Aug 15 2018

Qatar enters U.S.-Turkey crisis as Brunson appeal rejected

Qatar’s emir, a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, entered a crisis between Turkey and the United States as he arrived in Ankara to lend his support to the NATO member.

Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Erdoğan will discuss “means of strengthening the existing strategic cooperation between the two countries in various fields”, QNA, Qatar's state-run news agency, reported. His visit came as Erdoğan imposed additional tariffs on U.S. goods, including cars, alcohol and cosmetics, in response to President Donald Trump’s decision on Friday to double import duties on Turkish steel and aluminium.

Turkey is appealing for political and financial support from its allies in the Middle East as it seeks to keep its economy from entering a full-blown financial crisis over the tensions with the United States, centred around Turkey’s internment of Americans on terrorism charges including a U.S. pastor. The lira has slumped about 40 percent to successive record lows this year on concerns about economic overheating. The losses have deepened by the political and economic battle with Washington, which escalated two weeks ago with U.S. sanctions against two Turkish ministers.

Turkey's imposition of tariffs on U.S. goods is "pretty astounding given all the levers Washington could use to wreck the Turkish economy," Ryan Gingeras, Turkey expert and associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, said in comments on Twitter.

The lira rose 2.9 percent to 6.17 per dollar on Wednesday despite news that a Turkish court had rejected a request by U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson to release him from house arrest, transferring the appeal to a higher court. Measures by the Turkish authorities to limit lira-foreign currency swap operations and the release of two Greek soldiers from Turkish custody late on Tuesday appeared to bolster investor sentiment.

Turkish Economy and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, visited Kuwait on Sunday during a tour of Gulf countries. Kuwait did not immediately accede to a request from Albayrak for around $1.8 billion to help support the lira, one official with knowledge of the matter told Ahval.

Qatar has invested billions of dollars in Turkey and the two countries have jointly supported Islamic militants in Syria fighting President Bashar Assad. Qatar National Bank (QNB) is the owner of Turkish bank Finansbank, which constitutes about 15 percent of QNB's assets. Turkey also has troops based in Qatar.


U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkish custody

It is not clear what political effect Qatar’s active involvement in the Turkey crisis would have on the U.S. approach towards Turkey and the Gulf country. In April, Trump said relations between Washington and Doha worked “extremely well”, reversing his criticism that Qatar supported terrorism as he welcomed the emir to the White House. But Qatar is still in a standoff with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states -- an economic embargo is still in place and diplomatic ties remain severed.

More U.S. sanctions on Turkey may be on the way. A White House official told Reuters late on Tuesday that it may implement more measures against Turkey in “a few days or a week” unless Brunson was released.

Ibrahim Kalin, Erdoğan’s spokesman, told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday that the president would speak with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the ongoing crisis between the United States and Turkey as he sought to drum up support in Europe.

Turkey is seeking to revive relations with the European Union and portray Trump and the United States as an aggressor in global politics.