Backdoor diplomacy is on track again
We are going through a historic process in Turkish-U.S. relations, as the Americans put it. The reason why they define the period as “historic” stems from issues between both countries, namely the S-400 missile systems, Syria, sanctions against Iran, FETÖ, arrested U.S. citizens and consulate personnel in Turkey and the state lender Halkbank.
The reciprocal visits have gathered speed in this period. Backdoor diplomacy has started to function again due to the magnitude of the problems and the historic aspects of the process. This method, which was applied to during the “visa crisis and the issue of [Andrew] Pastor Brunson,” has gained momentum with the orders and knowledge of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The person carrying out the backdoor diplomacy back then went to Washington with Erdoğan’s approval, shortly after Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited the U.S. He met with bureaucrats working on Turkey in Pentagon, the Department of State and the White House, as well as non-governmental organizations and journalists.
Before jumping to the details of the meeting, let’s talk about why backdoor diplomacy, which started in 2017, is needed now. In the official meetings, both sides acted with a concern about giving messages, which can cause new problems. Even enabling the backdoor diplomacy and a more flexible alternative is regarded as a desire and determination to “solve the issues.”
The backdoor diplomacy functions with orders from the president. Details of the meetings in Washington was shared with both Erdoğan and relevant ministers.
Now, let’s talk about the context of the meeting.
Both sides have the desire and efforts to solve the issues, yet both realize the direness of the problems. This is why Americans say, “The relations are going through a historic process” as soon as they sit around the table. In this period, Turkey gives importance to “do what is necessary for the alliance” and “receding from a menacing tone.” Americans, on the other hand, want to have good relations with Turkey “in spite of everything.”
What’s defined as a “bitter problem” by the American authorities is the issue of the S-400 systems, which also composes the majority of the reaction against Turkey. In the meetings, it was asked whether Turkey has room for flexibility regarding this. Turkey said that it is not flexible because a deal had been signed, while stressing on the process during which Turkey wanted to buy the Patriots, the U.S. applied an embargo, withdrew from buying the system due to so-called maintenance works and pushed it toward Russia. Although rightminded Americans accept the process and their faults, they still underline that Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, will apply the minute the S-400 enters Turkish soil. Only exception to this is for U.S. President Donald Trump to offer an exemption which will pass the Senate. However, Trump is not expected to take a step toward this due to claims over his connections with Russia. And even though he acts on this, 70 percent of the Senate will probably vote against Turkey, considering their sympathy toward it.
Furthermore, in all the meetings, it was expressed that the F-35 fighter jets are the biggest armory engagement since the establishment of U.S. Thus, it was said that the “U.S. will not risk this neither for Turkey nor for any other country.”
In light of the information I gathered and the meetings I held with my sources, it was seen that Turkey can postpone this issue. If Turkey, a NATO member, accomplished to establish a commission to detect “a technical issue between the S-400s and the F-35 project which she is a partner to,” the arrival of the S-400s can be delayed. And during this period, Turkey will take or attempt to take necessary steps for its economy.
A meeting was held with James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL, too within the scope of backdoor diplomacy. The “concrete results about Syria can initiate something new for the countries’ relations while gaining flexibility to other problems” message was clearly given to American bureaucrats, especially Jeffrey. Jeffrey’s visit to the capital Ankara is an important indicator of the functioning of the backdoor diplomacy.
The technical and detailed meetings are ongoing. Some issues are being discussed, such as the differentiating depth of the planed safe zone – 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) in some places and 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in others with regards to needs – the elimination of the PYD from the said zone and the joint deployment of American and Turkish soldiers.
There was an explicit question asked to the Americans during the backdoor meetings: “Do you want to remove Turkey from NATO?” They responded expressly by saying they “have no intention to do so.”
Regardless, Turkish-American relations are in need of a success story. We will see if the matter of Syria will be the start of this. But it is certain that the backdoor diplomacy will proceed.