Turkey conveys important messages to US
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy adviser and spokesman, İbrahim Kalın, conveyed some very important messages to the United States through an interview published by daily Milliyet on Oct. 12. What augments the value of these messages is the fact that they came three weeks before Erdoğan and U.S. President Joe Biden meet in Rome on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Overall, Kalın described the meeting in Rome as an important opportunity for the two countries to resolve their differences on a number of critical issues through dialogue and genuine engagement. He goes on to say that Turkey will stay committed to working for the improvement of its ties with the U.S. through a positive agenda.
“What we wish for the two strategic partners and allies is to discuss all these issues on their agenda, advance on the issues we agree on and try to resolve the issues we disagree on through dialogue,” he said.
Three main issues are troubling the Turkish-American relationship, according to Kalın, citing them as the U.S.’ indifference to Turkey’s demands on the presence of the FETÖ leaders in the U.S., the continued support to the YPG and the exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 joint fighter jet program because of its deployment of Russian air defense systems.
Let’s go one by one. In the foreseeable future, there seems no policy change in Washington over the presence of Fethullah Gülen and other Gülenists in the U.S. Similarly, the U.S. support to the YPG will not vanish in the coming period as Biden has decided to extend the continuation of the national emergency with respect to the situation in and in relation to Syria through a notice he conveyed to the Congress.
Turkey’s disturbance with regard to the recent escalation in northern Syria, which increased attacks against the Turkish security personnel, has deepened. After the killing of two security personnel over the weekend, Erdoğan has vowed that Turkey will take all the measures to stop it. Some interpreted this vow as a signal of a fresh cross-border operation but there are no visible political and military preparations to this end.
Turkey’s retaliation may be limited to suppressing certain targets in the YPG-controlled areas with systematic and intense firing. This campaign is believed to be endorsed through diplomatic calls on the U.S. and Russia, which have working cooperation with the YPG in the field.
The third issue addresses the future of Turkey-U.S. defense industry bonds. Turkey’s request for the purchase of 40 new F-16s and modernization kits for its 80 existing warplanes is important in terms of to what extent the two allies will be able to keep this engagement alive in the future. As known, Turkey was kicked off from the F-35 fifth-generation joint fighter program after it had deployed the Russian S-400 air defense systems. Turkey was planning to replace its aging F-16 fleets with the procurement of 100 F-35 fighter jets in the coming 15 years.
In the absence of F-35s and given the fact that Turkey needs at least 15 years to manufacture its own combat warplane, the strengthening of its F-16 fleet seems to be the best stopgap option, according to experts.
But that has a political meaning, too. This shows Turkey’s intention to endure its decades-old defense industry relationship with the U.S. as a NATO member which is tasked to protect the alliance’s southern flank. The U.S. rejection, therefore, can symbolize a real end of Turkey-U.S. strategic cooperation.
Therefore, Kalin’s words underline that there is still an opportunity to leave these differences behind and that the Erdoğan’-Biden meeting can therefore form a good basis for this purpose. One problem that Ankara tends to ignore in this picture is the fact that Turkey’s image and credibility in the U.S. capital are so weak and frayed, both in bureaucratic circles and in Congress, that the administration cannot overcome it even if it wanted to.
In addition to all the challenges outlined above, Ankara should acknowledge this additional image problem in Washington and think over what needs to be done to overcome it. This would perhaps facilitate in improving the ties in general and in paving the way for the solution of all the other problems.