Despite efforts on both sides to downplay the tensions, Turkish-American relations have never been more strained. This reality was once again painfully obvious during the Türkiye-United States Joint Strategic Mechanism meetings held in Washington on January 18, between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his counterpart Antony Blinken.
While the Biden administration, since its first day in office, has generally tried to avoid photo opportunities with anti-Turkish groups, they also made sure not to allow Çavuşoğlu to capitalize on this tactical attitude which resulting in his delegation returning to Turkish soil empty-handedly.
It is no secret that the bilateral issues on the agenda were complex and difficult to resolve; especially with an increasingly pervasive lack of trust and differing opinions on how to get back on track, reigning on both sides. For these reasons, few had high expectations regarding the outcome of the official meetings.
The F16 sale and other issues
In the wake of national elections in Türkiye, expecting a succesful resolution, the Government went to great length to prioritize the F16 negotiations in the public eye while trying to downplay or even hide other issues. While Turkish media proudly reported White House support for the F16 modernization and the acquisition of a new batch of next generation F16s, it was conveniently left out that the same package the Biden administration to Congress for approval includes F35 aircraft deliveries to Greece which will obviously upset the balance in the Aegean putting Türkiye at a disadvantage. The Government of Türkiye and its supporters also ignored questions about Turkish intentions to ratify Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO.
Similarly, the Biden administration, ignored Turkish flirtations with Putin’s Russia despite the ongoing Ukraine crisis, played down its own support for the YPG/PKK in Syria and opted for radio silence on Türkiye’s procurement of a Russian missile defence system, the S400, for which Congress has sanctioned Türkiye. While the Biden administration also pretended not to hear the anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric used by Turkish officials in general, both sides pretended other thorns in the relationship, such as the Halkbank, SBK and Sitki Ayan liabilities.
Türkiye-United States collusion
It is very clear that both governments have opted to bury their heads in the sand, especially in the wake of national elections in Türkiye. Both sides have enough on their plate and seemingly agree on a strategy to pretend the existence of certain problems, rather than try to solve them.
Under these circumstances, it is clear that Türkiye, for the foreseeable future, will remain stuck in the power struggle between the United States and Russia with both superpowers trying to pull Türkiye away from the other. While the Biden administration seems keen on keeping Türkiye aligned with western interests, Putin’s first priority seems to be ensuring that Erdogan wins the upcoming election. In the meantime, the Government of Türkiye lacks the capacity to manouver these dangerious waters to serve the best interest of the Republic of Türkiye.