Turkey puts NATO at the core of ties with US
Intense diplomacy has been observed before the NATO Summit where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will hold in-person meetings with the leaders of the prominent allies, including U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
First, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar exchanged a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss the developments in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and other regional issues to the concern of NATO.
Then, President Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy adviser, İbrahim Kalın, and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan talked on the phone in preparation of the Erdoğan-Biden summit. The readout of the conversation by Kalın’s office underscored two points about the meeting. First, Positive agenda and strategic cooperation should prevail, and second, all the topics that concern Turkey-U.S. relations should be addressed with an understanding of mutual interest and respect.
These conversations show that neither side wants this meeting between Erdoğan and Biden to be a failure. On the contrary, mutual diplomatic efforts are aiming to make it a success, although behind-the-door talks between the two leaders will be straightforward and tough.
At a press conference before his departure, Erdoğan assured that he would raise the issues concerning Biden’s use of the word “genocide” in an annual commemoration of the 1915 events as well as Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 program. However, his overall rhetoric was moderate and aimed at putting NATO at the center of Turkish-U.S. relations. His lengthy statement has underscored how Turkey was paying importance to NATO as a reliable partner fulfilling its duties and responsibilities in the best possible way.
In this regard, the expectation is that the Turkish and American sides focus on the big picture and highlight the cooperation opportunities instead of the problematic areas in the relations. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, there is no easy solution to the S-400 row, and the U.S. will not stop supporting the YPG in northern Syria. In addition, Washington is not expected to abandon its reluctance over Turkey’s appeals against the presence of Fethullah Gülen on U.S. soil. Turkey and the U.S. will also likely spar over the latter’s characterization of the 1915 events as “genocide” and the criticisms over the former’s poor human rights record.
Secondly, there are so many thematic issues and regional problems that lack of Turkish-American cooperation can create problems to their mutual interests and NATO’s security. Combatting terrorism and regional conflicts in Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and the Black Sea are just a few examples of such issues.
It’s therefore not a coincidence that Turkey, the U.S. and other NATO allies are discussing – in a positive way - how to meet the Turkish conditions to ensure secure operation of Kabul international airport following the completion of the NATO mission in this country.
Plus, it’s not for nothing that Turkey has dispatched a high-ranking delegation to Libya just before the NATO summit and the Berlin II Conference slated for June 23. Turkey has played and continues to play an important role in Libya by restoring the balance between the two rival parties. This paved the way for a renewed peace process.
Also, Turkey’s engagement with Russia in the İdlib province of Syria is being endorsed by the NATO allies as they are aware that breaking the current status quo in the enclave can result in a new humanitarian catastrophe.
A positive agenda that centers all these regional topics does not mean that a fully new page in ties will be opened in Brussels. The differences and mutual mistrust are visibly there and overcoming these will not be easy and quick.
However, an opportunity to introduce a new framework in the bilateral ties is also present because it’s a long-term relationship and covers a vast area of cooperation under the NATO roof.