Three main differences of opinion between US, Turkey
There are important differences of opinion on three essential matters between Turkey and the United States.
These three matters actually left their mark on the Sept. 22 meeting in New York between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. I will try to explain how the Americans are handling these three matters that are negatively affecting the relationship between the United States and Turkey.
The first one is Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey wants to be extradited rapidly. The U.S., on the other hand – even though it changed its inexplicable stance at the beginning – has said this demand cannot be met at once. Yes, there has been quite a positive change compared to July 16, but this was because the Americans could not comprehend it at first.
It dawned on them later. For that reason, they started saying “we are cooperating” instead of “give us evidence.” For this reason, while just two prosecutors normally process extradition demands, the U.S. Justice Department appointed six prosecutors to the Gülen file.
There was a panel of the Turkish Heritage Organization in Washington a couple of days ago. One of the speakers, journalist Nedim Şener, referred to the Green Card case of Fethullah Gülen in 2008. He pointed out that it was Morton Abramowitz, the American ambassador to Ankara between 1989 and 1991, who wrote a reference letter to Gülen. Upon this, retired Ambassador Jim Holmes, who was among the audience, took the floor and said: “I know, for example, that when Morton Abramowitz was asked to sign a letter, he checked with the government of Turkey, and he asked if there is a case pending and if there was any objection to sending such a letter of reference. He was told there was no pending case, no reason not to sign and not to support the reference letter.” When I called Mr. Abramowitz, who is one of the closest political figures in Washington to Gülen, to ask further details about Ambassador Jones’ remarks, he said: “I trust whatever Jim says. But, frankly, I simply do not remember this.”
The second matter is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There is a series of differences from the view on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, from Sunni groups in Syria to the presence of Turkish troops at Bashiqa in Iraq. However, while ISIL is the priority for the U.S., it a fundamental difference that Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as the predominant threat. Upon President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s accusation during a meeting with Biden that the U.S. was providing arms to the YPG, I spoke to a top-level Pentagon official. Because in that meeting even though Biden said he did not know of this, Defense Minister Ash Carter said arms were given and will continue to be given to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDG), in which the Kurds (YPG) are the main component, in an attitude that is incompatible with the trust relation required between allies. The official said arms aid to SDG were done on the basis of operations and the last one was for the liberation of Manbij in June; however, now before the operation on Raqqa starts, there will again be ammunition and small arms aid. The SDG will be in Raqqa, he added.
As a matter of fact, while the Turkish army was proceeding toward Dabiq with Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces, ISIL evacuated their families this week as the U.S. was supporting Turkey, the official said. The fracture on the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political wing of the YPG, will continue. But before that, it seems that Turkey’s diplomatic efforts on Turkey’s military presence in Bashiqa and the Sunni components that Turkey has trained at the Bashiqa camp will constitute a problem.
The third is Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab. This is a highly risky issue because as Erdoğan has publicly announced, he has been a direct party in this business after talks with Biden. It was true that the judge was invited to Turkey in 2014 by a law firm close to Gülen. Erdoğan, of course, has a right to express his views; however, it was a problematic situation that he voiced a claim that was not confirmed that Bharara was also invited to Turkey by Gülenists.
As you can see, there is no significant progress on these three matters. The fight with ISIL and developments in the Zarrab case in the next four months may cause new problems. When one looks back, both sides made mistakes. As well as the U.S.’ unacceptable attitude after July 15, Turkey’s conspiracy theories targeting the U.S. made matters more complicated. On top of all that, due to the number of actors engaged in this tension, the number of people defending the importance of Turkish-U.S. relations has decreased. As a result, the Turkish-U.S. alliance is somewhat the worse for wear.