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September 26, 2018 11:23 am

CAIR Chief Meets with Turkish and Iranian Presidents

avatar by John Rossomando

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President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Hassan Rouhani of Iran, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey attend a news conference in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2018. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev / Pool via Reuters.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani invited Nihad Awad, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) executive director, to meet with them in New York during this week’s UN General Assembly meeting.

“It’s not about photo ops for me,” Awad wrote on Twitter. “It’s about real issues and people’s lives. Please engage and tell me what issues and questions I should raise.”

It marks the third straight year that Awad will meet Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN session, after joining US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) leaders last year and two dozen other Islamist leaders in 2016.

“[It] makes you wonder what Awad gets in return from Erdogan’s government,” said exiled Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt, who noted Erdogan has jailed 60,000 political opponents.

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Despite Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian actions, Awad and his organization have held Erdogan’s Turkey out as a beacon of democracy.

While Awad has been warm towards Turkey and Erdogan, his relations with Iran have been different. He attended a 2009 meeting with then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but skipped similar meetings with Hassan Rouhani in protest of Iran’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The CAIR leader apparently lambasted Rouhani during a 2016 meeting, blaming Iran for Syrian bloodshed and denouncing Iran for promoting sectarianism.

Erdogan will be in New York until Thursday. He spoke over the weekend at several events sponsored by the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC).

Hacked emails from TASC leaders showed they gave Albayrak regular updates about their work, and were interviewed by the FBI on suspicion that they were engaged in political espionage on behalf of Erdogan. One such email from former TASC co-chairman Ibrahim Uyar to Albayrak described a July 2016 White House rally he organized against the Turkish coup attempt. Awad and other American Islamist leaders participated in that rally, which also was sponsored by TASC.

Politics is the means for Muslims to convey their demands to decision makers, Erdogan said in Sunday’s speech. That includes Muslims in the United States, he noted.

“American Muslims have an interest in the nearing elections, which is positive news. At the end of the elections we hope to see many of our brothers in decision-making positions. We are ready to exchange our experience as Turkey,” Erdogan said.

John Rossomando is a senior analyst at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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