Turkish miracle at US Congress
When Tansu Çiller was serving as Turkey’s first woman prime minister between 1993 and 1996, the regional agenda between Ankara and Washington was made up of several crucial items. When she would meet the then U.S. President Bill Clinton, their regional agenda would start from the Caucasus, stretch to Kosovo, and with NATO and Middle Eastern issues, there would be little time left to talk about bilateral ties.
Just as she would come out of her meeting in Washington, an official from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara would be called to the Foreign Ministry. He would be given a folder and be told “whatever she said, she meant this.”
Çiller was an impatient politician with a very short attention span. She was known to ask officials to explain a decades-old problem like Cyprus in five minutes. She was also famous for mixing up terminologies and geographical places, once even confusing Turkish Cypriots with Turkmens in Iraq. Every foreign meeting she would have would cause high heartbeats among diplomats.
There seems to be a similar disconnection in Washington between President Donald Trump and the lower echelons of his administration. Yet, this disconnect is about to have detrimental consequences on Turkish-U.S. relations.
All the signs about the prospect of the U.S.’s threat of sanctions against Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 anti-ballistic missile system from Russia looks like a fast approaching problem. Unfortunately, the administrative disconnection in Washington sends the wrong signals to the Turkish presidency.
It would not be surprising if Turkish diplomats were told by their U.S. counterparts “not to take everything said by Trump too seriously.” But which Turkish official, including Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, can dare tell President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not take Trump for his words, especially after Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak’s meeting with Trump last month at the White House where the former, who is also the president’s son-in-law, said he came out with positive messages to be conveyed to Ankara?
There is a risk that these positive messages whose content we do not know might be misread by Erdoğan’s close entourage as a sign that Trump can use his powers to stop the sanctions from getting implemented.
Yet Trump has not only limited legal powers to alter Congress’ legislation, he also has limited political leverage over the current legislative branch.
“First of all, Countering America’s Adversaries Trough Sanctions Act [known as CAATSA] passed in 2017 and it needs no additional move to be implemented. The moment the delivery of the S-400 takes place, the act will come into force automatically,” said Nilsu Gören, a research associate at the University of Maryland.
Indeed, according to CAATSA, the president can ask Congress for a postponement for 180 days. But the relations between the president and the Congress are at an all-time low. Currently there is tremendous polarization between the president and Congress as well as the democrats and the republicans. Yet there is one single issue everyone agrees on and that is Turkey.
“This is a Turkish miracle,” Gören said sarcastically, talking at a panel in Istanbul on March 14.
There is a consensus among Republicans and democrats, among civilians and the military against Turkey, she added.
In addition, Congress is taking every effort to avoid leaving any loophole which could be used in favor of Turkey. The definition of “significant transaction” from Russia to trigger sanctions was left open in CAATSA. Recently, Congress initiated legislation defining the purchase of S-400 as significant, according to Nilsu Gören.