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Apr 17 2019

Trump may be unable to help Erdoğan - Bloomberg

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may be expecting more than U.S. President Donald Trump can deliver as Turkey’s president seeks to defuse tensions over Ankara’s missile deal with Russia and prevent the Turkish economy from unravelling, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Erdoğan dispatched top aides to Washington this week to persuade U.S. officials that Turkey should not be sanctioned for its planned purchase of an air defence system from Russia.

U.S. officials say Turkey’s use of the Russian S-400 system alongside U.S.-made F-35 jets would create an unacceptable risk as its radar could enable the Russian military to gain insight into F-35 operations. Turkish officials on Tuesday said they expected a sanctions waiver for the deal.

“Turkey has very few friends left in Washington,” Gönül Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, told Bloomberg. She said Trump seemed unable to “deliver despite the promises he made to the Turks because there are other players in Washington who refuse to tolerate Erdoğan’s increasingly aggressive policies”.

Turkey’s economy has entered its first recession in a decade following a currency crash last year, which was touched off by U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

The IMF predicts the Turkish economy will contract by more than 2 percent this year, and Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a blow in March 31 local elections, losing control of Turkey’s largest cities, including Ankara and likely Istanbul.

On Tuesday, the AKP officially requested a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election, saying the opposition’s narrow victory was fraudulent. Turkey’s election board is expected to soon make a ruling on whether to hold the election again.

Erdoğan’s most pressing problem, said Bloomberg, was that the United States is threatening to cut Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet deal if he goes through with plans to buy the S-400 from Russia.

Erdoğan has repeatedly said the S-400 agreement is a done deal. But a back-door solution to the missile row would bolster the Turkish economy.

“Erdoğan is clearly hoping that Trump will intervene to prevent the dispute over Turkey’s procurement of the Russian S-400 missile defence system from triggering sanctions,” said Anthony Skinner, Middle East and North Africa director at Verisk Maplecroft in Britain.

“We have seen Turkish-U.S. relations on the precipice before only for some last-minute concession to save the day, but things could get increasingly ugly if Turkey completes the purchase,” Skinner told Bloomberg.

Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said he had received “quite positive feedback” about Turkey’s case for buying the Russian missiles. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday, but few details were released to the public.

Albayrak also tried to bolster confidence, saying Turkey’s economy has probably emerged from its first recession in a decade. But the prospect of U.S. sanctions could spur another run on the lira and a wave of bankruptcies that could cripple the economy, according to Bloomberg.

Yet the U.S. president and the State Department have limited say over the scope of sanctions, which must be approved by Congress. As a result, Turkish officials are now considering deploying the S-400 system in a non-NATO country such as Azerbaijan or Qatar.

“Despite all the statements made, I still think Turkey will step back on S-400 issue and refrain from escalating the tension,” said Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Istanbul think tank Edam. “Selling S-400 to a third party country may be one of the solutions.”