Erdoğan returns with little to show from Biden meeting

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finally met his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden on Monday with high hopes of resolving longstanding bilateral disagreements. But the talks were always doomed to be limited, according to Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C.

“The vast structural disagreements in U.S.-Turkish relations are too vast to be solved on the sidelines of a NATO summit,” Erdemir told Ahval’s Turkey Abroad podcast. 

Afterwards, Erdoğan insisted that he saw in the U.S. president someone who wants a “productive partnership” with Turkey. Biden too sounded a positive note, describing the meeting as “productive” but without providing further details. 

Erdemir said that direct meetings were Erdoğan’s “M.O.” during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who had a similarly personalised approach to international affairs.

In contrast, Erdemir said Biden would pursue relations with Turkey based on institutional ties, multilateralism, and an emphasis on human rights.

The long-anticipated meeting between the two leaders followed an unconventionally personal formula. They met with only interpreters for close to an hour, before moving onto shorter but broader talks with their respective delegations. This informal style limited what either side was bound to achieve in the new era, Erdemir said. 

Speaking afterwards to the press, Erdoğan said his stance on key issues, including the status of Turkey’s Russian-made S-400 missiles and opposition to the U.S.’ Kurdish-led allies in Syria, remained unchanged.

No tangible progress had been made other than the avoidance of a further crisis, Erdemir said.

“To me, the striking thing is that what Erdoğan delivered in his presser is indicative of how marginalised Turkey is within NATO,” he added. “Relations have been so strained that a return to some semblance of normalcy is now celebrated.” 

Few observers precited a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting in Brussels, but this limited outcome followed what Erdemir said was the Biden administration’s transactional approach to Turkey.

Biden was “smart” to limit the chances of open disagreements at the NATO summit ahead of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and would come away satisfied from the Erdoğan talks, Erdemir said.  

Meanwhile, despite high expectations on the Turkish side, Erdoğan returned home with few concrete deliverables to end his country’s geopolitical isolation and shore up the struggling economy, he said