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VP Biden to Visit Turkey to Mend Ties

  • Dorian Jones

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, center, addresses entrepreneurs from the Middle East during the opening session of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 20, 2014.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, center, addresses entrepreneurs from the Middle East during the opening session of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 20, 2014.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is traveling to Turkey Friday for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - their first meeting since the vice president criticized Turkey for allowing foreign recruits to cross into Syria from Turkish territory and join extremist groups.

Biden said Ankara's policies had effectively aided the Islamic State group and other enemies of the West.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's three-day visit to Istanbul comes amid strained relations between the NATO partners over Syria.

Vice President Joe Biden, Nov. 19, oversea itinerary

Vice President Joe Biden, Nov. 19, oversea itinerary

Biden added to the strain last month when he said Turkey's support for all opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has effectively helped Islamic extremists who are battling the West and Iraq as much as they fighting against the Syrian regime.

Erdogan said the vice president apologized for his remarks. But days later, Biden said he had not.

Diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz of the Turkish newspaper Taraf and the website Al-Monitor said both sides are keen to put the spat over Biden's remarks behind them. However, he warned, fundamental differences over Syria remain.

"I think they will put a brave face on everything and try to present a unified front in the fight against the Islamic State," Idiz said. "But I think the priority that the American side will be pushing for will concern the fight against Islamic State. And the Turkish side, while acknowledging that, will want to bring in an Assad dimension to it."

Seeks access to bases

Biden is due to meet late Friday with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and then have lunch with Erdogan on Saturday.

Washington is pressing Turkey to open up its key bases to the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition.

Erdogan has said that will only happen if the war against the militants is extended to include the Assad regime. But the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, appeared to rule out any change in policy when he discussed the issue on Wednesday.

"The mission I’ve been given is ISIL (an acronym for the Islamic State group). [The mission] is not nation building, it‘s not overthrowing the Syrian regime," Dempsey said.

Observers said Biden will find Turkey’s political leadership equally resolute.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar of the Carnegie Institute in Brussels, said Ankara believes the tide is turning in its favor in Washington after this month’s U.S. congressional elections.

"There is certainly is an expectation that now, after the mid-terms and the Republican dominated congress, the U.S. administration will be more forthcoming in terms of its approach toward Syria and to giving more support to the regime-change agenda championed by the government in Ankara," Ulgen said.

Observers said common ground is likely to be found in talks about assistance for the growing numbers of Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Improving relations

A more difficult agenda item will be the issue of Ankara’s commitment to train Syrians to fight against Islamic State forces. Ankara is pressing for those who are trained to be used against Assad's army.

Few analysts predict any major developments during the Biden visit.

Diplomatic columnist Idiz said the trip is more about creating a better working relationship.

"I don't think it’s going to be a major-breakthrough visit. It will try and disperse some of the negative energy in the air between the two countries," Idiz said.

While in Turkey, Biden also is scheduled to meet with the head of the Orthodox church, His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, before returning to Washington on Sunday.

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