Turkish-U.S. relations get tense before possible Erdoğan-Trump meeting - analysis

Though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pinned his hopes on a potential meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump next week, the relations between two allies have become strained again after a short period of detente, veteran Turkish journalist Murat Yetkin wrote in his blog on Friday.

Erdoğan and Trump will attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. Hürriyet newspaper reported on Wednesday that the two leaders were expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN meeting to discuss a wide range of issues including ongoing plans to establish a joint safe zone in northern Syria. 

Erdoğan on Wednesday said that Turkey would set its own plans in action if issues related to the safe zone were not resolved by the end of September. Despite the establishment of a joint operations centre in Turkey and the start of joint patrols across the border, the Turkish and U.S. officials have differences in opinion regarding the size of the safe zone and who will control it. 

Erdoğan’s statement indicated that the Turkish president had set his hopes on the meeting with Trump, Yetkin said. But the meeting will not go the way it is being reported in Turkish media, the journalist said, without naming his sources.

During the visit, Erdoğan will attend as an honorary guest a dinner organised by the Turkey-U.S. Business Council (TAIK) in New York’s famous restaurant Cipriani. Yetkin said the Turkish government had initially planned to ensure Trump too attended this dinner.

But those plans were shelved as Trump the same night is scheduled to join a fundraising event for the 2020 U.S. elections. 

The Turkish side has since tried to get assurance that Trump will briefly stop at Cipriani to meet with Erdoğan and make a short speech for the guests. While Turkey’s Foreign Ministry is trying to arrange another short meeting between Erdoğan and Trump at the UN headquarters, the meeting at Cipriani is being touted as essential for the two leaders to discuss a more detailed agenda, Yetkin said. 

Meanwhile, expectations that U.S. consulate staffer Metin Topuz would be released on Sept. 18 after years in prison in Turkey were not fulfilled. Topuz, who was arrested in 2017, is accused of links to Gülen movement, the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.

In relation to Syria, Chris Maier, the head of the anti-Islamic State (ISIS) coalition, told reporters on Wednesday that the United States was still providing weaponry to the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

Following that statement, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told pro-government Türkiye newspaper that Turkey would take the matter into its own hands, in case of severe distractions or delays in the safe zone plans. Akar also said that the U.S. and Turkish officials have agreed to establish bases in northern Syria for joint patrols. The minister’s statements on unilateral Turkish action and establishment of bases contradict totally with each other, Yetkin said. 

Moreover, the United States’ Iran policy has been a problem for Turkey, the journalist said. 

“The region is getting tense. Turkey’s relations with both Russia and the United States are getting strained again just one was to think they were being resolved,” Yetkin said, referring to the differences of opinion between Moscow and Ankara on Syria’s Idlib. 

“Erdoğan, on the other hand seems to have put all his eggs about relations with the United States in the Trump basket. Under the current circumstances, even if a meeting with Trump takes place in New York, there is question mark about how it will serve to Turkey’s political and economic interests,” the journalist said.