Change of wind in Turkey-US ties: Most probable scenario
Both the U.S. and the European Union reacted to Turkey for the lawsuit that seeks closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and stripping Haluk Gergeroğlu from his lawmaker status on March 17. Turkish Foreign Ministry response to these reactions did not change: It said they were “intervention to Turkey’s domestic affairs.”
However, a Reuters report on March 18 painted an almost opposite picture to these reactions. It said imposing economic sanctions on Turkey was removed from the agenda of the EU leaders summit to be held on March 25 and 26. Moreover, it said the decision was made on the suggestion by the U.S. Was that a change in Turkey-U.S. relations that were only a few months ago heading against the wall at full speed? And was such a change in a positive direction at first glance?
“U.S. President Joe Biden has also urged Brussels not to impose sanctions at a time when Turkey, a NATO ally and EU candidate country, appears more willing to compromise,” read the Reuters report that cited U.S. and European diplomats. It announced that the EU halted plans to blacklist more senior executives at Turkey’s state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) who are responsible of the natural gas search by the Turkish Oruç Reis vehicle in the eastern Mediterranean. The indicator of Turkey’s “willingness to compromise” was spelled as the 62nd round of the exploratory talks with Greece that was held in Athens on March 16.
What does it mean?
On the one hand, the U.S. State Department reacted to the launch of a lawsuit against the HDP, seeking a political ban on 687 executives of it as a deterioration of human rights and democracy. If frequently reminded of the arrest of businessman and activist Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the HDP. On the other hand, it was suggesting the EU not to impose sanctions on Turkey, despite the sanctions imposed by itself due to Ankara’s purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia. And the EU seems to have accepted its suggestion.
An initial and shallow analysis reads the developments as both the U.S. and EU are not sincere in their interest in human rights and democracy in Turkey and they only aim at achieving political and military interests. Here on YetkinReport, we had written that the first decision of the junta administration that came to power on Sept. 12, 1980, was allowing the return of Greece to the military wing of NATO in line with the request by the U.S. Joe Biden had played a significant role in that process as a young senator at the time.
But the issue is not limited to that. There are other factors. All these developments do not eliminate the fact that the most serious problem between Turkey and the U.S. is over the Russian S-400 missiles. But they add other details to strategic interests.
Let’s take a closer look.
Afghanistan talks and NATO
The first concrete sign of change in the wind was Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s announcement on March 12 that peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban would be held in Istanbul in April. The proposal came from the Americans, which was really a surprise for the Turkish authorities. It was an indicator that the U.S. wants to continue its strategic relations with Turkey in other fields until the S-400 issue is resolved. On the same days, a NATO drill was being conducted by the U.S., Turkish and Spanish navies in the Black Sea “against the Russian threat,” as the NATO patrolling mission of the U.S., Turkey and Spain and Greece continued in the Mediterranean Sea.
This picture evoked the remarks by Ibrahim Kalın, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Security and Foreign Policy Advisor (and spokesperson), in an interview with American economy channel Bloomberg on March 8.
Kalın suggested that Turkey the Russian model could be implemented in Turkey’s relations with the U.S., reminding that Ankara and Moscow contradict in issues of Syria, Libya and Ukraine but can cooperate in a strategic matter such as the S-400 missile systems. Of course, there is a big difference since Turkey is a NATO member. But apparently, the Biden administration that prioritizes strengthening alliance relations is willing to handle the issues with Ankara through Turkey’s NATO membership.
Syria and Egypt factors
Another factor was an article by Erdogan, which appeared again in Bloomberg on March 15, one day before the exploratory talks in Athens. In that article, Erdoğan made a call to the West to support Turkey’s efforts in Syria. This meant to show the intention not to contradict the West in Syrian politics anymore.
On March 12, when Çavuşoğlu declared the Afghanistan issue, both himself and Erdoğan announced the start of dialogue with Egypt. The dialogue between the intelligence services of the two countries had already begun during the reconciliation process in Libya.
All of these point to a revision and a shift to a new setting in Turkish foreign policy, both due to economic difficulties and the effect of the change of administration in the U.S. Even a reconciliation with Israel may follow.
This situation has led to a change in the U.S. stance, still with a margin of caution. It seems that Erdoğan has been given time to fulfill his promises. Because Turkey’s NATO membership is valuable and the U.S. has entered an era of open hostility with China and Russia. (An hostility that reaches a level that Biden responds affirmatively to the question “Do you agree that Putin is the killer?”) Burning bridges with Turkey under such circumstances is not realist already.
It seems that when Erdoğan takes a compromising step there is a response to that.
Most likely scenario in relations with the US in short term
1- Biden seems to hold the insistent Congress demands to impose sanctions on Turkey as long as Turkey does not take new steps in the S-400 issue such as activating the missile system or signing a new arms deal with Russia.
2- There is no sign that the status quo in Syria will change. The U.S., which conducts its Syria operation with about 800 special force members and advisors, uses the YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK, as a ground force and it does not seem to give up on this. However, it seems to have accepted Turkey’s military presence in Syria and its other operations against the PKK.
3- Reconciliation with Greece remains important. For the U.S., Turkey’s cooperation with Greece in NATO is primarily important in terms of balancing the presence of Russia in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
4- Let’s move on to the most important, most strategic issue. It is understood that the U.S.’ strategic priority about Turkey is
that it does move away from the European Union. This is also important for the U.S.w policy of “strengthening its alliances.”
Its demand from the EU, which we mentioned above, indicates this.
Within this context, Turkey needs to take steps for democratization and human rights to ease the hand of the European public opinion and its governments.
What we need is high-quality democracy
This situation deeply contradicts the shutdown case against the HDP. Pressure on Turkey will continue but not reach a level of burning the bridges with it.
Erdoğan needs to see the U.S. support to Turkey against the EU sanctions and give up his current stance on democratic rights for the sake of first the quality of politics and economy in Turkey, then improving the international relations and the quality of the investment environment.
Erdoğan is also responsible for finding a common ground with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Bahçeli, his partner in the People’s Alliance.