Turkish diplomacy at a turning point in June
June will be very busy in terms of international diplomacy. At the center will be the G7 Summit between June 11 and 13 in the United Kingdom, the NATO leaders’ summit on June 14, the U.S.-European Union Summit on June 15, the second Berlin Conference on Libya on June 23, as well as the European Union Council on June 24 and 25.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s first foreign trip will also pave the way for an American-Russian summit with President Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Geneva.
The consequences of all these events will significantly affect Turkey’s bilateral relations with Western powers and its general foreign policy. Let’s look at all the issues item by item:
Ties with the U.S.: On June 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Biden will meet in their first in-person encounter since the latter came to office on Jan. 20. Many people are wondering whether the meeting will help break the ice between the two leaders and start a new era in bilateral relations.
Erdoğan has twice expressed his expectation that the meeting with Biden will open a new page in ties, despite existing serious problems. Washington, on the other hand, has been careful to avoid using such precise and promising language.
In an interview with this columnist on the occasion of her visit to Ankara, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman underscored Turkey’s importance as a critical ally to the United States but also emphasized that the Brussels summit between the two leaders will feature a frank and direct conversation on some stresses and strains of the relationship, including the deteriorating state of human rights and democracy in Turkey.
It seems Washington will not rush for a quick normalization with Ankara, but at the same time, it will continue to engage with it on regional issues such as Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
In an interview with the Turkish media on May 31, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu admitted that ties with Washington have been further hurt because of the new administration’s characterization of the 1915 events as genocide yet also said: “While all this is happening, we also see that the new administration is seeking better relations with Turkey. Better dialogue, better cooperation.”
Ties with the EU: A series of meetings through June will also reflect on the course of the ties between Turkey and the European Union. Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Athens, where he met Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, seems to have resulted in a mutual understanding to avoid crises in the Mediterranean and focus on operational issues that will benefit both sides.
Plus, the two ministers also agreed on a meeting between Erdoğan and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels. The continued political dialogue and military-to-military talks over some confidence-building measures will certainly ease the Ankara-Brussels dialogue.
Another important development was the fact that France and Germany emphasized the importance of cooperation with Turkey in a joint statement on May 31 following a joint cabinet meeting.
However, the most important signal about the future of these ties will come during the bloc’s council meeting. In line with the April resolution of the EU Council, Turkey is expecting the formal launch of negotiations to modernize the customs union and the renewal of the March 2016 statement on Syrian refugees.
Çavuşoğlu recalled that it is time for the union to deliver its promises to Turkey while voicing Ankara’s expectations of seeing the positive agenda previously outlined by Brussels.
In this context, European leaders should realize that further delaying this as a result of the Greek Cypriot veto could ruin the existing dialogue and goodwill between the parties. There are surely some member states that are not fully convinced about the change of tone in Turkish diplomacy, but there is no time to prove whether it’s tactical or genuine.
However, the Libyan conflict and efforts to further foster the inter-Libyan political process will also play a crucial role as Turkey has often been told to withdraw its troops from the North African country. Some pressure will be put on countries like Turkey, which has a military presence in Libya, at the Berlin Conference. Nobody is expecting an overnight withdrawal of the Turkish troops, but some are expecting a gesture from Ankara on this front amid hopes that others would follow in its wake.
In sum, all these events and hectic talks will determine how Turkey’s ties with its Western allies evolve in the coming period.