ISTANBUL – During his globetrotting week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and addressed the UN General Assembly summit in New York.
Erdogan’s overseas visits are an important opportunity for the president to flaunt his credentials as a world figure – an approach advisers hope will improve his image with voters at home.
Images circulated by Turkey’s pro-government media attempt to reinforce this message. A photo of him chatting with other leaders like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Ilhan Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan’s capital Samarkand was featured in many Turkish newspapers with the headline ” The leaders’ eyes on President Erdogan’.
Turkey has been a “dialogue partner” of the SCO since 2012 – described by critics as the “club of dictators” because of its authoritarian membership. Erdogan told reporters Turkey is aiming to join the organization.
After the two-day SCO meeting, Erdogan jetted to New York on Saturday. The schedule meant the president did not attend the week’s highest-profile international event – the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London on Monday.
In his place, Erdogan sent Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who later met with the Turkish delegation in New York.
Asked why Erdogan – who has met the Queen at least twice during his two-decade reign – would scorn the chance to share the limelight with hundreds of world leaders, some pointed to Britain’s restrictions on VIP guests, including capping the size of their entourage. The President is usually accompanied by a large security detail when traveling to Turkey or abroad.
“Doesn’t it fit the image of the ‘world leader’ expressed by his fans as being on the same level as other leaders?” asked veteran journalist Murat Yetkin. “Or was there another government task elsewhere that has more strategic importance for Turkey’s interests?”
Erdogan spent part of the weekend strolling through New York’s Central Park, accompanied by Turkish ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations. in one Video Erdogan, who was fired from his office, greeted New Yorkers and tourists and even tried to convince a man with a cigarette to quit smoking.
In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Erdogan touched on a wide range of issues, including UN Security Council reform, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the recent outbreak of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s fight against terrorism, tensions with Greece and the US war in Ukraine.
“Together we have to find a reasonably practicable diplomatic solution that enables both sides to find a dignified way out of the crisis,” he said of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His remarks caused a stir because they appeared to whitewash Russian war crimes.
Referring to his “very detailed talks” with Putin in Samarkand, Erdogan said he saw signs that the Russian leader “is ready to end this as soon as possible”. A day later, Putin announced the mobilization of more troops and referendums in occupied territories on joining Russia.
Giray Sadik, Chair of the Department of International Relations at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, said Erdogan was leading the way to end the war, stating: “The word ‘worthy’ is important to have a sustainable peace in the region, not only for Russia and Ukraine, but also for the security of the Black Sea and neighboring countries so that it can contribute to regional stability.”
After his speech, Erdogan spent much of his time welcoming heads of state to the Turkevi, or Turkish House, a Manhattan skyscraper. The most notable guest was Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid for the first face-to-face talks between the countries’ leaders since 2008.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have suffered amid the Palestinian cause and other troubles, but have warmed in recent months as Ankara sought to restore ties with regional rivals. According to Lapid’s office, the talks focused on the exchange of energy and information.
Erdogan also met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who later said he was “very irritated” by Turkey’s efforts to join the SCO.
After meeting with US Senators Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons, Erdogan said he had received “positive” feedback on possible support for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, which is about to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits have been requested for its existing fighter jets.
Ankara’s acquisition of Russian-made anti-missile systems in 2019 led to US sanctions and Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet program. US Congress is reluctant to authorize more defense supplies to Ankara.
However, a meeting with US President Joe Biden during Erdogan’s New York trip seems unlikely. Leaders met at a NATO summit in Madrid in June when Turkey’s blockade of Finland and Sweden joining the alliance was high on the agenda.
When asked if he would meet Biden, Erdogan said he would attend a reception to be hosted by the US leader. There is currently no formal meeting on the Presidents’ official schedules.