Oct 28 2017

Turkey-US relations "locked into a downward spiral" - analyst

Turkey's relationship with its European partners is passing through turbulent times.

There are presently 155 journalists in Turkish jails, and with two of them being dual German citizens, growing criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's human rights record is slowly taking an economic toll as well, with Merkel leading the way.

Yet, the country's bilateral relationship with the United States is even worse, according to Turkish journalist and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş.

The visa suspension is only the tip of the iceberg in a long-dysfunctional marriage now on a path to self-destruction.

There are significant grievances that taint the relationship for both parties.

The Turkish pro-government media runs stories claiming that the CIA have something to with last year's coup attempt, although there is no credible evidence to support that.

The alleged mastermind of the coup, Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the eponymous Islamic movement, lives in the U.S. but the "boxes of evidence" provided by the Turks have not yet convinced the U.S. Department of Justice of the case for his extradition.

And when Erdoğan publicly offered to exchange Fethullah Gülen for Andrew Brunson, an American pastor arrested in Turkey on charges of being a Gülen follower, it only irritated the U.S. administration, prompting D.C. think tanks to discuss Turkey's "hostage diplomacy".

There is also the ongoing issue with U.S. military support to Syrian Kurds in their fight with the Islamic State. 

Ankara is concerned that those arms might end up in the hands of the Kurdish insurgent group PKK, bolstering its fight against the Turkish military.

From Washington, Turkey's decision to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense system, and its official visits to Iran and Venezuela, have raised concerns about this long-term NATO ally.

Erdoğan's image among the U.S. public has also been heavily damaged.

Last year, the commotion before his Brookings Institute speech made him unpopular among the U.S. press corps. But this year in May, when his bodyguards attacked U.S. citizens protesting outside the Turkish Embassy in D.C., it was the U.S. Congress condemning Erdogan's actions.

The "all-time low", however, between Ankara and Washington hit this month when Turkish law enforcement detained a U.S. consular officer, Metin Topuz, for alleged ties to a 2013 graft case that named ministers and businesspersons close to Erdoğan as suspects.

That investigation, swiftly shut down by the Erdoğan government at the time by replacing police chiefs and prosecutors, resurfaced last year in New York with the arrest of Reza Zarrab, an Iranian gold trader accused of violating international sanctions against Iran.

Those formal charged in the investigation now include Hakan Atilla, the deputy manager of Turkish state bank Halkbank, for facilitating the exchanges with Iran, and Zafer Çağlayan, the former Turkish Economy Minister, for providing legal cover for the scheme.

The fallout from the trial, starting in November, is expected to have huge implications for the Turkish banking sector as well.

With chaos unfolding in neighboring Iraq and Syria, a fragile economy, and poor relations with neighbouring Europe, the last thing Erdogan needs in the run up to 2019 presidential elections is a crisis with the country’s long-time NATO ally. But at this point, that looks impossible to avoid.

You can read Aslı Aydıntaşbaş's article here: