Pastor Brunson’s detention has become too costly for Turkey
The foreign policy of post-election Turkey signals the continuation of a multidimensional diplomacy under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule.
In an interview with private broadcaster NTV on June 29, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated this fact but at the same time stressed Turkey would continue to try to increase the number of friends and lessen the number of foes, a motto used by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım after he took over office from the outgoing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in May 2016.
There were two main foreign policy areas Çavuşoğlu highlighted during the interview: Ties with the EU and the United States. On the former, as this column suggested on June 26, Ankara does not have much hope for the revival of long-suspended accession talks, particularly in the second half of this year as a Turkey-skeptic Austria will resume the term presidency.
On the latter, however, the Turkish government seems to be committed to developing ties with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration through increasing cooperation in the Syrian theater and resolving scores of bilateral problems. In this regard, there are positive signs from Washington, too.
Trump’s phone conversation with Erdoğan is reportedly very warm as the two leaders have agreed to meet on the margins of the NATO Summit in Brussels on July 11 and July 12. Furthermore, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted a much more productive diplomatic engagement with post-election Turkey.
According to Çavuşoğlu, a Turkey-U.S. working group established to resolve some bilateral consular and legal affairs will meet on July 13, right after the Erdoğan-Trump summit. Plus, Turkish and American officials will hold a separate meeting to discuss their ongoing cooperation in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in July amid the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) continued campaign against the terrorist group in northern Iraq.
In the meantime, a deal brokered by Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo on joint patrol of the Manbij province of Syria is being successfully implemented with a concrete timeline that suggests the beginning of the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij by July 4.
This agreement on the Manbij roadmap paves the way for a better understanding and coordination between the two allies whose ties have been seriously damaged over Ankara’s complaints on the U.S. support to the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The successful implementation of this road map would sure bring about a considerable trust required for the future and a full alignment of policies in the region.
Having cited positive aspects, there are still some very important issues that need to be addressed. One of them is Turkey’s plans to procure Russian S-400 air defense systems. This has already triggered a number of reactions from the U.S. Congress, which could end up with sanctions on Turkey, including blocking the sale of F-35 aircrafts.
On consular issues, Turkey’s constant demands for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, believed to be the mastermind of the July 2016 failed coup, as well as the Halkbank case, which could lead to a multibillion dollar fine over the violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, constitute Ankara’s agenda. In return, the continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson and of two local employees of the U.S. diplomatic missions are among issues the U.S. Department of State has been heavily engaged on.
On all these issues, being an evangelic pastor, Brunson’s case has been attracting enormous attention in the U.S., both politically and religiously. It has caused a number of serious congressional interventions against Turkey, which would cause political consequences.
Brunson, who has been in jail since late 2016, seems to be much too costly for Turkey and his continued detention would further complicate the situation. That is why many diplomats in Ankara expect his potential release followed by his deportation pending trial on the July 18 hearing.
Of course, it is impossible to foresee what the court’s decision will be, but his release would sure help the ongoing reconciliation process between Turkey and the U.S.