US seeks assurances from Turkey on S-400s
A webinar hosted by the Washington-based Atlantic Council that has brought senior Turkish and American officials together has created a very useful platform for the audience to hear the two sides’ views on key matters related to their bilateral agenda.
These officials were United States special envoy for Syria Ambassador James Jeffrey, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield and spokesman and chief foreign policy advisor of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, İbrahim Kalın.
Although the topic of the discussion was Idlib and recent developments in the war-torn Syria, the participants found an opportunity to convey their positions on a number of contentious bilateral issues, the S-400 being atop of them.
Kalın has informed that the activation of the S-400 systems is delayed due to the coronavirus, but underlined that the process will move forward as planned. Erdoğan had many times stressed that the activation will take place in April 2020 despite Washington’s threats and opposition.
A relative reconciliation between Turkey and the U.S. is indeed being observed since late 2019 and early 2020, particularly in the context of Syria. A deal Turkey and the U.S. brokered in October 2019 is still holding and the latter’s support to the YPG is no longer hitting the front pages of the Turkish newspapers. U.S. support to Turkey in its fight against the Syrian regime in Idlib, where dozens of the Turkish troops were killed, has further changed the paradigm and led to a further convergence between the two allies.
Turkey’s donation of medical supplies to the U.S. and a letter sent by Erdoğan to U.S. President Donald Trump has been considered as yet another move by Ankara towards Washington. Many in Ankara link this gesture with the Turkish government’s ambition to secure a swap deal with the U.S. Federal Reserve. It’s been reported that Erdoğan has openly raised this issue with Trump in a recent phone conversation.
An indirect response to this request came from Ambassador Satterfield. Confirming the ongoing dialogue between the two capitals, Satterfield said, “There are certain requirements set by the open markets committee of the Fed concerning potential eligibility. They are financial monetary requirements and conditions. They are not politically linked.”
The message Satterfield has conveyed was that Turkey should not seek a political favor from Washington on a purely financial and technical matter.
There was another important message given by the U.S. envoy. Operating the S-400 system would expose Turkey to the very significant possibility of congressional sanctions, Satterfield underlined, stressing, “We do not have in our possession the assurances from the government of Turkey that would allow us to mitigate those concerns.”
At this stage, Turkey has only announced that it delayed the activation of the S-400s. Obviously, the U.S. is asking more than that, and delaying the activation will not satisfy it. Statements from Washington put in a very explicit way that operating the S-400s will cause a deep crisis with Ankara, something the fragile Turkish economy can hardly deal.
Turkey has now gained time by delaying the activation, but the S-400 conflict continues to cast a shadow on the relationship today and, if not solved, tomorrow.