Will Trump-Erdoğan meeting make a miracle happen in S-400 crisis?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will embark on a week-long Japan-China tour on June 26, a few days after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) faced a major defeat in the do-over mayoral elections in Istanbul.
His long address at an AKP parliamentary group meeting on June 25 signaled that they received the message of the electorate and therefore will be undergoing some changes in accordance with an internal assessment on the election results.
As the Istanbul elections are now over, Erdoğan will have to deal with Turkey’s urgent problems, including an ongoing bilateral crisis with the United States over the procurement of the S-400s and worsening economic conditions.
A number of things happened before Erdoğan’s departure to Japan. On June 24, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited the chairpersons of three political parties represented in parliament, including the AKP’s main ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP); main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the İYİ (Good) Party.
Akar provided necessary information about all the aspects of Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400s from Russia but the main reason of his visit was to create a national unity on this matter before Erdoğan’s meeting with Trump.
The second development was the release of a Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul and his family from house arrest on June 25. That can be interpreted as a small but valuable gesture before the key meeting.
The third was about Erdoğan’s reiterated messages on the S-400 issue. He repeated once again that the air defense system will be deployed on Turkish soil in July and that no country can impose any pressure on Turkey’s sovereign decisions. Just a day before Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had vowed that Turkey will deploy these weapons no matter whatever sanction it could trigger from the U.S.
The only strategy Turkey could produce so far seems to be the Trump effect. Erdoğan and many other Turkish officials have long been underlining the difference between Trump and his lower-ranking officials in handling the S-400 crisis. Many Turkish officials naively believe that Trump will agree with Erdoğan to adopt a softer path in dealing with this issue at the expense of discrediting the entire U.S. intelligence community, the Pentagon and the State Department. It’s expected that Erdoğan will repeat Turkey’s proposal of setting up a technical committee to study the U.S. concerns over the deployment of the F-35s and Russian S-400s together on Turkish territories.
For many in Ankara, it’s very unlikely that Trump will turn a blind eye to his security and diplomatic staff as well as Congress which have made their positions open a long time ago. With Turkey already having deployed troops to Russia for training and invited Russian military representatives to hold the on-site examination in places where the S-400s would be deployed, it leaves no room for any diplomatic maneuver to postpone the process.
Former U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan’s letter that declared Turkey that its participation in the F-35 program will cease by July 31 was just the first phase of sanctions. U.S. officials underlined that it was done within the knowledge of Trump’s national security adviser. In addition, there is an ongoing work at the State Department over the next phases of sanctions to be imposed on Turkey. All these tell that the Erdoğan-Trump meeting will hardly make a miracle happen on the resolution of the S-400 crisis.
However, having said that, in a bid to avoid a total collapse of the Turkish-American relationship and security partnership, the two sides may announce, in the coming period, an agreement on setting up a buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian border after long discussions. But, first of all, one should wait for the results of Trump-Erdoğan meeting this week.