May 31 2018

Do not deal with Erdogan pragmatically - U.S. think tank

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington think tank, has issued a new report on Western nationals' long months of imprisonment in Turkish jails entitled 'Erdoğan's Hostage Diplomacy. Western Nationals in Turkish Prisons." 

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the FDD authored the report with the former United States Ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, a senior adviser at the same think tank. 

The report lists 40 individuals affected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "hostage diplomacy," a term used to describe the arrest of foreign nationals in Turkey, allegedly to extract concessions from their home countries.

While some of the individuals named in the report continue to live behind the bars after a long period in detention, other individuals are listed as victims of the diplomacy in the recent past. 

The report devotes considerable space to the case of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been charged with terrorism and espionage. "American and European offcials have chosen to engage Ankara quietly and at the bilateral level," wrote Erdemir and Edelman, arguing that this approach has been counterproductive. 

The authors also ask NATO members not to show willingness to continue "to consider pragmatic deals with Erdoğan to rescue their nationals," and the paper recommends the following strategy to deal with Turkey's strong leader:

"There is need for a coordinated transatlantic policy to transform the nature of the interaction with Ankara from bilateral and transactional bargaining to a multilateral engagement based on values. The U.S. and the EU member states need to provide a clear message and joint response to Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy." 

Another way to make a point to Ankara, the paper says, is for "(a)ll bilateral and multilateral deliberations with Turkey (to) start with the issue of hostages. American and European officials need to unequivocally convey to their Turkish counterparts that this is a top priority for their governments and the transatlantic alliance."

"Be more blunt in" travel warnings say the paper, and disregard politically motivated Interpol's red notices and prevent Turkey's abusing of Interpol privileges. 

The paper concludes that "Ultimately, only a strong, coordinated, and unwavering response can deter the Turkish president from further using Western nationals as pawns to advance his political agenda." Sanctioning Turkey, a very popular topic in Washington recently, is one of the paper's "must-do" policy tools when dealing with Erdogan. 

Both chambers of Congress have prepared similar bills to target Turkey through sanctions and other means in recent weeks. The sale of weapons to Turkey is also expected to be halted fully until the U.S. administration's interagency groups prepare and deliver a report within 60 days of the bill being passed, focusing on the problems that the both countries have been grappling with. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu is expected to make his first visit to Washington since Mike Pompeo became the top U.S. diplomat on Jun. 4, primarily to discuss the flashpoint northern Syrian city of Manbij and other sticking issues, such as perceived willingness of the U.S. administration to halt the delivery of new generation F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and Ankara's inching closer to purchase S-400 Russian air defence systems.

Manbij is currently under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Syrian-Kurdish dominated anti-ISIS militia group. Turkey recognizes People Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist organization and considers the SDF, which was set up in collaboration with the YPG, as an extension of the group.