Yaşar Yakış
Dec 22 2017

Dark clouds gather above U.S.-Turkey relations

For more than 10 years Turkish-American relations have followed a downward trend with no bright light in sight.

In Syria, Turkey is seriously disappointed to see that the United States continues to supply weapons and ammunition to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military branch of the strongest Kurdish political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Washington’s promise to Turkey that these weapons will be taken back after the operation to oust Islamic State from its capital Raqqa ISIS remain unfulfilled.

President Donald Trump promised his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that the supply of arms would be stopped, but various officials in the U.S. administration contradicted their president and said openly that the United States would continue to cooperate with the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

Turkey is at odds with NATO over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles. Many in NATO brought to Turkey’s attention that these missiles are not interoperable with NATO’s air defences. Turkey rightly keeps its national defence priorities above the advice of its allies. NATO countries were reluctant to transfer technology and attached conditions such as not to deploy these missiles in places where Turkey perceived threats.

A New York court case also acts as an irritant to U.S.-Turkish relations. The testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, has become a headache for Turkey, after he named Turkish cabinet ministers he had bribed. As if this were not enough, a former Turkish police chief joined Zarrab in exposing the dirty linen.

The extradition of a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States, is yet another major controversy between the two countries, because Turkey believes that he is the mastermind of last year’s military coup attempt to overthrow the Turkish government. The United States says the evidence that Turkey has produced so far is not sufficient for the U.S. judiciary to send Gülen back to face trial.

U.S. authorities believe an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, arrested two years ago in Turkey on charges of spying was detained to swap with Gülen, Zarrab or both.

Erdoğan made a statement to this effect saying: “You have a Turkish pastor (Gülen) in your hands. We have your pastor. Let’s exchange them”.   

The U.S. administration suspended issuing visas to Turkish citizens after the arrest of a Turkish citizen working at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. This led a reprisal by Turkey. A thawing was initiated later, but the easing on the U.S. side is too slow.

U.S. National Security Advisor Herbert R. McMaster, in a recent statement, referred to Turkey and Qatar as “countries sponsoring and funding extremist ideologies”. He later made an effort to clarify his statement, but the substance remains unchanged.

There is no reference to cooperation with Turkey in the US National Security Strategy released last week.  

Last but not the least is Turkey’s initiative to convene the extraordinary summit of the Islamic Cooperation Organisation (OIC) in response to Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Turkey called the summit in its capacity as the sessional chairman of the organisation, therefore it was, in a sense, a duty to take such an action.

Erdoğan announced that, in line with a decision adopted in the summit, Turkey may open an embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem. If Turkey goes ahead with the implementation of this decision, an uneasy situation is likely to arise with Israel, because the latter may not cooperate with Turkey, in a territory under its military occupation.

Opening the embassy may remain a dead letter without Israeli cooperation.

Such an initiative by Turkey will also have negative repercussions on Turkey’s relations with the United States.

Whichever way you look at it, the future of Turkey’s relations with the United States does not look promising.