Just a comma in Turkish-US ties
President Tayyip Erdoğan had two main expectations from his May 16 meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
One of them was to convince Trump to drop the Kurdish militant group, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a partner in the U.S. operation to take the Syrian town of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Underlining that the YPG was the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdoğan offered Turkish help as a NATO member with a 910-kilometer-long border with Syria. That was in spite of three years of U.S. planning that included the arming and training of the YPG militants as their ground force, mainly because of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s no-boots-on-the-ground policy.
Erdoğan’s other target was to convince Trump to use its influence to take legal action against Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey. Either in the form of extradition or arrest, Erdoğan doesn’t want Gülen to continue running his network.
Before the visit, Erdoğan said they were going to determine the YPG issue together with Trump and that the talk would amount to a “full stop,” not a “comma,” implying an abrupt revision of bilateral relations.
Erdoğan and Trump had a one-on-one meeting for 20 minutes and then attended a working lunch with their delegations (a total of 20 people) for around two hours.
From the statements afterwards, it was possible to understand a few results:
- The U.S. is likely to start the Raqqa operation soon with the YPG and without Turkey.
- The U.S. has assured Turkey that the YPG will not pose any threat to Turkey, and that if so, Turkish troops will respond.
- Trump did not give any promise to Erdoğan about the extradition of Gülen, but asked for the release of a Protestant pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was arrested in İzmir for alleged Gülen links. The justice ministries of both countries will continue to work on the matters.
In addition to those points, Turkey will continue to be a major party in diplomacy for the future of Syria, as in the current cases of the Geneva and Astana processes.
To cut a long story short, there was no full stop to the Turkish-U.S. sentence, which is something good, but there is no dramatic change regarding the positions before and after the visit.
We can also talk about promises about more weapons and defense technology, as well as promises for more cooperation on energy regarding projects, especially in the eastern Mediterranean and Iraq.
But perhaps the biggest gain of the visit was to remove the excessive pressure from Turkish-U.S. relations and attempt to keep things going despite the rift over the YPG.