Turkish-American Syria plan in progress
The importance of this week does not only lie in Turkey’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
It is also very significant in regards to the future of the bilateral relationship between Turkey and the United States, which has long been suffering from scores of different sources of tension.
The first important development observed in Syria is the implementation of a deal brokered between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Manbij. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) announced on June 18 that the Turkish troops have been deployed to the outskirts of Manbij from where the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are pulling back. The Turkish troops are patrolling near the city and observing the withdrawal process of the YPG in accordance with the deal.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu informed on June 18 that the Turkish troops will enter the city in the coming days for assuming responsibility in providing the security of Manbij along with the U.S. troops in the field. Turkish deployment will be completed within days after the YPG will completely withdraw their terrorists to the east of the Euphrates. This should be completed before July 4.
The common understanding in both Ankara and Washington D.C. suggests the success of this deal will give a breath of fresh air to Turkish-American ties. It will mark the first concrete joint action in the Syrian theater since the Americans have penetrated into the war-torn country in late 2015, except for their joint efforts in the anti-jihadist global fight.
But the main challenge remains. It is uncertain where the Manbij model will be applicable to other provinces in the eastern Euphrates as suggested by Turkish officials. In any case, it will lead to a temporary relief in troubled Turkey-U.S. ties.
The second important incident this week will take place in Fort Worth, Texas at the Lockheed Martin’s headquarters. A symbolic ceremony for the delivery of the first F-35A fighter to Turkey will be marked on June 21, despite growing congressional opposition to the sale of these new generation warplanes. Some 44 congressmen have written a letter to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to blockade the delivery of the F-35As to Turkey just days before the ceremony.
Many in the U.S. suggest Turkey’s deployment of Russian S-400 air defense systems, which can also target the F-35s, will create important security problems for NATO’s collective defense architecture. Another reason is the continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson over terror charges in Turkey.
Despite these problems, the fact that this ceremony is still taking place is an important message to Turkey, which has been actively participating in the Joint Strike Fighter program since the early 2000s. The U.S. government conveys that it still stands behinds its words on the F-35s but that is insufficient if Turkey does not address the concerns voiced by the U.S. Congress.
There is another aspect. Both the Manbij deal and the F-35 delivery are surely helping President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) pre-election campaign as major diplomatic achievements of his government. Only time will show whether this is a sort of U.S. investment on Erdoğan’s continued leadership and whether this will lead to a drastic change in the course of Ankara-Washington ties in the post-election period.