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Trump Ally Graham Meets Erdogan in Bid to Mend Strained Alliance

Selcan Hacaoglu

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Lindsey Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s closest Congressional allies, met Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an effort to mend an alliance most recently strained by Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system.

“We’re trying to get them back in the F-35 program,” Graham said in New York on Sunday. The U.S. has locked Turkey out of a program for advanced F-35 fighter jets to punish it for buying Russian S-400 missiles that Washington says could compromise intelligence gathered by American aircraft.

Erdogan met with Graham ahead of a possible gathering with Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week. Graham praised Turkey as a “very important ally” in the Middle East and said both countries may also “talk about about a free trade agreement.”

Erdogan, meanwhile, is shopping around for alternatives to the F-35 that could draw him even closer to Moscow.

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Turkey and the U.S. are also at loggerheads over how far to push American-backed Kurdish forces away from the Turkish border with Syria. Ankara views the Kurdish YPG fighters as enemies because of their links to the separatist PKK group Turkey has battled for decades. But the Kurdish force was critical to U.S. efforts to defeat Islamic State in Syria, and many in Congress opposed Turkey’s attempts to weaken them and render them more vulnerable to any Turkish attack.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Taylan Bilgic

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