Pence and Yıldırım: New wine in old bottles
There is no more apt phrase to describe the November 9 meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and American Vice President Mike Pence than to say that it put new wine in old bottles
While disagreements on issues such as the U.S. arming of the YPG, the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, and the arrest of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab had become commonplace problems between Turkey and the U.S. under President Obama, the latest phase of the crisis in U.S.-Turkey relations under President Trump has done nothing more than exacerbate these issues. From the arrest of Izmir-based American Pastor Andrew Brunson to the detention of a number of the Turkish president’s bodyguards, from the arrest of deputy general manager of Halkbank Mehmet Hakan Atilla and indictment of former Turkish Minister of the Economy Mehmet Zafer Caglayan to the arrest of several Turkish citizens working in the U.S. consular missions in Turkey, the crisis has been expanding under Pence and Yıldırım’s watch for months. Although the Pence-Yıldırım meeting was the first of its kind between the VP and PM, the White House readout stating that the two hope to “usher in a new chapter in relations” did little more than pay lip service to improving U.S.-Turkey ties.
The Pence-Yıldırım meeting underscored the fact that many of the issues may be greater than them, with no tangible outcomes stemming from the meeting largely due to the fact that many of these issues are not executive problems within their control. However, even then, examining issues within the realm of executive powers, the meeting ultimately raised more questions than it did answers, such as those below:
Did anything happen toward the restoration of visa services?
Although the Pence-Yıldırım meeting had initially been advertised in some media outlets as having a part in the means to the diplomatic resolution of the current visa crisis, nothing concrete towards this end came out of the meeting. Rather, a few days prior, a phone call between Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and Secretary Tillerson resulted in the restoration of “limited” visa services between the U.S. and Turkey. This seemingly solved more problems than the meeting did. While Turkish analysts from both sides of the political perspective had lauded the call’s outcome as a “gift” or concession made before the Pence-Yıldırım meet-up, Yıldırım’s comments after the meeting indicated that the only gift the Turkish government wishes to receive in exchange for a total resolution is the extradition of Fethullah Gülen. Thus, since Pence cannot deliver judicial decisions, it appears the short answer to this question is no.
Why was Pence the first from the White House to bring up human rights and rule of law in Turkey?
As the Trump administration has been noticeably silent on several undemocratic developments inside Turkey, many analysts initially highlighted the emphasis that Pence placed on rule of law and human rights issues according to the White House readout. However, any focus on this incident overestimates the Trump administration’s potential and will to alter Turkey’s human rights record. It is probably more accurate to say that Pence’s remarks stem more from his conscious and identity as an Evangelical Christian—especially with regard to Pastor Brunson—rather than represent the administration’s shift toward a human rights-based Turkey policy and away from transactionalism. In terms of attention to human rights and democracy, the Trump administration’s policy on Turkey will never mirror that of Obama’s.
Does the Turkish government still believe that the Trump administration can restore U.S.-Turkey ties?
The Pence-Yıldırım meeting closely coincided with the one-year anniversary of Trump’s election. Although one year ago Ankara’s excitement for the prospects of the new president was obvious, today this excitement has rather shifted to a poor defense of Trump and his character. Rather than criticize Trump for his negligence in discarding the “Obama leftovers” blamed for sabotaging Ankara-Washington relations, Trump is a victim of the ghosts of presidents past, according to this narrative.
Thus, with Trump overshadowing his vice president every step of the way, it is hard to see that his next in command could achieve much in terms of a bilateral reconciliation—much less usher in a new chapter in bilateral ties. If Ankara has diminished Trump’s agency in the crisis, certainly it has long ago diminished Pence’s.
*Megan Gisclon is the managing editor of and a researcher at Istanbul Policy Center.