Erdoğan’s Obama visit; a give and take story
Let us remember first. The first commitment of U.S. President Barack Obama that he would host Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was on March 22, during a telephone call from Ben Gurion airport in Israel where he was paying his first overseas visit in his second term of Presidency. It was right after Obama convinced the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to apologize to Erdoğan because of the Mavi Marmara flotilla raid in which nine Turks were killed and after hearing that Erdoğan accepted that apology. As Turkish and Israeli sides agreed on the date of the first round of compensation talks, the White House date was secured for May 16.
To be frank, no visit from Ankara to Washington DC has been more spectacular than Erdoğan’s latest visit, like the ‘Blair House’, i.e. Presidential treatment he received from Obama.
He not only took six of his cabinet ministers and chief of intelligence, but also his party deputies with him and made them sit around the same table with Obama and Obama’s team; on the Turkish side of the table there were 13 politicians at one point. And perhaps in order to make a symbolic point that only those elected have something to say in present day Turkey, the diplomats who were actually in charge of carrying out the contacts were sitting in the back chairs, including the Turkish Ambassador to Washington DC, Undersecretary of Turkish Foreign Ministry and chief of Turkish intelligence, MİT. Some of the Turkish delegation members, who lacked the translation support as Erdoğan did, seemed very happy about the talks in the official photographs released to the media. Those pictures and the treatment were priceless gifts from Obama to Erdoğan for domestic politics as Turkey gets prepared for a series of elections. Erdoğan’s gift to Obama was a calligraphic frame in Arabic script.
Erdoğan’s almost entire family did not leave him alone in this critical trip to U.S. as well. Obama politely made a point that he might have something to learn from Erdoğan’s experience of raising daughters. And Mrs Erdoğan was praised in a Georgetown University program where a professor of Iranian descent presented her with a book, titled “The Psychology of Dictatorship.” Mrs Erdoğan seemed to enjoy Mrs Obama’s warm hospitality, as could be understood from the official pictures.
Almost all the top bosses of Turkey escorted Erdoğan, too. At one point 70 percent of Turkey’s GDP was on board the same plane; thanks to the insisting invitations of Erdoğan’s economy minister, as evidence to show Americans that the Turkish business community was behind their prime minister. On the economic scene, the most important expectation of Turkey has been not to be left out of US-EU trade talks, because of its Customs Union agreement with the EU; both government and business people are more hopeful after the visit.
The fact that Moody’s had upgraded Turkey’s investment note right after the visit, perhaps by coincidence, was the cherry on top of the cake.
On the political scene, Erdoğan was happy to see Obama who said next to him that Bashar Al-Assad must go for a free Syria. But regarding any new concrete action, no, Obama was not going to move the U.S. alone, not without Russia -whose 10 warships from the Pacific fleet entered the Mediterreranean from Suez the same day and docked at Limassol port in South Cyprus -it seems. That was not exactly what Erdoğan actually wanted to hear. Erdoğan hoped he could convince Obama that Assad’s use of chemical weapons had violated the U.S.’s “red lines,” but no, Washington DC was still to wait despite atrocities in Syria.
We can see some interesting steps in the field of energy which might converge Turkish and American stances in Iraq and the eastern Mediterranean, including both Cypriot and Israeli fields there.
And speaking of Israel again... Right after the Israeli apology, Erdoğan had declared that he was going to visit the Palestinian territory of Gaza, under Israeli embargo. Both the U.S. and the Palestinian authority in Ramallah said that they preferred a visit to include the West Bank too, which is not under Hamas control. Erdoğan, postponing his visit (originally aimed for April) looked for ways to bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Gaza (something undesired by Halid Mashaal of Hamas) so that he could use Egyptian territory to go in and out of Gaza without being obliged to use Israeli air or land space. Following the meeting with Obama, Erdoğan announced that he was going to go to both Gaza and Ramallah in June. So we may expect a result for the compensation talks and upgrading of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel back to ambassadorial level by then.