Nicosia: While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is supposed to be trying to mend ties with the United States, his Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu last week told Hurriyet newspaper that “it is blatantly clear that the US is behind the (failed coup of) July 15. It was the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) which carried it out upon their orders. Europe was enthusiastic about it.”
The US State Department flatly denied the accusation, saying it was “wholly false” and promptly condemned it, adding, “These remarks and other unfounded and irresponsible claims of US responsibility for events in Turkey are inconsistent with Turkey’s status as a NATO Ally and strategic partner of the United States.”
The question that needs to be asked is whether Erdogan, who is increasingly moving toward the orbit of US adversaries like Russia and China, really wants to restore ties with the US?.
During the presidency of Donald Trump, many of potential conflict points between the US and Turkey were swept under the carpet by Trump who was Erdogan’s friend, but things will not be the same with Joe Biden.
The new US President is expected to clash with Erdogan on several issues, but will not push Turkey too far, as he wants to keep it on the side of the West and in the bosom of the NATO Alliance.
One of the biggest issues about which the US and Turkey are at loggerheads is the purchase by Ankara of the Russian S-400 missile system. Ignoring concerns that the missiles undermined the operation security of NATO and repeated calls by the US Administration (to) not buy the system, Ankara took delivery of S-400 in July 2019 and later tested it.
In December 2020 US sanctions were imposed on Turkey, banning all US export licenses and loan credits for Turkey’s military procurement agency, and the Presidency of the Defense Industries.
Last Friday, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that the new US President Joe Biden wants Ankara to renounce the Russian S-400 defence system and added, “Turkey is a longstanding and valued NATO ally, but their decision to purchase the S-400 is inconsistent with Turkey’s commitments as a US and NATO ally. We urge Turkey not to retain the S-400 system.”
Turkey threatened to retaliate against sanctions by severely limiting the use by US troops of the strategic Incirlik base, where a large number of US troops and aircraft are stationed and where about 40 nuclear warheads are stored.
Another big thorn between the two countries is the court case against the Turkish state-owned Turkiye Halk Bankasi. The bank was indicted last year for alleged fraud and money laundering in the course of helping Iran evade US sanctions to the tune of USD 20 billion. In June, Trump forced the resignation of the lead prosecutor in the case. Halkbank denies the charges about helping Iran skirt US sanctions. The case goes to trial next March.
There are also serious disagreements between the US and Turkey, due to the aggressively expansionist policies of Erdogan, mainly his intervention in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Azerbaijan, the occupation of northern Cyprus as well as about the establishment of Turkish military bases in Qatar and Somalia. Furthermore, Ankara has raised tensions in the Aegean Sea with fellow-NATO member state Greece and in the Eastern Mediterranean with Cyprus, Greece and France.
During the election campaign, Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat, who should pay a price” for his repression, clearly indicating that he will take a much harder line when he is elected.
Biden is a person who attaches great importance to human rights and will not turn a blind eye to Erdogan’s numerous human rights violations like Trump did in the past. Furthermore, he will not keep silent when Turkish politicians blame the US for Turkey’s economic woes. However, observers believe that he will be careful not to alienate Turkey from the West and, despite Turkey’s moves towards Russia and China, will not push it away from the West.
For his part, Erdogan appears to be paying lip service to the restoration of good relations with Washington, but so far has not made any credible gesture to improve ties with the US. Apparently, he wants to improve US-Turkey ties on his terms and contacts between the two sides seem to be a dialogue of the deaf.
Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey program coordinator for the Project on Middle East Democracy says that Washington has too often looked away when Erdogan has scapegoated the United States to deflect blame for Turkey’s political, economic and diplomatic crises.
Max Hoffman, Director for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress says that that “overly punitive steps could cripple Turkey’s economy while doing little to strengthen its democracy and pushing Ankara toward Moscow.
The United States cannot, therefore, be hard-line on every front with Turkey. Nor can the US or European pressure save Turkey from Erdogan; the Turkish president is not going to change his stripes or significantly moderate his domestic repression under duress.
But Turkey will hold an election in 2023 or before and there is a real chance that Erdogan will lose. The United States and Europe can therefore seek to coordinate to signal clear red lines and credible responses to deter further Turkish escalation.”