President Tayyip Erdoğan revealed Turkey’s three conditions to the US on July 20 in order to continue its mission to protect and operate Kabul airport after the withdrawal of the US and other NATO countries. Erdoğan revealed those conditions in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus where he visited to mark the 47th anniversary of the Turkish military intervention after a right-wing Greek coup in the Mediterranean Island in 1974. Despite triggering reactions from the US and the European Union, Erdoğan’s messages in Cyprus focused on Afghanistan and suggested military mission in Kabul.
That was rather a surprise since the international community was expecting a rather radical move by Erdoğan about Cyrprus issue from that visit. He spoke of a “two-state solution” before he departed from Istanbul on July 19, saying that he would deliver the “good news” in Nicosia.
His remarks led decision-makers in the EU and the US to wonder if Arkara would withdraw from the U.N.-sponsored intercommunal talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots as a step toward a two-state solution. Would a diplomatic campaign be launched for the international recognition of Turkish Cyprus as a sovereign state? Or would Maraş, or Varosha, the one-time tourism hotspot, be opened to settlement, as Erdoğan promised last year? Would Erdoğan’s “good news” turn out to be a sharp political step about Cyrprus?
In fact, when Erdoğan first announced that he would be in Cyprus to attend July 20 ceremonies, the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had sent a message on June 25, asking him to avoid a move that would disrupt the Turkey-EU relations. In response, Erdoğan asked her, if anyone ever saw him taking directions. However, von der Leyen repeated her message on July 6. Fourteen members of the American Senate wrote a letter to US President Joe Biden on July 14, raising concerns over Erdoğan’s attempts to open Varosha, the abandoned and disputed southern quarter of the Cypriot city of Famagusta.
Presidential complex: A distraction?
However, the good news Erdoğan delivered at the Turkish Cypriot parliament only hours after his remarks in Turkey was about the construction of a presidential complex and a new parliament building on the Turkish side of the island. In spite of the row afterwards, Erdoğan did not say anything new on Cyprus, in line with the expectations of the EU Commission; there was nothing to further detoriate already damaged Turkey-EU relations. He repeated that Ankara would work for a two-state solution and re-open Varosha. Moreover he emphasised the law and property rights in a bid to calm down both the EU and the US.
The Turkish opposition began mocking Erdoğan’s “good news”, pointing to his favorite construction companies would benefit again and claimed Erdoğan related the credibility of a state with its luxurious buildings and capabilities. Members of the pro-government media, who do not digress from the comments and information provided for them by the propaganda mechanism polished the statement, arguing that it was a “genius” tactic with political messages. A deeper look shows that Erdoğan’s “good news” was nothing but yet another distraction tactic.
There was nothing unexpected in Erdoğan’s messages about Cyprus.
Yet, the key political message by Erdoğan during his trip to Turkish Cyprus was about Afghanistan. On 20 July, after performing the Eid-al-Adha prayer in Turkish Cyrprus he made statements that took the debate on Afghanistan to a new level.
Afghanistan bargain with US
The president said that Turkey would be involved in talks –and hopefully come to an agreement– with the Taliban who have already announced that they do not want Turkish soldiers in the country after the US withdrawal. He also called on the Taliban to end their “occupation operation” in Afghanistan.
Erdoğan’s remarks about Turkey could come to terms with Taliban easily since there are commpon points, implying Islam, caused strong reaction in Turkish politics. The Turkish opposition said Turkey is a secular coıuntry and have nothing to do with the backward radicalism of Taliban. Ömer Önhon, a Turkish diplomat recently asked for his retirement wrote in a recent article for YetkinReport that it was “Beyond imagination to use our way of Islam with that of Taliban in the same sentence”. Having worked on the Middle Eastern affairs for a long time, Önhon said that he didn’t think Taliban’s main consideration would be religion anyway.
Erdoğan said that keeping Turkish soldiers in Kabul, Ahghanistan was an American idea, not a Turkish one. This was a response to the a Pentagon statement last week, thanking the Turkish commitment about Afghanistan, implying that was a Turkish suggestion.
He revealed that he raised three conditions to Biden to accept the Afghan proposal.
1- Full US diplomatic support to Turkey. This was about asking the American diplomacy not to take steps that would complicate Turkey’s Afghanistan task, if agreed, but instead ease things for it in international politics. That condition is hard to be fulfilled as the US Under secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal got in a war of worsa involving Afghanistan, Cyrpus and the possibility of a second batch of S400 missile purchase from Russia.
2- The transfer of all logistics facilities linked to Afghanistan to Turkey. We do not yet know whether this includes the transfer of the US bases in different parts of Afghanistan apart from the Kabul airport to be used by Turkish aid activities outside Kabul.
3-The cost of the operation. Erdoğan’s said that “There will be serious financial and administrative problems in this process” can be interpreted as a matter that exceeds the costs of the Kabul operation and a call for not troubling the Turkish economy. This would ease Erdoğan ahead of the next elections, which are scheduled for 2023 by at least avoiding any further US sanctions, mainly due to relations with Russia.
Retired Ambassador Önhon said Erdoğan’s words on Taliban, Afghanistan and the US showed that his apetite has started to be lost on the entire Kabul suggestion.
Meanwhile, the politicians that Erdoğan has invited to accompany him in his trip to Cyprus indiacted new moves about domestiv politics. Mustafa Derstici, the head of the nationalist Grand Unity Party (BBP), and Oğuzhan Asiltürk, a senior figure of the opposition Felicity Party (SP), accompanied Erdoğan in his visit to Turkish Cyprus, along with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, his election ally were among the invitees. The BBP is close to the People’s Alliance of Erdoğan and Bahçeli. Asiltürt’s SP was a part of the Nation’s Alliance against Erdoğan. The fact that Erdoğan took the right-wing politicians to his Cyprus trip implies that Erdoğan is in preparations for an election that might be held even earlier that 2023.