Can there be a winner in the US-Turkey skirmish?
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s words in his Oct. 10 address to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) group in parliament regarding the ongoing crisis with the U.S. were unusually strong.
Referring to the statement of the outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Bass a night before, Yıldırım asked: “Are we going to get your permission to take legal action to a person under suspicion?” This was a reference to the two Turkish employees of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul allegedly linked to the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt.
“Did you ask for our permission when arresting the deputy director of our state bank [Halkbank] who was on an official trip to the U.S.? What kind of alliance is this?” Yıldırım added before moving onto another point of contention between the two NATO allies. “If we are to continue as allies, the U.S. should stop giving arms to Turkey’s enemies, the cousins and nephews of the PKK,” he said, in reference to the U.S. collaboration in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Some of the AK Parti deputies listening to Yıldırım’s speech though this strong rhetoric could be part of an attempt to blow the steam off of public opinion, expecting the tension to cool down through diplomacy as Erdoğan had used rather moderate language a day before during his visit to Kiev. However, those thoughts proved to be wishful thinking, as Erdoğan also spoke harshly in Belgrade just a few hours after Yıldırım.
“If the U.S. ambassador’s decision reflects the will of the administration, then I have nothing left to talk about with them [the Donald Trump administration] any longer. If it was a decision of his [Bass’] own, then the administration should immediately withdraw him for exceeding his authority. Under similar circumstances I would not leave my ambassador in his place for one minute,” Erdoğan said.
Bass is due to leave Turkey anyway, as his term is over and he is going to be the next U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Afghanistan. Erdoğan was clearly upset with the Oct. 9 statement of the US Ambassador and is likely looking for a telephone call from Trump to sort things out between the political leadership of the two countries.
But it is not very clear how the many piled-up problems between the two will be solved at a time when diplomacy is about to be replaced by skirmishes between the two countries.
Washington and Ankara have a lot of common interests in the problematic region surrounding Turkey: The Caucasus, the Black Sea and Russia, the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. That cooperation extends as far as Afghanistan in one direction and Somalia in the other.
A further worsening of relations between the U.S. and Turkey could also further negatively affect the EU’s relations with the entire region, including the investment environment and trade. There is little need to mention the possible negative effect on balances in the tinderbox Middle East.
There can be no net winner of this tension between Turkey and the U.S. A solution must be found through dialogue and diplomacy, and the friends of both countries should consider assisting if necessary.