June 16, 2021
In an earlier post, in addressing West’s Turkey conundrum I said:
“On the one hand, most Western governments now regard JDP’s Ankara only a “nominal ally” if not an adversary, but they cannot turn their back on a country which enjoys a geo-strategic location surrounded by three seas and joining Asia and Europe, when tensions with Russia are on the rise. Turkey is a unique window into the Middle East. Sadly, it has also acquired a critical role in Europe’s dealing with its refugee problem…
“Thus, sanctioning Turkey has increasingly became a balancing act between targeting the JDP government and not alienating the Turkish people…”
And in a recent post on the Biden-Erdogan meeting I said,
“If there is a will, there will be ways to resolve even the toughest questions. But for the problem of bad chemistry, there is no will hence no way. Moreover, President Biden’s April 24 statement, though not unexpected, was a huge disappointment and those calling for a reset with Washington have lowered their voices.
“Thus, a genuine reset in Turkey-US relations is mission impossible in the short term. The Biden-Erdogan summit of next week will likely focus more on containing the rising cost of our differences than give-and-take. No matter what is said publicly, it will not end mutual frustration…”
At the end of the NATO Summit President Biden held a press conference. On his meeting with President Erdogan, he said:
“I just finished a meeting with President Erdogan of Turkey. We had a positive and productive meeting, much of it one-on-one. We had detailed discussions on how to proceed on a number of — a number of issues. Our two countries have big agendas. Our teams are going to continue our discussions, and I’m confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey and the United States.”
In remarks to the press, President Erdogan described the meeting as “fruitful and sincere” befitting the relationship between two allies and strategic partners. He said that the reiterated Ankara’s position on S-400s and the F-35s.
In other words, little was said about what was discussed and agreed to justify the “very cautious optimism of the two leaders” if one may call it that.
The following are my impressions of the meeting:
- It appears that President Biden has taken personal charge of the Turkey file.
- He was the one to prefer a one-on-one meeting.
- Why a one-on-one meeting? Because he wanted to convey his messages as bluntly as possible and draw attention to the potential costs of our differences.
- Did Mr. Biden address the problem of Turkey’s democratic decline? Considering his emphasis on democracy, definitely.
- When would the public have a better understanding of the contents of the meeting? Barring intentional leaks, only when the parties start putting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.
- A jigsaw puzzle? Yes, because the bilateral agenda is long and complex, and problems are interlinked.
As for Turkey’s readiness to maintain troops in Kabul to provide for the security of the Hamid Karzai International Airport one must remember what Mr. Biden said in “Remarks the Way Forward in Afghanistan”. He said:
“The plan has long been “in together, out together.” U.S. troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO Allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th.”
And the NATO Summit Communiqué stated the following:
“… Recognizing its importance to an enduring diplomatic and international presence, as well as to Afghanistan’s connectivity with the world, NATO will provide transitional funding to ensure continued functioning of Hamid Karzai International Airport…”
Since Ankara said its remaining in Kabul would depend on allied logistic and financial support, it now seems that this would be provided. But putting Turkish troops in harm’s way despite Taliban opposition is wrong. Actually, Afghan government’s need for allied troops to provide for the security of the Airport only underlines the failure in Afghanistan.
The offer to remain at the Kabul Airport was no doubt intended as a gesture to the US side before the meeting of Presidents Biden and Erdogan. Even if it were to materialize, this would hardly have a positive impact on our troubled relationship.
To conclude, this relationship now looks less like a “strategic” or “model” partnership as it was once defined and more like an “uneasy alliance” if one is to remain optimistic. The question is whether Ankara and Washington would be able work together at least “on their core interests”.