No room for adventures for Ankara after Biden affair

No room for adventures for Ankara after Biden affair

The Harvard University speech of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden late on Oct. 2 was only reported in Turkey late on Oct. 3 due to the seven-hour time difference, and also because Turkey had entered into the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival spirit.

It was Hürriyet’s Washington correspondent, Tolga Tanış, who reported the speech, which included claims from Biden that caused tremors in Turkish-U.S. relations just before critical talks about the Turkish military contribution to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

It was strange, because hours before the report started to cause shockwaves in Ankara and Washington DC, Biden and the Turkish president had spoken on the telephone as a follow-up of their meeting in New York the previous week. On the phone they talked about the parliamentary mandate given to the Turkish government on military action and about the forthcoming coalition talks to start next week.

So Erdoğan had spoken to Biden in a constructive mood on Oct. 3 without knowing that the night before, in answer to a student’s question, Biden had accused Turkey of helping the growth of ISIL as it was not careful enough about who it was helping against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. But what made Erdoğan really furious when he learned about Biden’s answer was his claim that Erdoğan had admitted Turkey was mistaken to ignore the threat during the New York meeting.

“If Biden said those words,” Erdoğan said, additionally angry because it had ruined his first day of the festival, “Biden will be history for me.” This meant that he would not talk to Biden anymore “unless Biden apologizes,” as Erdoğan said he had never used those words. The Turkish side also claimed that it was actually Biden who admitted that the U.S. was too late in assessing ISIL as a threatening side effect of the Syrian crisis.

That came after an endless, night-long diplomatic traffic carried out by Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the Foreign Ministry undersecretary and İbrahim Kalın, the deputy secretary general of presidency on the Turkish side, and Ross Wilson, the U.S. chargé d’affairs in Ankara, Phil Gordon, the greater Middle East coordinator for President Barack Obama, Victoria Nuland, the European-Eurasian Affairs chief of the State Department, and William Burns, the deputy secretary of state on the U.S. side.

As a result, Biden called Erdoğan to “apologize,” which Turkish sources say he did a number of times during the conversation, for “implying” Turkish help to radical Islamists in Syria even “unintentionally,” according to the White House statement.

Proving the Quran-originated Turkish proverb that “There is a good in everything bad,” the Biden apology turned out to be a God-send relief for Erdoğan. This is due to the following reasons:

1-    All claims in the West regarding Turkish help to Islamist militants in Syria aimed at toppling al-Assad are cleared officially by the U.S. administration.

2-    It served as a wake-up call for Ankara that there might be something wrong in the Obama administration’s decision-making mechanisms regarding ISIL and the Iraq-Syria issues.

3-    It also served as a wake-up call about the determination and duration of the U.S. commitment in the fight against ISIL. Ankara is leaning towards only giving approval for the use of its İncirlik base if the U.S. announces an internationally imposed no-fly zone over Syrian air space, (probably north of 36th parallel), with firm guarantees.

4-    Ankara is no longer sure about the U.S.’s political perspective regarding the near future of Iraq and Syria, and their effects on Turkey’s Kurdish issue,

5-    Also, the apology may have given an exit for Ankara from its Syria policy, with less focus on the immediate toppling of al-Assad and more on Turkey’s own border security.

The mood in Ankara after the Biden affair is more conservative, bringing less room for “adventures” as one ranking source underlined yesterday.