May 10 2019

Turkey's Erdoğan laments double dealing in speech to ambassadors

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on his foreign partners to respect their word to Turkey in a speech to ambassadors in Ankara that in large part comprised a list of old grievances with older allies.

“The thing that saddens us most, that we find most unbearable, is when someone tells us one thing to our face, and then does another behind our back”, Erdoğan said towards the end of the speech.

The Turkish president called for diplomatic cooperation with his international partners and said Turkey aimed to continue developing relations with countries around the world.

But large parts of the speech focused on issues that have been deadlocked for long periods without any signs of resolution in the near future.

Foremost among these was the impasse in northern Syria, where Turkey’s opposition to U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish groups has led to years of tensions.

Erdoğan lamented the “tens of thousands” of truckloads of weapons and other equipment that he said had been transferred to the Kurdish forces. The Turkish president did not name the United States during this speech, but has previously aimed criticism at U.S. administrations over the same issue.

Turkey views the U.S.-backed People’s Protection Units as a security threat due to its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and has threatened to launch a military operation against the northern Syrian territories controlled by the group and its allies. 

Previous Turkish incursions, Erdoğan said, had taken control of 4,000 square km of territory in Syria and allowed for the resettlement of 320,000 Syrian refugees.

Negotiations with U.S. officials over the creation of a safe zone in the region bordering Turkey have so far failed to make concrete progress.

Erdoğan went on to condemn European Union countries for what he called their “tolerance, even support” for the PKK, which began an armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey in 1984 and is on the terror list of Turkey, the United States and the EU. Erdoğan also condemned Turkey's Western partners for being a safe harbor for the followers of the Gülen Movement, a group that the Turkish administration blames for the 2016's coup attempt.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was the likely target of Erdoğan’s condemnation of “protectionist measures, trade and currency wars and threatening rhetoric” that he said was poisoning relations between states.

Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods to 25 percent this week, but Turkey has also fallen victim to the U.S. president’s protectionist policies. Trump increased tariffs on Turkish goods during a diplomatic crisis last year.

Turkey was hit hard by sanctions on two ministers during the same crisis, which was triggered by the country’s imprisonment of an American pastor. The sanctions contributed to a currency crisis which Turkey is yet to recover from.

U.S. sanctions may hit Turkey again this year over its planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, which Washington and NATO officials say could allow Moscow to access sensitive information on NATO military hardware.

“You become a NATO member and have a place of strategic importance, and then they discuss placing sanctions on you … Such a partnership is not possible”, Erdoğan said.

The Turkish president also touched on the ongoing tensions around the island of Cyprus, where competing claims over energy resources have put Ankara at odds with the Greek Cypriot administration and European Union.

Turkey does not recognise the Greek Republic of Cyprus, which controls the south of the island, and opposes its plans made in conjunction with European partners to exploit the potentially huge energy resources discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean.

This week tensions rose around the island when a Turkish drillship entered an area marked out in the Republic of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. 

“Stability in the eastern Mediterranean can only be achieved by observing the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would not allow any “faits accomplis” in the region.

The Cyprus issue is one of a long list holding back Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, which the European Parliament voted to suspend earlier this year over human rights concerns.

Erdoğan reiterated his aim to secure EU membership, as well as voicing his broader concerns over what he called a wave of enmity to Muslims around the world.