Trump and Erdogan meet amid heightened US-Turkey tensions

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine Erdoğan(L) outside the White House in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2019

Trump and Erdogan meet amid heightened US-Turkey tensions

  • US has been angered by Turkey's decision to buy a Russian air defense system
  • Turkey has invaded Syria to attack Kurdish forces that have fought with the US

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met Wednesday as relations between the NATO allies have fallen to their lowest point in decades, with Turkey drifting closer to Russia and facing a Washington backlash over its military offensive against Kurds in Syria.
Erdogan and Trump had a difficult agenda for their talks: Turkey's decision to buy a Russian air defense system despite Turkey’s membership in NATO and its incursion into neighboring Syria to attack Kurdish forces that have fought with the US against the Daesh group.
Despite those disputes, Trump said the two countries were poised to increase U.S. goods and services trade with Turkey, which totaled about $24 billion in 2017.
“We’re going to be expanding,” Trump said. “We think we can bring trade up very quickly to about $100 billion between our countries.”
The leaders’ scheduled afternoon news conference, following a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House, would give Trump a stage to counter the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.
Sitting in the Oval Office with Erdogan, Trump said he was too busy to watch the televised hearing on the inquiry, which he called a “hoax.”
Trump defended his decision to invite Erdogan despite Turkey’s widely denounced advance into Syria. He said that he and Turkey’s president have been “very good friends” for a long time and understand each other’s country.
“I understand the problems that they've had, including many people from Turkey being killed in the area that we're talking about and he has to do something about that,” Trump said.
The House last month overwhelmingly passed a bill to sanction senior Turkish officials and its army for the military incursion into Syria. Erdogan sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of a separatist Kurdish group that's been fighting inside Turkey since the 1980s.
"This is not the time or place to be extending hospitality and exchanging niceties with a dictator," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
In the Senate, two Democrats introduced legislation denouncing Turkey's targeting of journalists, political opponents, dissidents, minorities and others. They said the Turkish government had imprisoned more than 80,000 Turkish citizens, closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds and dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs.
In October, Trump moved U.S. troops in Syria out of the way of invading Turkish troops, a decision that critics said amounted to abandoning America's Kurdish allies to be attacked.
"It has upended what was an oasis of stability, damaged U.S. credibility and standing on the world stage and strengthened the hands of Russia, Iran" and the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, Shaheen said.
Trump administration officials have said Trump told Turkey not to invade Syria. But when Erdogan insisted, they say, Trump decided to move 28 Green Berets operating on the Turkey-Syria border so they wouldn't be caught in a crossfire between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurds.
Amnesty International recently released a report documenting killings, human rights violations and possible war crimes caused by Turkey-backed forces in northern Syria.
"There has been a callous disregard for civilian lives, including attacks on residential areas," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Over 100,000 people have fled this offensive and there are fears that the displaced are not getting access to food, to clear water, or to medical supplies."
She said Trump must send a message to Erdogan that these actions and unlawful behavior must stop and that those responsible be held accountable.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Turkey to investigate reported cases of summary executions committed by a Turkish-backed armed group in northern Syria. The U.N. cited video footage showing fighters with the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives on a highway in northern Syria.
Turkey reached truce agreements with Russia and the United States last month that halted the incursion and forced Kurdish fighters to retreat from Turkey's southern border. “The cease-fire is holding very well,” Trump said. “We’ve been speaking to the Kurds and they seem to be very satisfied.”
But Erdogan claims the Kurds have not vacated border areas and says he will give Trump a list of attacks carried out by Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish-led force.
Trump planned to express concern about Erdogan's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The U.S. and fellow NATO nations say the S-400 would aid Russian intelligence and compromise a U.S.-led fighter jet program.
The U.S. has since kicked Erdogan out of a multinational program producing components of America's high-tech F-35 fighter jet. In response, Erdogan attended an annual Russian air show this summer in Moscow and expressed interest in buying the latest Russian Su-35 fighter jets.
Trump has not yet decided whether to impose congressional sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 purchase.


