Aug 12 2018

Trump and Erdoğan are impatient players in a chess match - Hareetz

The fraught relations between the United States and Turkey may resemble a chess game, but neither President Donald Trump nor President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have the patience or the temperament required of chess players, however their shared interests could force a reconciliation, Hareetz said on Sunday.

Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane over the Syrian border in 2015, leading to an impasse in relations between the two countries, shows that President Erdoğan can renew ties when necessary, Hareetz said. In June 2016, Erdoğan sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, apologising for the death of the Russian pilot and expressing readiness to restore relations. Diplomatic ties have seen a dramatic turnaround since, as the economic interests of the two countries created incentives to seek an end to Russian sanctions, while political interests of both paved the way for cooperation in Syria. President Trump is also known for his phenomenal ability to reverse policy decisions within days of announcing them, Harreetz added. 

In fact, Trump and Erdoğan had a promising start as the Turkish government hoped that the new U.S. administration would give them what they wanted. Upset about the former president Barack Obama’s policies in Syria, as well as about what Turkey sees as a failure to denounce the coup attempt in 2016, Erdoğan was fast to congratulate Trump after his November 2016 election win. 

However, the relations between two countries has kept cooling, as President Trump did not make any significant changes in U.S. policies. The United States continued its support to Kurdish militia in Syria, seeing them as an important ally in the fight against the Islamic State and overlooking the security concerns of its NATO ally, which recognises Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years.

The new U.S. administration also failed to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a cleric and the leader of the Gülen movement which Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup attempt.

The deal between Turkey and Russia for the purchase of Russian-made long-range S-400 ground-to-air missiles further exacerbated Turkey’s relations with the United States and made its NATO allies wary. The United States tried to put pressure on Turkey by threats to block the delivery of F-35 fight jets and the deal for buying Patriot missiles, yet those attempts have not yielded results so far. 

Turkish government also announced that Turkey would not be joining the new economic sanctions against Iran that went into effect this month in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. 

However, the United States and Turkey in early June agreed on a roadmap for the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which was controlled by the Syrian-Kurdish forces, while there were rumours that the countries were close to strike a deal about the release of a U.S. pastor named Andrew Brunson who has been jailed in Turkey for nearly two years over terrorism charges linked to the coup attempt.

It was claimed that Turkey would release pastor Brunson, in exchange for Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker and the former executive of the state-owned Halkbank who was sentenced to 32 months in prison in United States for his role in a scheme that aimed to violate the U.S. sanctions on Iran. However, instead of releasing Brunson, a Turkish court decided to move him to house arrest in late July, which triggered a diplomatic spat between two countries.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey and made their first serious move by announcing sanctions on two Turkish ministers under the Magnitsky Act. Turkish lira saw successive lows as a result and a Turkish delegation sent to Washington to resolve the issue returned empty handed on Wednesday. President Trump announced on Friday that the United States would double the levies on Turkish steel and aluminium exports, as the Turkey’s New Minister of Finance and Treasury and President Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak was presenting the public his new economic model in İstanbul.

Since Friday, Erdoğan repeatedly declared that Turkey would not accept sanctions threats and said that Turkey had other alternatives that may replace United States.