U.S.-Turkey ties may be pushed close to breaking point – analyst

Relations between the United States and Turkey may be pushed close to breaking point after a U.S. jury found a Turkish banker guilty of breaking sanctions on Iran.

The case, which included testimony implicating President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the scheme, is leading to a new wave of anti-Americanism among high level Turkish officials, Nick Danforth, a senior policy analyst for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s national security program, wrote in the New York Times on Wednesday.

Erdoğan feels under siege, with both the U.S. government and the Turkish political opposition accusing him of corruption. Aside from spats with the United States, Erdoğan is set to continue a domestic crackdown on his opponents, spelling danger for the country’s economy and social fabric, Danforth said.

“American policymakers could soon find themselves facing an acute dilemma; As Mr. Erdoğan becomes more aggressive, the means at Washington’s disposal to apply pressure on him increasingly risk destabilising Turkey even further,” he said.

Attacks on protesters by Erdoğan's bodyguards in Washington last Spring have sparked talk of economic sanctions in Congress, Danforth said. After the United States suspended visa services for several months due to the arrest of a consular employee, the purchase by Turkey of a Russian missile defence system could prompt fresh measures, he said.

Turkey is already paying a serious economic price for maintaining emergency rule in the country and embarking on a purge of people that Erdoğan blames for a failed coup in 2016. Any sanctions with real bite would only increase the already serious possibility of a major economic crisis, Danforth said. Such a crisis could empower those who are already calling for a break with the West, he said.

However dangerous the United States finds Erdoğan, they would find chaos in Turkey scarier, Danforth said.

Therefore, America should focus on helping Turkey emerge from a period of authoritarian rule as soon as realistically possible, any sanctions should be focused on concrete issues affecting bilateral relations – such as the arrest of consular employees – and U.S. officials should remain consistent in their public and private criticism of Erdoğan, rather than withholding or employing it as a diplomatic tool, Danforth said.