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 U.N. 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] 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 opponents.
While Awad has been warm toward 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. He 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).
His son-in-law, Turkey's Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, joined Erdogan at a speech he gave Sunday to TASC supporters, the Turkish news website Haberler.com reported. Hacked emails from TASC leaders showed they gave Albayrak regular updates about their work and were interviewed by the FBI on suspicion 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 against the Turkish coup attempt that he organized. 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.
"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.