s located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey has also long been viewed as an important partner from a geo-strategic standpoint. The US also stores nuclear weapons in Turkey, which is another reason Washington wants to stay on its good side.

Meanwhile, Erdogan, who is facing low approval ratings and a struggling economy, can’t afford to further alienate the US.

Accordingly, the Turkish leader softened his tone ahead of his Monday meeting with Biden, and said both countries need to put their troubles behind them.

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Biden’s first trip abroad will be a whirlwind of major meetings with key allies and top rivals

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One before departing from Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1, 2021.

  • Biden has a jam-packed schedule for his first trip abroad.
  • He’s meeting with everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Vladimir Putin.
  • Biden will travel to several countries: the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden will take his first trip abroad as commander-in-chief this month, featuring a slew of important meetings with important US allies as well as top adversaries.

In many ways, the trip will be an audition for Biden on the global stage as he seeks to repair the strains placed on historic alliances during the Trump era. Biden has repeatedly stated that “America is back” now that he’s in office, and this is his chance to prove it to the world.

Biden will be meeting with everyone from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’ll attend a G7 summit, a NATO summit, and an EU summit. The president will travel to multiple countries on his journey, including the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland.

With US-Russia tensions at a historic high, Biden’s meeting with Putin will in many ways be the most anticipated aspect of the trip. Washington and Moscow are at odds over a convoluted array of issues, ranging from Russia’s interference in US elections to the ongoing war involving Kremlin-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. Biden has vowed to address these issues, among others, and work to find common ground during the meeting.

Though all eyes will be on Biden’s meeting with Putin, the president’s interactions with Erdogan will also be closely monitored given the tense dynamic between the US and Turkey.

Turkey is a NATO ally, but US-Turkey relations have rapidly deteriorated in recent years. Biden and Erdogan have a particularly tense relationship. The president has referred to his Turkish counterpart as an autocrat, prompting outcry in Ankara, and Erdogan blasted Biden’s recent move to formally recognize the Armenian genocide.

In short, this will be a challenging excursion for Biden. But foreign policy is an area where the president has a breadth of experience and often appears to be most comfortable. This will be the first time he represents the US outside of its borders as commander-in-chief, however, and he’ll be eager to make a good first impression.

Here’s a quick breakdown of Biden’s jam-packed schedule on his first trip abroad:

  • June 10: Meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the UK
  • June 11-13: G7 summit in Cornwall, including bilateral meetings with other G7 leaders
  • June 13: Meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle
  • June 14: NATO summit in Brussels
  • June 14: Meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels
  • June 15: US-EU summit in Brussels
  • June 15: Meetings with King Philippe of Belgium and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Brussels
  • June 16: Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva
  • June 16: Meeting with Swiss President Guy Parmelin and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in Geneva
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