Turkish-US relations need redefining

Turkish-US relations need redefining

United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s meeting in Turkey on Sept. 8 took place at a critical time under unusual circumstances.

Hagel visited Turkey following his participation in the NATO Summit in Cardiff on Sept. 4-5, during which the talk between new Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama was the first one in 16 months; meanwhile he also stopped in Georgia on Sept. 7. His visit to Turkey has already been announced and will focus on Turkeys fragile borders with Syria and Iraq, as well as the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

But it is also no coincidence that on the day that Hagel started his meetings in Turkey with President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Chief of Staff, Genral Necdet Özel, a NATO military exercise, which included the American and Turkish navies, took place in the Black Sea in support of Ukraine. The winds of war seem to be blowing on both Turkey’s southern and northern borders.
But the situation in the south, in Iraq and Syria, is more violent and poses a bigger threat to an already weakening peace in the region.

The fact that 49 Turkish citizens have been in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levent (ISIL) since June 11, including Turkey’s Consular General in Mosul, makes things more dangerous for the Turkish government. So, Obama’s call for Erdoğan to actively take place in the coalition against ISIL has put Ankara in a difficult situation. According to diplomatic sources, Turkey has already been in full cooperation with a number of NATO countries against ISIL for some time, but has refrained from making it public in order to not jeopardize the lives of the captives in Mosul.

Hagel’s visit took place also at the eve of a statement expected to be made by Obama regarding a new U.S. strategy on the fight against ISIL, one of the subject’s that was discussed behind closed doors in Ankara. Turkey wants to give its full support, but does not want to make it public. But in order not to fail in getting Turkey’s support for the U.S.-lead war in Iraq in 2003, the White House wants to have unequivocal Turkish commitment in advance.

Actually Turkish-U.S. relations are heading for another cross-roads with the potential of leaping forward or staying at a military oriented, fluctuating state.

The potential is there since a major U.S. trade mission lead by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is expected to come to Turkey (and Poland) this month to explore new investment opportunities, which is going to be the first of its kind. The steps to be taken in the next few months could redefine the future of Turkish-U.S. relations.

Perhaps that is the reason why Ross Wilson, a former Ambassador to Ankara, was appointed with all his expertise to act as Chargé d’Affaires in Ankara in order to by-pass the Congressional impasse to send a new ambassador to Turkey at such a critical time.