Nov 10 2017

Turkish PM’s U.S. trip futile – think tank

A visit to the Washington D.C. by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım was probably a futile one as the Ankara government sought to contain the fallout from a scandal involving money laundering for Iran.

Yıldırım’s key concern when meeting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was likely to have been the Nov. 27 trial of Turkish-Iranian Reza Zarab and a Turkish banker accused of evading sanctions against Iran, said Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroğlu of the Washington-based policy institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The trip’s futility is hardly surprising for Turkey-watchers. As Turkey’s prime minister, Yıldırım may appear as the country’s number two after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But he is far from that. Yıldırım is neither a savvy politician nor a savvy diplomat.

Yıldırım’s meeting with Pence was postponed for two days and then lasted little more than an hour, during which Pence expressed “deep concern” about the arrest of U.S. citizens in Turkey, according to a statement by the White House. Yıldırım’s trip was also overshadowed by revelations in the “Paradise Papers”, which detailed the offshore shipping investments of his two sons. The governing party voted down a motion in parliament this week for further investigations.

Yıldırım and Erdoğan have repeatedly sought to dismiss the case against Zarrab and his co-defendant, a deputy chief executive officer of state-run Halkbank. Statements by the banker’s lawyers indicate Zarrab may plead guilty and offer a full confession in return for a lighter sentence.

The Turkish prime minister probably had no illusions of his ability to extract any concessions from his American counterparts, but as Erdoğan’s loyal caretaker, Yıldırım performed the role that his boss had demanded. The real question is, what did Erdoğan expect to gain from this stunt on the domestic front?