Turkey, US relations not quite off to a good start
It has only been three weeks since the newly sworn-in President Joe Biden took office in the United States. It would be hard to suggest that this short period has offered promising signs re-garding Ankara-Washington ties in the new era.
When this column was being written late afternoon on Feb. 9, the sole contact between the two allies was a phone conversation on Feb. 2 between the two presidents’ chief advisers, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Both men expressed their expectation of a “strong, sustainable and constructive model of relationship in the new era,” according to a readout issued by the Turkish presidency.
Both Ankara and Washington vouched that more high-level discussions between the two countries were in the pipeline and efforts to get Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on the phone were underway.
Sources believe that contacts will be established within days with plans for the first in-person meeting to take place on the occasion of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels in March. However, there is no certainty when President Erdoğan and President Biden will engage in a direct conversation. This shows that there is no big appetite on either side for a hasty beginning as there seem no policy changes on either side about the S-400s and YPG problems.
There are additional signs on why this new era would bring about more difficulties in front of a sound dialogue between the two capitals. As expected, Washington reprioritized human rights and democracy as the essential pillars of its foreign policy and has shown that it will adopt a more outspoken stance when it sees the violation of these basic values in the world.
The first statement by the U.S. State Department on Turkey was regarding the recent Boğaziçi University protests. The U.S. spokesman expressed Washington’s concerns over detentions and students and condemned anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric.
The second statement was a reply to Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu’s claim that the U.S. was behind the July 2016 coup attempt. Describing these claims as false, the U.S. State Department said, “These remarks and other unfounded and irresponsible claims of U.S. responsibility for events in Turkey are inconsistent with Turkey’s status as a NATO Ally and strategic partner of the United States.”
It’s clear proof that the U.S. will not remain silent to such claims and efforts to be dragged into the internal Turkish politics.
Also, a first statement from the Pentagon in the past week reaffirmed that Washington’s view has not changed regarding the S-400s that they were incompatible with the stealth F-35 fighters.
One more thing also happened in the same period. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, who was refraining to appear on the Turkish media since he was appointed to Ankara in mid-2019, held an on-the-record meeting with the reporters and conveyed that Washington’s policies concerning the S-400s and the YPG will not change. No doubt, with the increase of the role of the U.S. State Department in the making of the U.S. foreign policy, his mandate has surely been empowered in comparison with the Trump era.
It’s always positive to hear the policy lines at first hand but his statements on the YPG and S-400s were not positively recorded by Ankara. In an interview with senior Turkish columnists, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has openly criticized Ambassador Satterfield’s statements as “unfortunate and inconsistent.”
In reply to Washington’s categorical statements on the continued partnership with the YPG, Akar repeated that the ties would not improve if the U.S. supports this terror group just on the other side of its Syrian borders.
It’s surely too early to talk about the course of the ties between the two countries, but the first three weeks have not marked a good start.