Biden’s visit could be good start for future Turkey-US ties

Biden’s visit could be good start for future Turkey-US ties

It’s clear that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden deliberately decided to spare his Friday for issues of serious concerns abroad on the future of Turkish democracy, the rule of law and human rights. 

A roundtable meeting with nine parliamentarians closely involved with the Kurdish question was followed by another meeting bringing together civil society activists and a number of prominent journalists like Kadri Gürsel and Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, who have lost their jobs because of their critical stances. While the first group brought together Leyla Zana, Galip Ensarioğlu, Orhan Miroğlu, and Sezgin Tanrıkulu, among others, the latter welcomed the wives of slain Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink and Kurdish activist Tahir Elçi. 

Biden’s message is as clear as possible. The U.S. is continuing to pay attention to Turkey’s democracy and will continue to pressure the government at times when fundamental principles and universal freedoms are violated. It should be remembered that U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass sensitively and closely follows developments in this regard and does not hesitate to make public statements when necessary. 

It was Bass who expressed Washington’s concerns after journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül were arrested, as well as after a campaign was launched against academics who signed a petition calling on the government to cease its operations in southeast Turkey. 

So it could well be said that the first message delivered by Biden on his current visit to Turkey is the need to respect fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

The second message of Biden’s Friday meetings was not so different from the first. While acknowledging Turkey’s right to fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism, he underlined the need for the Kurdish peace process to be relaunched for a lasting and political solution to the problem. 

Biden had the chance to listen first-hand about developments in the southeast, currently witnessing heavy clashes between the PKK and security forces, in his meetings with MPs including Leyla Zana, Altan Tan and Ayhan Bilgen from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as well as three MPs from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

For Washington, a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish problem in Turkey and a stabilization of the eastern parts of the country would also have a positive impact on regional issues, helping to secure more efficient cooperation between Turkey, Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish groups. In addition, it would also help ease differences between Ankara and its Western allies, with the latter regarding the PYD as a political party and not a terrorist group. 

Biden’s Jan. 23 talks are taking place in this very framework. Although the two countries share common interests on many issues in this neighborhood and thus work very closely, it’s interesting to see that the number of differences is constantly increasing. 

The vice president is in Turkey probably as the last high-level U.S. official from the Obama administration. This can therefore be seen as a final opportunity for the alignment of policies during this administration, so a good start with the next U.S. administration can be possible. 

The next U.S. administration may interpret political differences between Ankara and Washington completely differently from the Obama administration. This means that ties could worsen if they are not addressed now. Biden’s visit is therefore a good start for two allies to shape the future of their relations even under the next U.S. administration.