An outlook on Turkey-US ties in the post-Brunson era

An outlook on Turkey-US ties in the post-Brunson era

It has been more than a month since Turkey and the United States have left the Brunson affair behind and engaged in a new diplomatic campaign to resolve pending bilateral and regional problems.

Just to note: The cooperation between the two countries in probing the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Turkey’s efforts to avoid a new humanitarian tragedy in Syria’s Idlib province were two additional issues that contributed to the repair process of Ankara-Washington ties.

Following an in-person meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump on the margins of a dinner late Nov. 10 in Paris, two foreign ministers, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Mike Pompeo, will come together in Washington tomorrow. 

Çavuşoğlu characterized the meeting as a very good opportunity for two allies to discuss all issues “broadly.” This column will analyze where the two parties are, concerning disputed issues that need to be resolved.

Syria: The Turkish minister had described the U.S.’ continued support to the YPG as one of two issues poisoning bilateral ties. Turkey has long continued to urge its ally to bring an end to its military and political support to the YPG.

The U.S. suggests the nature of its relations with the YPG are tactical, transactional and temporary in obligation to the fight against ISIL.

Its efforts to assure Turkey that the YPG’s—or the SDF—presence in eastern Syria will not pose a threat to its national security and its borders, are far from finding a recipient in the Turkish capital.

The lack of confidence on the Turkish side towards U.S. objectives in Syria is still an obstacle in reaching a joint understanding.

The disagreement over the contested positions vis-a-vis the situation in the east of Syria, prevents the two allies from working together on a broader plan for the future of Syria, although the appointment of Ambassador James Jeffrey as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Syria has resulted in a better and closer dialogue between the two capitals.

FETÖ: The NBC’s report on the White House’s work on the possible extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind of the July 2016 coup attempt, has rightly generated excitement in Turkey. Although Trump denied the report, he stressed this was an issue his administration was discussing with the Turkish government.

Çavuşoğlu said he would introduce new evidence on Gülen’s involvement in the coup attempt and the list of FETÖ-linked names residing in the U.S. that Trump had once asked for from Erdoğan. He also recalled an ongoing probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over FETÖ-linked charter schools and other institutions.

Any attempt by Washington to deport Gülen would mean a major strategic change in the U.S. relationship with Turkey. Many in the Turkish capital believe the U.S. has yet to reach that point.

On the other hand, the U.S. continues to put pressure on Turkey for the release of Turkish-American citizen Serkan Gölge and three Turkish nationals working for U.S. diplomatic missions. The U.S. believes their situation is not different from Brunson.

Halkbank: Although these two said issues are of critical importance to Turkey, the Halkbank case has the most urgency because of its potential implications on the Turkish economy. The Turkish government is concerned of a serious fine to be levied against state-owned Halkbank over the bank’s alleged violation of Iran sanctions between 2012 and 2015.

The fine against Halkbank would also be interpreted as a strong message by the Trump administration against other banks and financial institutions, who tend to work with Iran despite recently imposed sanctions on Tehran. 

Plus, U.S. officials imply that an ongoing probe by the U.S. Treasury on the Halkbank’s alleged violation of the Iranian sanctions could trigger a criminal case against one of Turkey’s largest state banks. This issue will likely continue to hang over Turkey’s head like the sword of Damocles.

F-35 sale: Pentagon has recently submitted its report to the Congress on the consequences of blocking the sale of F-35 aircraft to Turkey. Although it has not been publicized yet, the report is believed to recommend the Congress to issue a green light for the continued partnership with Turkey on the F-35s.

Republican Senator Tom Tillis, who had spearheaded a legislation in August to ban Turkey’s purchase of F-35s because of its plans to deploy Russian made S-400s and the Brunson case, said via his Tweeter account, “It appears that DoD [Dep. Of Defense] has determined that Turkey has met its obligations to purchase F-35s pursuant to the provision in the NDAA.”

S-400 and Patriots: Turkey has many times reiterated that it will not abandon its plans to purchase the sophisticated Russian-made S-400 air defense system despite political and technical opposition from the U.S.

Both sides have informed that Turkey’s need to upgrade its air defense is part of bilateral conversations, with the U.S. expressing its readiness to supply Patriot systems to its ally. However, for the time being, the conversation between the two allies has focused on potential consequences of the Turkish deployment of S-400s.

The U.S. opts to engage in technical talks with the Turkish military over the risks of the S-400 deployment in Turkish territories for the safety of F-35 stealth fighters that will also be stationed in relevant Turkish bases late next year.

To sum up, this picture displays that the normalization process is in place and in progress, although slow and sometimes painful. The painful part will surely be more visible when it comes to differences stemming from the Syrian theater, which sure needs some creative solutions. They will only come to the forefront when dialogue and engagement prevail.

Serkan Demirtaş, United States, Turkey, bilateral relations, Andrew Brunson