Little progress expected from Erdoğan-Trump talks
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be at the White House on May 16 for his long-awaited face-to-face talks with President Donald Trump. All the signs are that this will not be an easy conversation. Ankara has set the stakes so high with regard to its demands that it has left itself very little room for diplomatic maneuvering.
Washington, on the other hand, has made it amply clear that Turkey’s demands are unlikely to be met because the U.S. has firm positions, or obstacles it can’t overcome, that make it very hard to please Ankara.
The debate as to how these two key allies came to this situation will undoubtedly rage for a long time. Looked at from today’s position though, many in the pro-government press are underlining the fact that Erdoğan’s talks with Trump will be “a turning point” in Turkish-U.S. ties.
We can only speculate as to what they mean by this.
If they mean that Erdoğan will be able to convince Trump to dump the Kurdish groups the U.S. is allied with in Syria – groups that Turkey views as terrorist organizations – the chances are nil at best at this stage.
If they mean that Erdoğan will convince Trump to come up with an executive decision and extradite Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher Erdoğan says was behind last year’s failed coup, the chances there appear slim to none as well. The way the system works in the U.S. with its separation of powers makes this extremely difficult.
If Erdoğan hopes Trump will help secure the release of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman, and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the deputy general manager of the Turkish state-owned Halk Bank, who are both on trial in the U.S. for violating sanction on Iran, this also appears unlikely for the same reason.
Trump is also unlikely to help secure the release of these men, even if he could, because they are ultimately accused of harming U.S. national interests.
So what’s left then? Very little. In all likelihood, Erdoğan is going to return empty-handed from Washington.
What is he going to do then in order to show Ankara’s anger? Is he going to ban the U.S. from using the İncirlik Air Base in Adana? Our editor-in-chief, Murat Yetkin, has already pointed out that it is very unlikely that Washington has not prepared itself for this contingency and made alternative plans, just in case it does happen.
Is it going to recall its ambassador in Washington indefinitely? That appears highly unlikely also. Is it going to impose sanctions on the U.S.? That would be comical.
Could Ankara carry out its threat to continue striking Kurdish groups in Syria that the U.S. is working with? It could but clearly at a cost. That move could force the U.S. to take further action against Turkey, in addition to the steps it took on the ground after Turkey’s last deadly strike against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the group that is allied to the U.S. that Turkey says is a terrorist organization.
There is also the fact that the strike against the YPG elicited a reprimand not just from Washington but also from Moscow, which is also working with the YPG in Syria.
More than one analyst has been arguing consistently that Turkey needs a new direction with regard to its international ties if it hopes to be listened to. Otherwise, all that Ankara can do is huff and puff.
Regardless of what the pro-government press is saying, therefore, Erdoğan’s talks with Trump are unlikely to produce the “turning point,” they are arguing it will, either in a positive or negative sense. It seems the situation as it is today will continue much the same, with Turkey appearing the weaker side with few options up its sleeve.