Pompeo’s unusual visit and the dire state of Turkey-US relations
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Turkey this week as part of his seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East. The nature of the visit and his remarks before it had sparked strong debates. Throughout his regional tour, Pompeo has met with senior officials, but Turkey, a NATO ally, has been the only exception. No meeting took place between Pompeo and any Turkish official during his visit to the country.
This was not the first time Pompeo had bypassed Turkey while on a visit to the region. In September, Pompeo visited Cyprus on foot from the US lifting its arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot administration. He then visited Greece two weeks later. On both trips, Turkey was not included in his itinerary. Senior U.S. diplomats have traditionally visited Turkey and Greece on the same tour, but Pompeo abandoned this balanced policy with his recent trip. So this week the ban on Turkey without official meetings was unprecedented in Turkish-American diplomatic history.
In Istanbul, Pompeo met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of the nearly 300 million Orthodox Christians, whom he said in a tweet was a key partner in efforts to support religious freedom across the globe. He also met with the Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell. Interestingly, religious freedom was the only issue on his agenda despite disagreements between Ankara and Washington over several issues, ranging from Syria to the eastern Mediterranean.
The US side stated that Pompeo’s tight travel itinerary prevented him from meeting Turkish state officials in Ankara, but he was open to seeing any Turkish officials in Istanbul. From the Turkish side, according to diplomatic customs, Pompeo had to pay an official visit to Ankara to hold bilateral talks. It is quite unusual in Turkish diplomatic culture for a senior official to receive a foreign guest in any other way. In his book Costumes and Uniforms, author Philip Robins described the bureaucratic-diplomatic traditions of Turkey. He wrote: The bureaucracy has historically been the object of fear and respect in Turkey. Since the Ottoman bureaucracy, the Foreign Ministry was an elite within the elite. The ethos of the Foreign Ministry as a center of bureaucratic excellence continues in contemporary Turkey.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the center of Turkey’s foreign policy, pursues a protocol-based approach to international affairs. However, this does not mean that there were no exceptions to the protocol bypass for some foreign guests. In such cases in the past, Turkish officials were criticized by the media and the opposition for not taking some foreign heads of state according to diplomatic customs. Normally, all foreign personalities are received at the presidential palace and any agreement is signed there. However, there have been cases where the Turkish president has met a foreign guest at a hotel. At such times, Turkish officials have explained the protocol violation as below Turkey’s desire to improve dialogue with the visiting leader.
In this case, from the cold shoulders of Turkish officials to Pompeo after he allegedly refused to travel to the capital, it can be clearly understood that there was no will on the part of the Turkish side to have any dialogue with him.
In fact, it would not be wrong to consider Pompeo’s failure to meet with any Turkish official during his trip as a loss in Turkey-US relations. Given the profound differences of opinion between the two countries for almost any issue, it would be unrealistic to expect a positive outcome from any possible meeting. And it seems the Turkish side did not want to waste a single minute with an outgoing US official known for his anti-Turkey rhetoric.
Relations between Ankara and Washington have reached the final stage and the next US administration will inherit this legacy.
Pompeo, on the other hand, also did not shy away from clarifying his stance on Turkey’s role in the region. His thoughts on Turkey came before his visit. In Paris, which has also been at odds with Ankara in recent months, Pompeo called on Europe to work together with the US against Turkey’s actions in the region. “French President Emmanuel Macron and I agree that Turkey’s recent actions have been very aggressive,” he told the French daily Le Figaro. The statement raised eyebrows in Ankara, which is aware of Pompeo claiming he does not like Turkey and its leadership.
Therefore, if we set aside the explanation of the narrow itinerary of the US sides and the diplomatic diplomatic reception of the Turkish parties, experts have read Pompeo’s visit to Istanbul as an act aimed at making domestic political gains, amid rumors that he is considering a Senate run in Kansas. It would not be wrong to compare Pompeo’s recent visit to Turkey as Secretary of State with the final state of Turkish-American relations during Donald Trumps’s tenure in the White House. What we understand from Pompeo’s unusual visit, his meetings, and the Ankara uproar is that relations between the two NATO allies have reached the final level and the next US administration will inherit that legacy.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst specializing in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
Responsibility: The views expressed by the writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News.
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