PARIS – The French government summoned the Turkish ambassador Friday to seek explanations after his president described French President Emmanuel Macron as “brain dead.”
Ahead of a NATO summit next week that both men will attend, tensions have mounted around Turkey’s military operation in Syria, and its role within the trans-Atlantic defense alliance, which is also a member of the fight against so-called Islamic State.
Macron, complaining of a U.S. leadership vacuum, recently lamented the “brain death” of NATO and says the allies need “a wake-up call.” And on Thursday, he reiterated criticism of Turkey’s operation in northeast Syria against Kurdish fighters who were crucial in the international fight against IS extremists.
“I respect the security interests of our Turkish ally ... but one can’t say that we are allies and demand solidarity, and on the other hand, present allies with a fait accompli by a military intervention which jeopardizes the action of the coalition against IS,” Macron said at a meeting with the NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg.
The comments angered Turkey’s leadership and prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to shoot back Friday: “You should get checked whether you’re brain dead.”
“Kicking Turkey out of NATO or not, how is that up to you? Do you have the authority to make such a decision?” Erdogan asked, characterizing Macron as "inexperienced."
Turkey also criticized Macron for agreeing to talks with a Syrian Kurd politician whom Ankara considers an extremist.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Ambassador Ismail Hakki Musa was summoned Friday to explain "unacceptable statements ... that have no place in Turkish-French relations and cannot substitute for the necessary dialogue between the two countries."
An official in Macron’s office said that NATO allies are expecting “clear answers” from Turkey about its intentions in Syria.
The Macron-Erdogan spat comes amid other problems within NATO that are expected to come to the fore at next week’s summit in London, including U.S. President Donald Trump’s complaints that other members don’t spend enough on defense and differences over the alliance’s post-Cold War mission.
Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.