Apr 11 2019

New U.S. legislation aims to force Ankara back into the fold - Foreign Policy

A new legislation introduced on Tuesday aims to reshape U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and can imply a pivotal shift for Washington’s relations with Ankara, the Foreign Policy said.

The bipartisan bill came amid escalating tensions between two NATO allies over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 systems, which the United States says may allow Russian experts to access sensitive information on F-35 fighter jets. 

The new Senate bill includes a measure to halt the transfer of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if the country goes ahead with the purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defence system. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated this week that Ankara’s S-400 purchase was a done deal. 

Beyond the S-400 issue, the new bill signals a significant change to Washington’s approach to the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is at odds with the Greek Cypriot-dominated government of the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and its main ally Greece over territorial and mineral rights.

“The bill is a grab bag of some old U.S. ideas—such as helping speed the development of newly abundant offshore natural gas resources in the region—leavened with a much tougher line toward Turkey, a longtime ally,” the Foreign Policy said. 

“I think you can see the U.S. as one of those proverbial oil tankers that take a very long time to change direction. But it’s beginning to shift away from Turkey, and that by definition means shifting toward the other actors in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Michael Leigh, an expert on the Eastern Mediterranean at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The new legislation suggests to end an arms embargo on Cyprus imposed in 1987 in order to encourage reunification by preventing an arms race on the island. The Foreign Policy said this should be interpreted as a move that targeted to both tweak Turkey and offer an alternative to Russian military hardware.

The bill also is a warning to Turkey to not to interfere with energy exploration in its neighbourhood, the Foreign Policy said. Ankara claims territorial waters which overlap with those of Cyprus, and also supports the territorial rights of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot State in the northern part of the island, which is only recognised by Turkey.

“There is a growing awareness in the U.S. government that these crises with Turkey are becoming a permanent feature, and the perception is that Turkey is gradually tailing away from the U.S.,” said Soner Cağaptay, the director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“For the first time since the 1950s, U.S. policymakers are wondering whether Greece or Turkey will be the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.

According to Çağaptay, the legislation reflects the strategic realisation that Turkey may not be the keystone of U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.