US President Donald Trump has invited Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to the White House on November 13; this will be a crucial meeting for the relations between the two countries. Turkey-U.S. relations are worse than they’ve ever been; furthermore, relations between Erdoğan and Turkey have become one of the ways of pushing for attempts of Trump’s dismissal from office.
The worst case scenario for both Turkey and the Turkey-U.S. relations that could take place on November 13. Despite being a low probability one, the Senate could pass the House of Representatives’ Sanctions and Armenian resolution bills while Erdoğan is in the U.S. Although, according to diplomatic sources, the U.S. Department of State is against passing those bills as it would leave no points to discuss with Turkey and that Republican Senate members would not allow such a move, as it could hasten the Democrats’ plans to dismiss Trump. But on the other hand, there is such a strong anti-Trump and anti-Erdoğan sentiment in Washington that it overshadows the strategic importance of cooperating with Turkey for the U.S. So, though the chances are low, if Congress should make such a move, there might indeed be not much left to talk about; Erdoğan would have no choice but to leave the White House and go straight to the airport to return to his country.
This is the nightmare scenario, but there are other scenarios which could also further deteriorate the relations.
The most important issue: S-400s.
For Ankara, avoiding exclusion from the F-35 program that it’s a partner of, due to the purchase of the Russian S-400 missiles, is of key importance. As urgent, in fact, as the menacing economic sanctions or the Halkbank case which could jeopardize the Turkish economy. There is also the Turkish request that the U.S. stop supporting the People’s Protection Units/outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (YPG/PKK) forces in Syria. My previous article mentioned that there were risk factors here and that the Pentagon was pressing for supporting Trump. And then, there is the issue of U.S. resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen indicted of masterminding the coup attempt on July 15, 2016; the U.S. offices have not even opened a court case yet.
But for the U.S., the S-400 issue is the most significant here. The misconception in Ankara is as follows: “the U.S. first said that we’re through if you purchase the S-400 and nothing happened even though we placed the order. Then they threatened, saying it’s over if you accept them; the most they could do was to freeze the F-35 involvement. Now they’re telling us that we can’t activate them.”
Ankara believes the U.S. needs Turkey whether it likes it or not. However, there is no rule that what happens once in politics will reoccur.
After all, the U.S. is bothered by the fact that Russia’s gotten the upper hand in the arms trade with Turkey, a NATO ally; the obstinacy is growing day by day. During a conversation we had, a Western diplomatic source said that Turkey’s return to the F-35 plan, the withdrawal of the economic sanctions and detente in the tensions in Syria were all possible. Of course, how valid are the promises when Trump’s relationship with Congress is so bad? That’s yet another issue. The Israeli looby’s pro-YPG/PKK stance along with other traditionally anti-Turkish lobbies is further complicating the situation.
And finally, there’s the Halkbank issue, which is out of Trump’s reach; it’s a local court’s initiative: it’s hard for Trump to make promises.
In conclusion, it’s going to be a tough visit and a tough meeting. Both Trump and Erdoğan will make strategic choices. It’s time to decide not with anger but with common sense, with the country’s interest in mind and not ideological leanings.