A surprise contact between American and Turkish leaders amid tension over Russian missiles

Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak said he had an unscheduled visit to the U.S. President Donald Trump on April 15, amid tension between the two allies over a number of issues over Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian made S-400 missiles.

Albayrak told to a group of journalists in Washington DC that during the visit he conveyed an exclusive message by Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan to President Trump. Albayrak, who is also the son-in-law of President Erdoğan did not give any details about the message but said in answer to questions that S-400 purchase and increasing Turkish-U.S. trade volume from $20 billion to $75 billion a year were discussed and his impression about Trump’s response was positive.

According to Albayrak, his first visit in the White House on April 15 was with Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, Trump’s special envoy foe Middle East and also his son-in-law. Upon his demand the three were received by President Trump when Albayrak conveyed the message by Erdoğan. At the end of the visit Trump asked the three should make another meeting together with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan to frame how to increase the trade volume to $75 billion a year, which was a target voiced by Trump earlier. In that third meeting in the White House it was decided to have a followup meeting on April 16 to detail sectoral issues.

“At a time when global relations are tested, Turkish-American relations is not something that could be dumped” said Albayrak.

Albayrak told reporters that his meeting with Trump showed the importance of Turkey in international relations and was a followup of a phone call between Trump and Erdoğan in February 2019. On February 27, 2019, after that phone conversation Trump had sent an exclusive message to Erdoğan in Turkey via Kushner.

The surprise contact took place when Albayrak’s meetings with international investors and fund managers in the last couple of days in Washington DC were reportedly failed to satisfy them about the new economic measures he revealed on April 10 as a cure to high inflation, interest rates and unemployment in Turkey. The contact is likely to have an impact on not only the S-400 deal between Turkey and Russia but also on the financial outlook of the country. The U.S. administration had said repeatedly that if the NATO member Turkey did not cancel the S-400 deal (which Ankara said it will not) it can face sanctions and also the delivery of the American design F-35 jets to Turkey (which Turkey is a co-producer) would be stopped.

In earlier hours on April 15, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, who delivered a speech in the opening session of the American-Turkish Council (ATC) in Washington DC that Turkey and the U.S. were not adversaries, the problems in between could be solved but threatening Turkey with deadlines and ultimatums would not help the situation. Saying that linking S-400 issue with the delivery of F-35s was “wrong and misleading”, Akar said that Ankara was still considering the American offer to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey. He also added that Turkey would no longer wanted to be just a buyer of weapon systems but also wanted to share technology and production of them.

Also speaking at the opening session, Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, the head of the Turkish-American Business Council (TAIK) said that the commercial relations between the two countries should not be affected because of political tensions and on the contrary it can help to moderate them.

Erdoğan’s move via Albayrak has three goals: 1- Putting relations with the U.S. back on track, 2- Encouraging investors to come to Turkey, 3- Easing his hand in domestic politics following the March 31 local elections when his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost mayorships of a number of big cities.

It is also interesting that the move took place right after Erdoğan’s first visit abroad after the March 31 elections on April 8 when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed issues like S-400s, increasing trade volume in between and also Syria.


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