Giving me a call? The restart between the United States and Turkey faces a long list of obstacles


ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down his anti-Western and anti-American rhetoric in an apparent effort to reestablish the difficult relationship with his NATO allies, but has so far met with silence from American President Joe. Biden.

Almost two months into his presidency, Biden has yet to call Erdogan, which some in Turkey see as a worrying sign. By contrast, former President Donald Trump and Erdogan spoke just days after the 2016 election.

Ties between Ankara and Washington, once considered strategic partners, have steadily deteriorated in recent years due to differences over Syria, Turkey’s cooperation with Russia, and most recently Turkish naval interventions in the eastern Mediterranean. that US officials have described as destabilizing.

Despite the tensions, many within the Erdogan government waited four more years from the Trump-led administration, who had a personal relationship with Erdogan and did not lecture him on Turkey’s human rights record.

Biden drew the ire of Turkish officials after an interview with the New York Times in which he spoke about supporting Turkey’s opposition to the “autocrat” Erdogan.

In public statements, Turkish officials have downplayed the lack of a White House phone call, noting that the talks are taking place at other levels, but a senior Turkish government official told The Associated Press that Erdogan’s office “is not there. excited “about that. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said last week that there were many world leaders with whom Biden had not yet spoken and that she was sure she would call Erdogan “at some point.”

With few friends due to a flood of assertive foreign policy, anti-Western rhetoric and growing authoritarianism, Turkey now seeks to attract foreign investment to rescue its troubled economy. Erdogan has reached out to the United States, European nations and other former allies in an attempt to fix troubled relations and end their international isolation.

Biden, who has spoken about restoring international alliances and traditional ties, as well as strengthening NATO, would be interested in rebuilding ties and trying to move Turkey away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

But analysts say it will be very difficult to restore the relationship, given the variety of issues the two countries disagree on, including Turkey’s decision to acquire Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft system, which Washington says. poses a threat to NATO and the US F-35 fighter jet program. Washington expelled Turkey from the F-35 production program and last year imposed sanctions on senior officials in the Turkish defense industry, as well as bans on military export licenses.

Turkey argues that the Russian system, which cost the country 2.5 billion dollars, is not a threat to the NATO alliance and has repeatedly called for dialogue to resolve the problem. Washington insists that sanctions cannot be lifted as long as the Russian system remains on Turkish soil.

During a Senate hearing before his confirmation as US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken described Turkey as a “supposed strategic partner” and called it “unacceptable” that Turkey is “in line with one of our biggest competitors. strategic in Russia “.

Merve Tahiroglu of the Washington-based Middle East Democracy Project said it would be difficult for Erdogan to back down on the S-400 “because he did a great deal about buying and what this would mean for geopolitical independence. from Turkey”.

US military support for Syrian Kurdish fighters to fight the Islamic State group is another point of contention. Turkey argues they are inextricably linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said ties cannot improve unless Washington stops its cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish group.

In 2019, Biden accused Trump of betraying US allies, following the latter’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish group.

The Biden administration is likely to put pressure on Turkey in its energy dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, leading to a tense standoff between two NATO members. Since then, Turkey has stopped its search for energy reserves in disputed waters, while Erdogan has toned down his fiery rhetoric.

Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, said Turkey cannot give concessions in the eastern Mediterranean “because it is considered a national cause by a large segment of Turkish society.”

The Biden administration is expected to put more emphasis on democracy and human rights than Trump. During a phone call with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Blinken stressed the “importance of democratic institutions, inclusive governance and respect for human rights” for Turkey, according to a reading of the US conversation.

Erdogan last week promised a series of reforms to improve human rights, but analysts said they were unlikely to have much of an impact or lead to the release from prison of high-profile figures such as activist Osman Kavala, who is accused of having ties to the fight against the government. government protests in 2013, as well as a failed coup attempt in 2016.

“For a true reboot to happen, the Biden administration needs to see more of a democratization process … which can come in the form of major judicial reforms or the release of some of the most contentious political figures,” Tahiroglu said.

Turkey is also seeking the extradition of US cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup in 2016. US officials say Ankara has been unable to produce documents allowing his extradition. Turkey accuses Washington of providing it with refuge.

A lawsuit against the Turkish state bank Halkbank, accused of helping Iran evade US sanctions worth $ 20 billion, also threatens to disrupt ties.

“If the court sentences Halkbank, it will be devastating for the Turkish economy and I don’t see how it can restart after that,” Tol said.

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