Is it a good idea for Erdoğan to visit Washington?
U.S. President Donald Trump is eager to visit his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but is being held back by his subordinates, a leading figure from Turkey’s pro-government media said on Friday.
Mustafa Kartoğlu, the editor-in-chief of pro-government Akşam newspaper, said he had learned of Trump’s desire to travel to Turkey, but that “lower levels” of the U.S. government had intervened in preventing the visit.
A similar event took place when Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria in December following a phone conversation with Erdoğan, according to Turkey's pro-Erdoğan pundits.
U.S. forces are currently deployed alongside Kurdish militias in northern Syria where they are tasked with defeating the Islamic State (ISIS). Ankara views the Kurdish militias as a security threat due to their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, and welcomed Trump’s announcement at the time.
However, the promise to “immediately withdraw” forces has been rowed back since then, amid fears this could leave the United States’ Kurdish allies exposed to attack.
Trump’s unexpected announcement on Dec. 19 sparked consternation among many senior U.S. officials and lawmakers, leading to the resignations of Defence Secretary James Mattis and U.S. anti-Islamic State envoy Brett McGurk.
“Trump has shown a determined stance during this process. Of course, there’s an established order in the United States we can call the deep state, and they’ve obstructed this,” Erdoğan said this week, referring to Washington’s plans of withdrawal from Syria.
This time, Kartoğlu said, Trump’s subordinates wish to prevent a visit due to NATO’s disapproval of Ankara’s plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile defence systems.
U.S. and NATO generals have said the Russian systems will damage NATO defence interoperability, particularly if deployed alongside the new generation F-35 fighter jets Turkey is in line to receive later this year.
On Monday Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon warned of “grave consequences” for Turkey’s relations with the United States if the purchase goes ahead.
On Friday, Pentagon's chief spokesperson Charlie Summers not only threatened Turkey with “grave consequences” if it buys the Russian S-400 air defence system, but also clearly stated that Turkey would be blocked from buying the F-35 fighter jet and Patriot air defence systems from the U.S.
However, Kartoğlu said, the two presidents are keen to resolve their differences despite the interference of U.S. officials, and a visit to the United States by Erdoğan could take place after Turkey’s local elections on Mar. 31.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, has been confirmed as the keynote speaker at the 37th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations, which will be held in Washington D.C. on April 14.
Sources in Washington told Ahval that the Turkish side is working on getting Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, to come to the conference as Albayrak's counterpart, which will be held at the Trump International Hotel once again, just as in 2017.
The American-Turkish Council (ATC) and its Turkish counterpart, the Turkey-U.S. Business Council (TAIK), will welcome Albayrak at the conference this year after it was cancelled twice last year amid a diplomatic crisis between the two NATO allies. One of the keynote speakers from 2017 ATC Conference, Ekim Alptekin, who was also the TAIK president, has since then became a defendant in the illegal lobbying court case at the Eastern District of Virginia. Trump's first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will be a court witness against Bijan Kian who was an associate of Ekim Alptekin in next hearing, which is scheduled for May.
Another keynote speaker from the last conference, SBK Holding President Sezgin Baran Korkmaz was questioned as part the Robert Mueller investigation in 2017 with an American-Turkish entrepreneur Yucel Ayasli recently launching a court case accusing Korkmaz for financial racketeering. Neither of these businessmen will be expected to show up at this year conference.
If President Erdoğan is serious about visiting the U.S., as he just claimed last week during a TV interview that either he will visit the U.S. after the March 31 local elections or President Trump will visit Turkey, he must be prepared to face issues of "grave consequences."
The disagreement and the open threat of the U.S. government over Turkish purchase of S-400 would be the first issue. The creation of a possible safe zone at the northeastern Syria might likely be the second issue. It has now become almost certain that the Western allies want to create a safe zone to protect Syrian Kurds from Turkey, not giving vast swathes of Syrian territory to the Turkish government's control as the Turkish president would like.
Another issue between the two NATO allies would be Venezuela. The Erdoğan government’s strong support for the Nicolas Maduro regime is in direct contradiction of the Trump administration and the Turkish president will likely to face stiff criticism on the matter when/if he arrives in Washington.