Tesla boss Elon Musk wins defamation trial sparked by ‘pedo guy’ tweet

Updated 2 min 37 sec ago

Tesla boss Elon Musk wins defamation trial sparked by ‘pedo guy’ tweet

  • Unanimous verdict by a jury returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial
  • Outside the courthouse, British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth said he was resigned to his defeat
LOS ANGELES: Tesla Inc. boss Elon Musk emerged victorious on Friday from a defamation trial as a federal court jury swiftly rejected the $190 million claim brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had branded a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
The unanimous verdict by a jury of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial. The case has been closely watched by legal experts because it is believed to be the first major defamation lawsuit by a private individual to go to trial over tweets.
The outcome was a triumph for Musk, whose mercurial behavior in a number of instances last year came under close scrutiny from federal regulators and shareholders of Tesla, his Silicon Valley-based electric car manufacturer.
L. Lin Wood, a high-profile trial lawyer who led the legal team for the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth, said the jury’s decision signals a higher legal threshold for challenging libelous material on social media.
“This verdict puts everyone’s reputation at risk,” Wood told reporters after the verdict was announced.
Musk, 48, who had testified during the first two days of the trial in his own defense and returned to court on Friday to hear closing arguments, exited the courtroom after the verdict and said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”
Outside the courthouse, Unsworth, 64, said he was resigned to his defeat. “I accept the jury’s verdict, take it on the chin and get on with my life.”
Wood said his client went “toe to toe with a billionaire bully,” echoing a phrase from his summation earlier in court, and indicated to reporters that an appeal was doubtful.
“It’s not the verdict we wanted. But it’s the end of the road and we now close this chapter,” Wood said.
He said he nevertheless saw the lawsuit as meaningful in helping erase the stain he said Unsworth’s reputation suffered.
During the course of the trial, Musk testified under oath that his use of the term “pedo guy” — slang for pedophile — was never meant to be taken literally, and he apologized to Unsworth for the comment from the witness stand.

Submarine squabble
The case stems from a public quarrel between Musk and Unsworth, a British diver who lives part-time in Thailand and gained fame for his leading role in coordinating the successful rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in that country in July 2018.
Unsworth had chided Musk in a CNN interview for delivering a mini-submarine, which was never used, to the site of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system. Unsworth called Musk’s intervention a “P.R.” stunt and said the high-tech entrepreneur should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Musk responded two days later on Twitter with three posts that became the basis of the defamation case. The first questioned Unsworth’s role in the rescue, while the second said, “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
The third tweet, in reply to a follower who asked Musk about the second tweet, said, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
Wood said during his summation that Musk’s tweets were akin to a “nuclear bomb” that would overshadow Unsworth’s relationships and job prospects for years to come and urged jurors to teach the Tesla chief executive and SpaceX founder a lesson by awarding Unsworth $190 million, including $150 million in punitive damages.
Two days earlier, under questioning on the witness stand, Musk had estimated his net worth at $20 billion.
But the jury was apparently swayed by the arguments put forth by Musk’s attorney, Alex Spiro, who said the tweets in question amounted to an off-hand insult in the midst of an argument, which no one could be expected to take seriously.
“In arguments you insult people,” he said. “No bomb went off.”
Spiro also said Unsworth failed to demonstrate he suffered any harm from Musk’s comments.
US District Judge Stephen Wilson had said the case hinged on whether a reasonable person would take Musk’s Twitter statements to mean he was actually calling Unsworth a pedophile.
To win, Unsworth needed to show that Musk was negligent in publishing a falsehood that clearly identified the plaintiff and caused him harm. “Actual malice” on Musk’s part, a high standard in defamation cases, did not need to be proven since the judge deemed Unsworth a private individual, not a public figure.
The trial revived discussion of Musk’s erratic behavior in 2018, when he used Twitter to float a leveraged buyout proposal for Tesla that was scuttled, ultimately paying $20 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint.
For most of 2019, Musk, who has nearly 30 million Twitter followers, has largely kept his public comments focused on Tesla’s new models and improved profitability and on the technical progress of his aerospace company, SpaceX.