Erdoğan, Trump meet amid painful Turkish-American ties
All aside, the timing of the rendezvous between U.S. President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan narrows down the expectations for a sound and realistic outcome from the White House on Nov 13.
The Erdoğan-Trump meeting coincides with the beginning of the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry against the U.S. president at the House of Representatives. According to the U.S. media, George Kent, a deputy assistant Secretary of State, and Bill Taylor, a former ambassador and the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, are expected to testify in the hearings as witnesses.
The press conference to be held following the Erdoğan-Trump meeting will be the latter’s first public appearance after the testimonies and will sure be bombarded with questions on this new phase of the impeachment process.
Still, it would not be accurate to suggest that the visit will fully be futile. As stated by Erdoğan at the press conference before his departure to the U.S., there are so many issues of concern for both allies, regionally and bilaterally.
He expressed his expectation that this meeting would launch a new era on the security chapter of the Turkish-American ties with hopes that Trump will change his mind on the YPG and particularly on inviting Mazlum Kobane to the White House. That’s why he will hand a comprehensive dossier on Kobane’s terror-related acts to Trump during the meeting.
In addition, Erdoğan has said that he will broadly discuss the current situation in Syria with Trump by reiterating Ankara’s dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Oct. 17 deal that stipulates the withdrawal of all of the YPG elements from the 30-kilometer-deep safe zone.
The thing is that Trump believes that the problem in northeastern Syria was resolved through this agreement as it allowed the relocation of U.S. troops for the protection of the Syrian oil fields. He, thus, won’t be very enthusiastic about returning to this issue.
The real, contentious part of the dialogue will be about bilateral relations. Erdoğan has admitted that his trip to Washington comes as the bilateral relations between the two allies are passing through a painful period.
A statement from National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien just days before Erdoğan’s visit has resurfaced the U.S. discomfort with Turkey’s deployment of the Russian S-400 air defense systems. O’Brien has urged that sanctions would be inevitable if Turkey does not get rid of the Russian systems in line with the CAATSA, Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. It remains to be seen whether Trump will continue to defend Turkey’s decision to purchase these weapons by putting the blame on the Obama administration or will tell his guest that he can no longer delay the implementation of the sanctions. Eventually, for Washington, Turkey’s return to the F-35 joint fighter program will be linked to Ankara’s decision on the S-400s.
As Erdoğan said, it’s understood that the two presidents will find some time to discuss all the other aspects of the ties, including a recent congressional sanctions draft bill that targets the Turkish president and his family as well, the ongoing Halkbank trial, and so on, in person, before the delegations join them. Time will show to what extent Trump will use his influence on these congressional and legal procedures.
Many who closely follow the recent trend on the ties between the two countries suggest that this meeting in Washington will be far from introducing a new air to the ailing Turkish-American ties.