Turkey to hold crucial talks with US, Russia, EU in March

Turkey to hold crucial talks with US, Russia, EU in March

Turkey will this month witness a hectic diplomatic traffic, with meetings one after another in Washington D.C., Moscow, Astana, Berlin and Varna. All these places will have significant effects on the future of Turkey’s relationship with the United States and the European Union; and equally importantly, on the course of military developments in the Syrian field.

The series of meetings will begin with the first meeting of a newly established joint mechanism between Turkey and the U.S. that aims to diffuse ongoing tension between the two allies over a number of disputed issues. Three different committees will gather on March 8 and 9 in Washington where the two sides’ diplomats, soldiers and intelligence agencies will discuss the state of affairs in Syria, Iraq and in bilateral ties.

After the bureaucrats’ meeting, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is expected to travel to Washington D.C. to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 18 and 19, although it hasn’t been confirmed yet.

On March 6, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once again reiterated that Turkey’s sole expectation is the implementation of the promises already made by the Washington administration over the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

A senior U.S. official had told Hürriyet Daily News that Washington was well aware of its promises especially on the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij to the east of the Euphrates River, signaling the administration’s readiness to resolve this issue on the condition of agreeing on the security arrangements for the strategically important city. Turkey’s engagement with the U.S. will have direct consequences on its ongoing operations against the YPG in the northwestern district of Afrin and on its future targets in different parts of northern Syria. Thus, the objective next week, however, will focus on the developments in Syria.

Çavuşoğlu will be in Moscow on March 13 to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before attending a three-way ministerial meeting in Astana on March 16. In the Kazakh capital, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Russia will come together along with representatives from the Syrian regime and the opposition.

The meeting is believed to be a preparatory one for a leaders’ summit that is slated to take place in Istanbul in April. Apart from Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will also be present at the summit. These meetings will review the ongoing efforts to cement a cease-fire in Syria despite the fact that the Syrian regime continues its deadly attacks on civilians in eastern Ghouta, an enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, violating a recent U.N. Security Council resolution.

The summit will assess the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that was held late in January in the Russian resort city of Sochi and will likely underline the commitment of these three countries to go ahead for a political settlement for the Syrian civil war. One important aspect that would come up at these meetings is Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch,” as Iran has already announced its annoyance over it.

The third set of meetings will take place in European capitals in line with Turkey’s intention to normalize its relationship with prominent EU countries as well as with the EU itself. Çavuşoğlu is in Berlin and Vienna on March 6 and 7 where he will continue his works to accomplish the deicing process with both countries.

Most importantly, the Turkey-EU summit is planned to be held in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26. EU has already extended the letter of invitation to the Turkish side but confirmation is still needed on the modalities of the summit. The latest such meeting took place late May 2017, and there is no doubt both sides attach importance to this upcoming meeting.

“We attach great importance to this summit and expect that it will bring about re-energizing in our ties and open a new page,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters on March 6, while expressing Ankara’s view about the upcoming meeting.

The summit will surely be important for the continued engagement between Ankara and Brussels. However, there are more steps that need to be taken by Ankara for the revival of the halted accession process and for being granted visa liberalization and updating the custom union. Initial assessments in Brussels show that Turkey’s position paper that outlines how it will fulfill the remaining seven criteria out of 72 for the visa waiver is not sufficient. Accession talks will unlikely be re-launched as long as Turkey does not lift the state of emergency and return to a democratic agenda. Yet, the Progress Report which will be released in April will not be helpful to Turkey to this end.

It’s our expectation that the summit in Varna will encourage the Turkish government to return to its long-abandoned democratic agenda through concrete steps on human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. That would be the best outcome of this month’s intense diplomatic campaign.

Serkan Demirtaş, Turkey, hdn, Opinion