Erdoğan-Trump summit to be the breaking point

Erdoğan-Trump summit to be the breaking point

We are in the capital of China, Beijing, for three days for the New Silk Road summit. Turkey, together with China and Russia, is one of the three dominant factors in the New Silk Road. 

Anatolia will be a new bridge in the modern Silk Road with infrastructure investments from one end to the other. With railroads and fast trains from Kars to Edirne, the Silk Road of the 21st century will be re-paved. 

While we were in Beijing, we had one ear on the Silk Road while another ear was listening to the previews of the talks to be held in the White House between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump. 

As a matter of fact, most of the questions we asked President Erdoğan the other day were about this meeting. His answers to our questions also showed that this summit could determine the future of Turkish-U.S. relations.  

From Erdoğan’s replies, we understand that regardless of what decision comes out of the summit at the White House, it will be a “breaking point.” If Erdoğan is able to persuade Trump to give up on his decision to arm the People’s Protection Units (YPG), then it will be a breaking point in terms of strengthening Turkish-U.S. relations. 

On the contrary, if Trump does not back down from his decision, this time it will cause the relations, which are already strained between the two countries, to break at an even worse point. 

Erdoğan will convey to Trump that viewing YPG and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), as the only alternative to fight ISIL and retake Raqqa is the wrong choice. He will emphasize that viewing the PYD/YPG, which is an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as an alternative to the coalition of major states including the U.S. and Turkey does not befit the NATO alliance and the mentality of being allies. 

Erdoğan will explain to Trump that the Raqqa operation and the fight against ISIL would be conducted much more easily with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the coalition. He will highlight that it is destructive for such a strong coalition to look like it is in the position of needing the YPG.

If Trump, despite all this, does not change his decision to arm the YPG and conduct a joint operation on Raqqa, then this will be regarded by Turkey as a situation that needs to be questioned. 

Regarding the YPG as an “irreplaceable ally” to cleanse Raqqa of ISIL and equipping them with heavy weapons has caused Ankara to question whether the aim is to take Raqqa or open the way to an independent, united Kurdistan state project by the PKK/PYD. According to Ankara, when the military power and skills of the coalition are obvious, the U.S. arming of the YPG is very difficult to explain as a tactical step against Raqqa and ISIL. 

If the U.S. decision is not a tactical one but a strategic one toward the making of new small states in the Middle East, then Turkey will make its own decisions for its own perpetuity and will take care of its own self. 

This will be the basic question Erdoğan will seek from Trump at the White House. If Trump’s answer is “not satisfactory,” then this will bear significant consequences in terms of Turkish-U.S. relations and the NATO alliance. 

Ankara’s expectation is for the White House to correctly read the possible negative consequences and act according to the obligations of an ally.

If Turkey is not able to see this responsibility, then Ankara will opt for new measures to protect national unity and territorial integrity. Erdoğan will go to the White House knowing that it will be difficult to change Washington’s decision on the YPG while thinking that it is “not impossible.”