The U.S. President Trump’s and his aide’s tweets have made it impossible for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to backtrack his uncompromising position in the latest spat between two countries, Özgür Ünlühisarcikli, an expert on trans-Atlantic relations with the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, told the Atlantic on Saturday.
The relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained for a while, however the recent dispute over the release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed for two years in Turkey, have further exacerbated the relations between two NATO allies.
The Turkish lira has fallen to record lows after the United States placed sanctions on two Turkish ministers for their role in Turkey’s detention of pastor Brunson. President Trump announced on Friday that he had ordered the doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium imports and afterwards the Turkish lira dropped to more than 6.5 to the dollar.
According to Ünlühisarcıklı, Trump’s tariffs are very bad news for the relations between two countries and the escalating tension will affect the Turkish economy in the short run and create security challenges in the medium run.
“But the real impact will be on the longer run,” Ünlühisarcikli said. “I believe that all of this is putting Turkey on a path toward distance from the West. This might not be desirable for either the United States or Turkey at this moment. But it could become a vicious cycle and it might become too late soon to reverse this.”
“What’s going is not in Turkey’s interest. It’s not in America’s interest. It's not in NATO interests," Ünlühisarcıklı said, adding that the only ones that are celebrating are the pro-Russia, anti-American circles in Turkey.
Ünlühisarcikli said that it is possible for both sides to come to an understanding, but that each “should downgrade their expectations from the other.” The two countries should agree to disagree on Kurds in Syria and Iraq, he added. Turkey should stop advancing the narrative that the U.S. was behind the coup attempt in 2016, while the United States should be mindful to Turkey’s security interests, according to Ünlühisarcıklı.
However, Ünlühisarcıklı also believes that in the short run a solution between two countries is impossible unless pastor Brunson and other American citizens in Turkey are released from prisons. He also believes that the leaders of both countries locked themselves into their current positions, making the normalisation of the ties between two countries even more difficult.
“As far as Washington is concerned, Pastor Brunson's release will be a first step for any normalisation of the ties,” Ünlühisarcıklı said. “On the other hand, specifically because of tweets coming from President Trump and his aides, it’s very difficult for President Erdogan to backtrack either, at least in an honourable way. President Trump has not given him any honourable way out.”