Turkey in a rapid, intense start with Trump administration

Turkey in a rapid, intense start with Trump administration

A new era in the United States and the world has just begun, as Donald Trump took his oath of office on Jan. 20 in the inauguration in Washington D.C. As an outsider and a real estate mogul, President Trump will certainly make his mark on national and global politics in the coming four years with his ambition “to make America great again.”

Just like the rest of the world, the Turkish government is closely watching the handover in the White House and is hoping to rapidly engage with the new administration, as regional issues – Syria and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - require immediate actions and policies. 

This is why Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was sent to represent Turkey at the inauguration ceremonies in Washington, also holding some high-level talks with key officials of the Trump administration. Çavuşoğlu had an opportunity to meet with Trump’s designated national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and other prominent Republican figures, at a dinner hosted by Trump late on Jan. 19 at Washington’s Union Station. 

It is very important that Çavuşoğlu attended these meetings. It is also known that a Turkish presidential delegation is expected to visit Washington in February to make first official contact and to take the pulse for a top-level meeting between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the coming months.

Ankara has two key demands from the new administration: The immediate extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled cleric believed to be the mastermind of the July 2016 coup attempt, and an end to support for the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its alliance with its armed group the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in fighting against ISIL in Syria. 

The first signals from the new administration seem to be positive for Turkey, as the Trump administration is not expected to care much about Gülen. On the PYD issue, Trump’s aides will have to make a detailed analysis before deciding on whether to continue in their anti-ISIL struggle with the support of non-state actors - or to engage with states including Turkey, Russia and even Syria. 

In an interview on Jan. 18, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım hinted that the government has received some positive messages from the new owners of the White House that the U.S. will prefer to work with Turkey as a long-standing NATO ally. 

As the Washington Post recently put it, “Amid high global anxiety over Trump, Turkey and Russia are among the few nations who are sure that things are about to get much better.”

One reason for this is the upcoming Astana talks on Syria on Jan. 23, which will be the first international initiative Trump’s administration will show up for, (although it will be a very low-level participation). Turkey and Russia are willing to let the new administration get involved in their attempts to continue a nationwide truce in Syria and to launch a political transition period to end the nearly six-year-old unrest in the war-torn country.  

One key aspect of the Turkish-American relationship is the trust deficit between the security and intelligence institutions, which needs to be immediately addressed and rebuilt accordingly. This will require a new political framework between Ankara and Washington, with mutual demands to return to normalcy in handling all aforementioned issues.

If nothing else, it will certainly be very interesting to observe global developments and balances, as well their security reflections, under Trump’s rule.