Turkey has abandoned diplomacy

Turkey has abandoned diplomacy

Angry statements from Ankara being flung in all directions, but mostly at the West, show that Turkey has abandoned diplomacy in international affairs. The joint press conference last week in Ankara by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his U.S. counterpart, Rex Tillerson, showed this once again.

By listing a litany of grievances and laying down demands in front of the cameras, Çavuşoğlu was clearly grandstanding and playing to a domestic gallery. The discomfort on the U.S. side was discernible from Tillerson’s bemused expression as Çavuşoğlu listed Ankara’s demands from Washington.

What Turkey wants is well-known by now. Heading the list is the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the self-exiled imam who resides in Pennsylvania, on the grounds that he masterminded last year’s failed coup attempt.

Ankara also wants the United States to abandon its alliance with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), saying these are terrorist groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In connection with this, Ankara also wants the PYD not to be given any political role in the Syrian negotiations, and the Kurdish cantons in northern Syria, established with U.S. support, to be disbanded and handed over to Sunni Arabs.

Turkey’s demands are not restricted to this. Ankara also wants the immediate release of Reza Zarrab, a shady Turkish citizen of Azeri Iranian descent, who faces serious charges in the U.S. for violating sanctions against Iran to the tune of billions of dollars. 

Zarrab is known to have had close dealings with the highest echelons of the Turkish political leadership, so this is widely assumed to be what lies at the bottom of Ankara’s sensitivity in this regard.

In a new and related development, Ankara also wants the immediate release of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a senior executive from the state owned Halkbank, who was arrested recently in the U.S. on the ground that he conspired with Zarrab.

Whatever the merit or demerits of these demands, it is not usual for a foreign minister to lay them on the line like this in public, leaving little room for diplomacy. Such things are generally discussed behind closed doors, while euphemisms like “frank and constructive discussions” are used in front of the media.

But foreign policy has long since become an instrument of domestic policy in Turkey and, as was already mentioned, Çavuşoğlu was playing to a domestic gallery at that press conference. He may or may not be aware of it, though, but by preferring this course of action, he was inadvertently accepting that there is no chance that Washington will submit to his demands.

It is unlikely that the Trump administration, in which Ankara had placed so much hope initially, will want to appear to have been strong-armed into pleasing Turkey in such a way. 

This aside though, any realistic assessment will quickly reveal that the extradition of Gülen, the severance of U.S.-PYD/YPG ties, and the release of Zarrab and Atilla are distant prospects.

Gülen will enjoy the benefits of an independent U.S. judiciary, which Zarrab and Atilla have little chance of bending to suit their requirements – even with the best American legal team and all the pressure from Ankara – because they are ultimately accused of having harmed U.S. national interests.

Washington’s chance of severing ties with the PYD at a time when senior congressmen are lauding this group and the YPG as “reliable and brave allies,” while castigating Turkey as an “increasingly unreliable and problematic ally” also appear next to nil, given developments on the ground in Syria.

All that is left for Çavuşoğlu then is to put diplomacy aside in order to gain political points at home, at a time when our already struggling democracy is heading for its most serious crisis ever. Many will argue, and do argue, that this is not the way foreign ministers usually behave. 

In today’s Turkey, though, that is beside the point.