President Biden on Tuesday held an unannounced meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid strained relations between the two North American Treaty Organization allies.
The surprise meeting — which was not announced in advance by the White House — took place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. Turkish media outlets posted media photos of the two leaders meeting online, but U.S. pool journalists traveling with Mr. Biden did not cover the event.
The meeting comes amid a rough patch in the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey.
On Sunday, a bomb attack on a bustling pedestrian street in Istanbul killed six people and wounded scores more. Turkish authorities have blamed the attack on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK and Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it. Those groups have denied involvement.
Although Washington has labeled the PKK a terrorist group, it has disputed Turkey’s depiction of the Syrian Kurdish groups, which have aligned with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State, better known as ISIS, in Syria.
U.S. support for the Kurdish military in Syria has been a sore spot in U.S.-Turkey relations. Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on Monday said he rejects messages of condolences from Washington, saying such sympathy is akin to “the murderer returning to the crime scene.”
Still, a White House readout of the Erdogan meeting said Mr. Biden made it clear to his Turkish counterpart that the U.S. stands with its NATO ally.
Another flashpoint for the two nations is Mr. Erdogan’s opposition to expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden. Turkey had threatened to block Sweden and Finland’s membership in the 30-nation defense alliance, accusing both nations of supporting groups they have deemed to be terrorists.
Mr. Biden has long supported adding the two Nordic nations to NATO, pressing other leaders to admit them into the alliance.
Mr. Erdogan has softened his stance somewhat, saying last month that he’d be open to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, but doing so at separate times.
Since NATO operates by consensus Turkey’s approval is required for Finland and Sweden to join. Turkey’s parliament has yet to ratify their admission.
It’s unclear if the two discussed Mr. Erdgoan’s opposition to NATO expansion.