All eyes will be on Washington this week
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has confirmed his visit to the United States following a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump who will host him at the White House on Nov 13.
This confirmatory phone conversation was necessary for Ankara given the extremely negative atmosphere in Washington, D.C., against the Turkish government, particularly after the military offensive into northeastern Syria targeted the YPG.
This negativity has been very visible in the U.S. Congress whose members have overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill on Oct. 29 to punish Turkey with heavy sanctions for its military operation in Syria. They have also adopted a non-binding resolution that recognizes the mass killings of the Armenians during World War I as genocide, drawing a strong reaction from Ankara.
Although tentatively scheduled for this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed action on the sanctions bill to avoid a major diplomatic problem during President Erdoğan’s trip to Washington.
This delay, however, will just provide temporary relief because members of Congress are overwhelmingly united in moving forward with punitive actions against the Turkish government. Many believe that Trump will be reluctant in trying to change the anti-Turkish environment in Congress at a time when he struggles to keep his Republican fellows on his side to avoid a potential impeachment.
President Erdoğan will also press Trump to stop the court case claiming that Halkbank - one of the largest banks – aided in a scheme to evade sanctions against Iran. The Halkbank case will be another issue on which Erdoğan will unlikely hear a positive response from the U.S. president.
The two presidents will also discuss the current situation in northeastern Syria after the U.S. decided to stay in the area, this time for the protection of oil fields in the southern parts of the country.
Over the last few days, Erdoğan has criticized both the U.S. and Russia for failing to accomplish YPG’s full withdrawal from the areas under their control despite deals brokered with Turkey on Oct. 17 and Oct. 22, respectively. For many in Ankara, the Erdoğan-Trump meeting will not lead to a substantial change in the U.S. position that eyes continued support to the YPG.
The fight against ISIL is also expected to be on the agenda, but this issue will be primarily discussed at the extraordinary meeting of the anti-ISIL global coalition meeting in Washington on Nov. 14.
Erdoğan and Trump will sure review all the other aspects of the bilateral relations, including efforts to increase the trade volume to $100 billion and enhance economic ties in general as well as ways to overcome the problems concerning the cooperation in the field of the defense industry. Erdoğan has recently reiterated that Turkey would consider acquiring Patriot air defense systems from the U.S. but underlined his government’s insistence in staying part of the F-35 fighter jet program.
Washington’s stance on these issues is also clear. Turkey’s return to the F-35 project would be possible only after it found an efficient formula to overcome the problems stemming from its deployment of Russian S-400 air defense systems on its soil. This will also determine how long the Trump administration will delay the implementation of the sanctions against Turkey as stated under the CAATSA, Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act.
Given all these reasons, making a breakthrough on the Turkish-American impasse will be a difficult one for the two presidents in the case they would fail to bring about a new and constructive vision for the future of the ties.