President Trump on Wednesday held an unexpected meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of a NATO summit in London.
The Turkish government published photos of the two meeting and White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley later confirmed that Trump and Erdoğan met earlier in the day.
Trump also later characterized the meeting positively and said the two discussed the situation along the Syrian border, where Turkey launched a military offensive in October after Trump ordered American troops to pull back from the region.
“It was a very good meeting, I think,” Trump told reporters during a subsequent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We discussed Syria, we discussed the Kurds, we discussed numerous things and we’re getting along very well.”
“The border and the safe zone is working out very well and I gave a lot of credit to Turkey for that,” Trump said, touting a ceasefire that his administration brokered in northern Syria following the Turkish offensive. “The ceasefire is holding very well.”
Trump on Wednesday continued to defend his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, which prompted a wave of criticism from Republican members in Congress.
The move was widely interpreted as paving the way for Turkey to launch the military operation against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces who had helped in the fight against ISIS.
“They can police their own border,” Trump said of Turkey, calling the border between Turkey and Syria “a mess.”
“They can use other countries if they want,” the president continued. “It was time for us to leave and we left and it’s been holding very nicely.”
Gidley did not describe the meeting either as a full bilateral meeting or a pull-aside at the summit, nor did he confirm reports that the meeting lasted a half hour.
The White House said Wednesday that Trump and Erdoğan “discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security.”
Trump and other leaders of NATO member countries are meeting for two days in London to discuss a range of issues related to the alliance. The one-on-one meeting between with Erdoğan was not initially on Trump’s official schedule.
French President Emmanuel Macron suggested during a bilateral meeting with Trump on Tuesday that alliance members intended to press Turkey on its decision to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems despite NATO opposition. Macron also said Turkey needed to clarify its ambiguous stance on the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
At the same meeting, Trump described his relationship with Erdoğan as a positive and withheld criticism of the Turkish leader.
“I can only say we have a very good relationship with Turkey and President Erdoğan,” Trump said when asked about Ankara’s standing in NATO. “We have a very good relationship.”
Trump also said his administration was “looking at” sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the S-400 missile system but gave no definitive answer on the subject.
Trump’s meeting with Erdoğan on Wednesday comes weeks after the two met in Washington at the White House. The Nov. 13 meeting, which amid high tensions between Washington and Ankara, was friendly but appeared to accomplish little.
Updated at 9:00 a.m.