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For all of our sakes, the US and Turkey must mend fences – Analysis – Eurasia Review

For all of our sakes, the US and Turkey must mend fences – Analysis – Eurasia Review

 


By Luke Coffey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to travel to Washington this month to meet Joe Biden, but the meeting was postponed without an official explanation from either side and without a new date. With the increasingly divergent views between the United States and Trkiye on Israel and Gaza, as well as Erdogan's recent electoral setbacks, it is likely that Ankara thought it would be bad at home to meet Biden .

It's no secret that relations between the United States and Turkey are strained. In 2021, Biden waited three months after entering the White House before calling Erdogan. When he finally did so, it was only to give the Turkish leader the bad news that he was about to recognize the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915 as a genocide.

However, the recent US-Turkish problems predate Biden and have their origins in Barack Obama's Syria policy. It is worth remembering what happened in 2014. As ISIS rose to prominence, Obama was hesitant to act in the Syrian conflict. When his administration realized it had no choice but to take on the terrorist group, it decided to arm and support the Kurdish People's Protection Units, the YPG, in northern Syria .

This issue alone may be at the root of the current turmoil in U.S.-Turkey relations. Trkiye considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group declared a terrorist organization by Trkiye, the United States and most European countries. After Obama left office in 2017, instead of changing course, Donald Trump and Biden continued this policy.

Nevertheless, despite political difficulties, institutional relations between the United States and Trkiye continued beneath the surface. Their intelligence agencies cooperate and Trkiye is home to major elements of NATO's security architecture.

In recent months, relations between Ankara and Washington seemed to be thawing. High-level meetings took place between US and Turkish officials in March, following which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken received Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in Washington. In January, the US Congress approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey for $20 billion. Shortly afterwards, Ankara ended its months-long veto of Sweden's NATO membership. This is why it was surprising that the Biden-Erdogan meeting was postponed this month.

The relationship is too important for both parties to dismiss it as a lost cause. One of the first things to do to remedy the situation is to agree on a new date for Erdogan's visit to the White House. Additionally, instead of trying to resolve the major issues plaguing their relationship, both parties should take a step back and work on confidence-building measures. For example, there is much consensus on the future of NATO. Both countries will want the alliance to hold a successful summit this summer in Washington, on the occasion of its 75th anniversary.

Another area of ​​cooperation concerns Ukraine and the defense industry in general. In recent years, Erdogan has led efforts to develop Trkiyes' defense industry, which is now world-class. By helping Ukraine test the limits of the West's military industrial capacity, Trkiye can play an important role in filling the void. For example, a Turkish company announced in March that it would establish a factory in Texas to manufacture much-needed 155mm artillery shells. Such cooperation comes at a time when Western countries are scrambling to find enough artillery shells to give to Ukraine, and it could be expanded to other areas.

Since Turkey joined NATO in 1952, U.S.-Turkey relations have helped ensure the security of the transatlantic community. For the most part, this relationship has been productive, authentic and respectful. Certainly, the last few years have been difficult, but let's hope that Washington and Ankara can find areas of cooperation and rebuild their relations before the damage becomes irreversible.

Luke Coffey is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. X: @LukeDCoffey

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