Pompeo era may herald worsening ties with Turkey – analysis

President Donald Trump’s sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is likely to complicate already fraught relations between the United States and Turkey, writes Gonul Tol, director of Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, in an op-ed for the National Interest.

Tillerson had led efforts to ease tensions with Turkey and is known for favoring coopting it over confronting. Bot so in the case of Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump’s replacement, who has a hard-line approach on foreign policy and is not a big fan of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Tol writes.

Pompeo wants the United States to play a more assertive role in Syria and is a hardliner on Iran, further complicating the situation with Turkey, which has allied with Iran and Russia in Syria.

U.S. allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates also have increasingly frosty relations with the NATO ally, accusing Erdogan of, among other things, allowing Islamic radicals into Europe and supporting extremists in Syria and elsewhere against the interests of the United States and its regional allies.

“A recent court case in Manhattan in which a Turkish banker working for a state-owned bank was convicted of taking part in a billion-dollar scheme to evade American sanctions against Iran highlighted the diverging views,” Tol said. “A U.S. decision not to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran will put Turkey in a difficult spot and further complicate Turkey-U.S. relations.”

Turkey and Trump have also found themselves on opposing fronts in the crisis with Qatar. Erdogan has supported Doha while Trump has accused the Gulf country of sponsoring terrorism at the highest levels.

“Tillerson had a moderating effect on Trump’s stance and steered U.S. policy toward a negotiated settlement of the conflict. If Pompeo reinforces Trump’s hardline instincts, Turkey’s Qatar policy could become more a big problem for Washington.”

“All the issues haunting Turkey-U.S. relations aside, Pompeo will find a NATO partner that is at odds not only with the West but also with the U.S. allies in the region,” Tol said.

“The outgoing secretary Tillerson had the trust of his Turkish counterpart and led the efforts to engage Turkey. Whether the new boss at the State Department will follow his predecessor’s route remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: even if Pompeo decides to coopt Ankara, it will be an uphill battle,” she said.