Biden and Turkey

The new rulers of America have a broader knowledge of Turkey and its importance for America. The US military presence in Turkey is of special importance for Washington’s anti-Russian and Middle East policies.
26 December 2020
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Jalaleddin Namini Mianji

  The new rulers of America have a broader knowledge of Turkey and its importance for America. The US military presence in Turkey is of special importance for Washington’s anti-Russian and Middle East policies. Due, probably, to this, Biden will be more than willing to amend relations with Turkey. But ,chances are, he may face the hurdle of the current Turkish rulers; therefore, by imposing some sanctions, he will try to influence the political balance of Turkey’s political forces, and at the same time, handle Turkey’s approach toward its foreign policy by diplomacy.

While the US developments are headed for consolidating Joe Biden’s presidency, Turkey, like other world countries, has entered the discussions about the impacts of this development on its relations with Washington. Generally, the discussions are indicative of their discontent with Trump’s failure and their qualms about Biden’s impacts on the relations between Turkey and America.

In this regard, after Biden’s victory was affirmed, Namaan Kortolomosh, a Turkish president assistant, stated: The next US president will probably carefully watch the balance of power in the Middle East and act according to his country’s interests and will not ask for contentious relations with Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey,  like many world leaders, has congratulated Biden, but in a rare move, sent a letter of gratitude to Trump for his efforts in advancing the bilateral relations. Prior to Erdogan, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, from the opposition republican people's party of Turkey, also, had congratulated Biden in a message.

Turkey is bracing for the presidency of Biden while the following nine issues haunt the relations between the two countries:

  1. Turkey has gone into the Russian orbit, and has crossed the red lines of its strategic partnership with the west in subjects like the gas pipeline, nuclear energy, and arms purchases. Washington has declared the deployment of the Russian S-400 defense missile systems by Turkey as its red line and, in response, has terminated the training program for Turkish pilots of the F-35 fighter jets. Also America has put on its agenda putting aside Turkey from its program for F-35 jet sales and Turkey’s companies’ participation in making its parts. Adopting the CAATSA sanctions against Turkey by two thirds of the House of Representatives votes and imposing a number of light sanctions on the Turkish military industries by the Trump administration have entered the matter into a new phase.
  2. The US arms and political support for the Syrian Kurdish groups ( especially the YPG which is an ally of the PKK ) and its opposition to the Turkish attacks on them are staple.
  3. Washington is against seismographic operations that Turkey is doing in the exclusive zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Greece and Cyprus and considers Ankara’s discovery activities in the region deliberate and calculated provocations and has asked for ending them and starting of Ankara negotiations with Athens.
  4. The U.S. supports Haftar in Libya , while the Erdogan policy is concentrated on helping the Siraj government defeat General Haftar, preferably militarily.
  5. America showed its support for the republic of Cyprus by revoking the arms ban of the country ( after 33 years) and called Nicosia a key partner to the US in the eastern Mediterranean.
  6. Washington has reacted to Erdogan’s Islamist actions , at the top of which repurposing  Hagia Sofia from museum to mosque  and holding Muslim religion prayers inside it and the US president has called it a violation of the minorities freedoms in Turkey  . Also, Mike Pence, the U.S. vice president, tweeted:” We will stand firm with the Greek Orthodox Church.”
  7. America is a critic of the Turkish actions against Armenia in the Caucasus. Washington has accused Turkey of transferring terrorist jihadi fighters from Libya and Syria to the recent war in the Nagorno-Karabach region and has called the Turkish interference in the Karabach region as escalating risk of war in the region. Also , America is opposed to Turkey’s deployment of its peacekeeping forces in the Karabach region.
  8. Washington has rejected Turkey’s request for extraditing Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the failed coup on July 15 , 2016 , and by referring the subject to a legal path has frustrated Turkey’s effort. Erdogan’s political pressure in this regard has gone nowhere.
  9. The legal process concerning the Halk Bank of Turkey is still being pursued in America and the bank’s case will be held  on May 1 in the Manhattan Federal court for its participation in an Iranian sanctions evasion scheme.

  Alongside the realities mentioned above , three other changes in the US foreign policy and their potential impacts on the US/Turkish relations  should be heeded in a Biden administration. The primary topic in this relation is Biden’s view toward Russia as the greatest threat which will substitute for Trump’s perceived China threat. As a result of this change, it could be expected that America’s sensitivity to the close relations between Ankara and Moscow ,especially in the S-400 issue, would increase and the sanctions enacted by congress would increasingly enter into force. However, some believe that the Russian priority for Biden and his need to Ankara in this relation would soften Washington’s anti-Turkish policies. Strengthening Nato and the EU’s status in Biden’s foreign policy are two more issues which would impact Turkey. Washington cannot ignore Turkey’s prominent status in Nato and Turkey would probably completely exploit this need of the US . But the case with the European Union is a bit complicated. The EU differences with Turkey, especially because of seismographic activities in the eastern Mediterranean have deeper geopolitical dimensions and cannot be easily tackled. For now, the EU has postponed its sanctions against Turkey until March to act on the issue in concert with Biden. Also , Biden has declared willingness to work with Europe , regarding Turkey.

Among the things that Erdogan would be deprived of during a Biden administration, is his personal diplomacy with Trump. Erdogan deftly exploited the individualist and anti-establishmentarian tendencies as well as anti-Obama sentiments of Trump and clearly impacted his views. The outstanding appearance of this could be seen in the delay and softening of the practical US reactions to the S-400 purchase from Russia. Erdogan had, to some extent, influenced Trump, so much so that for many times Trump expressed his praise of Erdogan and praised him as a” tough guy who deserves respect.” Now, by Trump due to leave office, not only would the positive view of the US president toward his Turkish counterpart  leave the stage, but also a person like Biden who has a record of calling Erdogan an autocrat calling for his ouster by supporting the opposition.

In analyzing the relations between Turkey and the west , it has to be noted that Nowadays Turkey is enormously distinct from the cold era Turkey; its economic power and regional influence have significantly improved. By getting inspiration from the pseudo-Muslim Brotherhood Islamism and neo-Ottomanism, the mentality of the Turkish rulers has changed and distrust in the US and EU has been engrained in their psyche. As a result of these developments, the grand perspective of the Turkish foreign policy has changed from a “totally western-oriented” to  a “ pluralist multidimensionism.” The roots of the hardships of relations between Turkey and the US are in the US not accepting this shift.

By regard to the importance of Tukey in west Asia, it seems, the US and EU would be trying to shape their desired Turkey , and in doing so, they would be faced with the current rulers hurdle and Erdogan’s leadership. Probably, the US ( and EU) measures to affect the Turkish domestic policies( and the 2023 elections) will become more openly and the US and Turkish relations will become more than ever complicated. Based on this, the odds are the Turkey will be put on the joint agenda of the US and Europe and use of Israel and other regional US allies as well as resorting to sanctions and economic pressure is a prediction that can be made.

  (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)             



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