U.S.-Turkey relations likely to turn over new leaf under Biden – analyst

The U.S. government under incoming president Joe Biden will significantly expect Ankara to act as a NATO ally, as Washington would be in favour of normalising relations with Turkey, Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, the director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States' office in Ankara, told the Voice of America on Friday.

U.S. sanctions will not determine the bilateral relationship, Ünlühisarcıklı said, but its course will determine how sanctions are applied.

On Dec.14, the United States imposed sanctions against Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) and several top officials for their role in the acquisition of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems. Sanctions were implemented under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets countries engaging with Russia’s defence sector.

The Russian weapons will be one of the most important points of Turkish-American relations and both Biden’s and Turkey's agenda would be to terminate the sanctions process if possible, Ünlühisarcıklı said.

That the sanctions were implemented during Trump’s term in office could give Biden an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, or to start a positive cycle for the relations, he said.

“Perhaps the first step expected from Ankara would be to abandon the process of rapprochement with Russia and turn its face to the Transatlantic alliance again,” he added.

According to the analyst, Biden’s only dominant political approach in foreign policy at the moment has been to bring relations with Europe closer, “i.e. to reinforce transatlantic cooperation again.”

Although Cyprus is not a NATO country, it can also be expected that Biden will encourage Turkey and Cyprus to work together to reduce tensions in the Mediterranean, he said.

Another important topic under Biden will be the Halkbank case. Ünlühisarcıklıoğlu said that the case was planned to start in March after the jury elections.

One of Turkey’s largest state lenders, Halkbank is accused of laundering about $20 billion on behalf of the Iranian government and other affiliated institutions between 2010 and 2016.

The Turkish government will still have on the table the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States that Turkey holds responsible for several attempts to overthrow the government, and the country’s efforts against Kurdish forces in Turkey and Syria will continue, according to Ünlühisarcıklıoğlu.

Ankara accuses the U.S. administration of backing the Syrian majority-Kurdish group People's Protection Units (YPG), which it maintains is directly affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

 The PKK has been fighting on Turkish soil for more than 30 years, and is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States. The YPG has no such designation, except by Turkey.

Turkey has sent multiple extradition requests for Gülen to the U.S. government, based on his alleged involvement with a failed coup attempt in July 2016.