Erdoğan and Trump’s stars align - NYT

Relations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump have often blown hot and cold, but their stars are aligned for the moment as their interests have converged on several major issues, the New York Times said on Wednesday.

“To be honest, after our conversation tonight, a new era can begin between the United States and Turkey,” Erdoğan said during a television interview after a friendly phone call between the two leaders on Monday.

Both leaders are under pressure from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and both have increasingly strained relations with many other countries. 

They also understand and like each other, share a love of strongman politics, and have nurtured potentially mutually beneficial business deals though their respective family members, the New York Times said. 

Trump has essentially green-lighted Turkey’s recent military interventions in Syria and Libya. “We came to some agreements during our call,” Erdoğan said this week about their conversation on Libya, without going into details.

Erdoğan will also be pleased that the FBI has opened an investigation into Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric based in the United States who Ankara blames for masterminding the 2016 failed coup attempt. 

Trump has also held off from imposing sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, which NATO says is incompatible with own defence systems. 

Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told the New York Times that Trump had prevented Turkey from deepening its growing ties with Russia.

“If not for this strange Trump factor, we really would have been in a Turkey-Russian axis,” she said. 

The growing accord between the leaders is a dramatic turnaround from 10 months ago, when Erdoğan was on the verge of conflict in northern Syria against U.S. troops and was castigating Washington for its armed support for the Kurdish-led forces there, while Trump threatened to destroy Turkey’s economy.

Tensions eased following the U.S. military’s ceding of territory in northern Syria to Turkish forces and their allies in October 2019.

Meanwhile, the United States is also likely pleased to see Turkey check Russian-backed advances in Syria and Libya, the New York Times said. 

Erdoğan has also softened his tone on the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic and fears of a major recession. He did not activate the S-400 missile system in April, as had been scheduled - perhaps in order to avert U.S. sanctions, or to negotiate a swap deal with the Federal Reserve or protect the investing environment, the New York Times said. 

Yet, Aydıntaşbaş said that this does not mean that Turkey will turn its back on Russia and that it is still conducting a “balancing act”.

In particular, the issue over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system remains unresolved.

“Is there a new phase of cooperation? I think there is a window of opportunity,” Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told the New York Times. 

“The window is that Turkey is not operationalising the S-400s,” he added said. “But if they do, it’s back to square one.”