Washington (CNN)A small group of Republican senators who traditionally focus on foreign policy issues have been invited to the White House for a meeting withPresident Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan– including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch.
There’s been limited information given to the Hill on what this is all about, two sources familiar with the meeting told CNN. But it was made clear it was a meeting Trump wanted amid significant Capitol Hill criticism of Erdoğan personally and Turkey’s recent actions in Syria.
It was being framed as an opportunity to ” clear the air “and have a serious and frank discussion about the real fissures in the relationship, which also includes US outrage over Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons systems, one source familiar with the meeting told CNN. But the source also acknowledged the meeting is very irregular and nobody is sure what to expect.
Risch, who has been critical of Erdoğan and Turkey’s actions, is in the midst of drafting a bipartisan sanctions bill targeting the country. But lawmakers in both parties are also cognizant that Turkey is a NATO ally, and one likely to move toward Russia if the disputes with the US continue to harden.
Yet the strongest Congressional critics have included some of Trump’s closest congressional allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has repeatedly warned Erdoğan about the repercussions of his actions and has drafted his own sweeping sanctions bill targeting the country.
Other Republicans expected to attend have also been sharply critical, according to one of the sources, who declined to name all attendees until the White House announced the list .
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for Trump the rescind the White House invitation to Erdoğan entirely. The *** House declined to do so.
The meeting is closed to press and is listed as “a legislative engagement with select members of the Senate” on the President’s schedule.
The meeting will follow Trump’s initial meeting with Erdoğan, a restricted bilateral meeting, and an expanded working luncheon. Trump and Erdoğan will attend a joint news conference later in the day.
The Erdoğan visit comes a month after Trump withdrew US troops from Syria, triggering a Turkish invasion, and sparking criticism from some Republican lawmakers. It also comes a week after Congress passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, another move designed to signal its displeasure with Turkey.
A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the visit said Trump wanted to pursue “direct engagement and diplomacy where it is most important: Erdoğan himself.”