NATO Summit marks a new era in Turkey’s ties with the US, West
This column had described the intense diplomatic events in June as constituting a turning point for Turkish diplomacy after a long period of tension with prominent Western allies, including the United States, France and Greece.
The first phase of this process was completed on June 14 at the NATO leaders’ Summit in Brussels where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a series of bilateral meetings with his interlocutors. Obviously his first in-person meeting with United States President Joe Biden was the center of attention given the troubled relationship between Ankara and Washington over multiple contentious issues.
The statements issued by both leaders demonstrate their will to continue dialogue and engagement in the coming period as Erdoğan affirmed that there are no issues unsolvable in the Turkish-American relationship. He spoke of ties with the U.S. in a very mild-mannered tone and he even surprised many when he said Biden’s characterization of the 1915 events as genocide was not brought up.
Biden, for his part, chose to be brief about his conversation with Erdoğan, but said, “Our teams are going to continue our discussions and I’m confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey and the United States.”
In brief, the Brussels meeting has produced a new approach to the Turkish-American relationship focused on the big picture.
This picture could only be meaningful if Turkey can iron out its differences with other allies as well. Thus, Erdoğan’s meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the NATO Summit were equally important.
After a long period of megaphone diplomacy, Turkish and French leaders met in a calmer climate as they vowed to work together on Libya and Syria. A similar cozy environment was observed during the Erdoğan-Mitsotakis meeting, which brought about a mutual understanding of having a calm summer in 2021.
Beyond all this and in the general context, the NATO Summit has reiterated the value and weight of Turkey for the alliance. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged Turkey as playing a key role in Afghanistan while talks continue for the continued Turkish presence in this country to keep the international airport functions after the alliance’s withdrawal.
In addition, NATO’s new strategic concept that identifies Russia as the main threat and pivots to China furthers Turkey’s future role for the security of the alliance. Turkey, which already confronts Russia in various conflict theaters, has given its approval to this new strategic concept although it could bring about new security risks. This is a new and comprehensive commitment by Turkey to NATO.
The relatively positive atmosphere provided at the NATO Summit between Turkey and the Western allies should also be reflected in the European Union Council meeting on June 24-25. Maintaining this climate through a genuine transactional relationship with Turkey will be benefit the EU as well.
To this end, a renewal of the migrant deal and starting formal negotiations to modernize the customs union with Turkey without delay will be the right messages given by Brussels.