Erdoğan-Trump agenda limited just to three issues

Erdoğan-Trump agenda limited just to three issues

“Abdullah, we seem to have the same agenda,” said Condi.

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s interlocutor. At the time he was serving as the foreign minister of a mid-size power, while she was the foreign minister of a superpower.

Rice’s observation showed the diversity of issues on the agenda and the level of cooperation between Ankara and Washington at that time.

The U.S.–Turkish agenda was rather limited during the Cold War. If you set aside bilateral economic issues, which were also limited in scope and largely tied to political issues in terms of military purchases, Turkey’s main preoccupations were limited to seeking U.S. support, or at least maintaining a balanced stance, on problems with Greece or on the Cyprus issue.

Rather than a macro agenda on NATO’s general strategy, for example, Turkey would focus on a micro agenda seeking to talk about its specific concerns in the Alliance.

The diversity came after the end of the Cold War. With the war in Iraq, the Israeli–Palestinian peace talks, turbulence in the Balkans and the Caucasus (following the collapse of Communism and the demise of the Soviet Union), Turkey found itself at the epicenter of everything important that was going on in the world in the 1990s. No longer just a buffer state, but in close proximity to major regional changes and transformations, Turkey aspired to “play a role in the Turkic world spreading from the Adriatic to the Great Wall of China,” amid claims that the “21st century will be the Turkish century.”

Turkish governments soon realized they did not have the capacity to fulfil these aspirations. Nevertheless, Turkey’s geostrategic position and even its limited ability to play a role made it an indispensable interlocutor. That is why high-level meetings between the U.S. and Turkey, whether on a presidential or prime ministerial level, often resembled a “tour d’horizon” from the Balkans to Central Asia, from the Caucasus to the Middle East. What’s more, Turkey’s democratic and human rights issues were always present on the agenda.

The years between 2004 and 2011 saw a peak in the intensity of bilateral talks, as Turkey had acquired the status of a mid-sized power playing a constructive role in several regional issues and also having a say in global problems.

Ankara enjoyed a golden age in its relations with the EU, while its mediation efforts between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and between Israel and Syria, meant that Turkey became seen as a kind of mecca of diplomacy. The fact that in 2008 Turkey was elected with a record number of votes to be a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council for the 2009-10 period was a clear sign of its diplomatic activism and popularity.

Tomatoes top the diplomatic agenda

However, things have now changed and Turkey has returned to a micro agenda. In talks with Russia, for example, selling tomatoes has become one of the most important issues.

Just a few years ago, then U.S. President Barack Obama had said then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was one of his “close friends” among foreign leaders, with whom he had frequent telephone conversations. In 2012, Time magazine carried Erdoğan on its cover. 

But before long he had moved from the list of model leaders to the list of leaders with authoritarian tendencies. 

He is now getting ready to talk with new U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington. The composition of the delegation that went before him to prepare the talks was telling in terms of the agenda: Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, General Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, presidential advisor İbrahim Kalın, and a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Turkey’s agenda for the talks is also telling in terms of how the country’s foreign policy has downgraded itself to micro issues: Raqqa, the Fethullah Terror Organization (FETÖ), and Reza Zarrab.