Hagel to pay key visit to Turkey to talk missiles, Syria

Hagel to pay key visit to Turkey to talk missiles, Syria

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Hagel to pay key visit to Turkey to talk missiles, Syria

US Defense Secretary Hagel will be in Turkey later this month. AP photo

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is expected to pay a visit to Turkey in late January to discuss a number of security issues, with the Turkish government’s decision to purchase a Chinese anti-ballistic missile defense system and developments in Syria and Iraq topping the agenda.

Hagel’s visit will be the highest-level encounter between the two countries since Turkey was shaken by a massive internal political earthquake that also impacted Washington-Ankara relations.

The Hürriyet Daily News has learned that Hagel’s visit to Turkey would take place on Jan. 27 as part of the secretary of defense’s European tour. Hagel is expected to meet Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz and other senior Turkish government officials. The last high-level Turkish official Hagel met was Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was in Washington in November 2013.

What makes Hagel’s visit more important is that ties between the two allies have hit a low point, especially after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly threatened the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, with expulsion because of Washington’s supposed role in an ongoing corruption operation against his government. U.S. Department of State issued statements to dismiss the claims and called on the Turkish government not to draw the U.S. into an internal fight, something that would negatively affect bilateral ties.

Apart from the bitter political ties, the issues the two sides will touch on during the visit have the potential to even worsen relations. At the top is Turkey’s decision to launch negotiations with a Chinese company under U.S. sanctions for the co-production of an anti-ballistic air defense system.

Seriously concerned about Turkey’s decision to acquire such a system from a non-NATO country, Washington has been consistently conveying its messages on the issue in recent months through high-level officials from the Department of Defense.

The purchased system will not only remain isolated from NATO’s anti-ballistic missile system but will also cut Turkish partners off from their partners in the U.S., according to officials.

Another important topic will be Syria and concerns on the growing numbers of radical Islamists in the region as the Iraqi-Syrian border area becomes a new shelter for al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The U.S. has already voiced its readiness to help the Iraqi government in its fight against these groups while Turkey has expressed its concerns in the wake of recent developments in its neighbor.

Hagel and Turkish officials will also review bilateral defense relations and their continued support for the NATO alliance. The U.S. has two Patriot batteries deployed in Gaziantep in response to Turkey’s request for the NATO to augment its air defense against a potential Syrian offensive.