Huffington Post Greece – Aug. 08, 2018
American-Turkish relations have clearly deteriorated recently due to the imprisonment of the American pastor in Turkey. The problem began since Donald Trump took over the leadership of the White House and called upon the release of the pastor at his first meeting with Erdoğan in Washington. Erdoğan has escaped this request by linking it to the extradition of Fethullah Gülen. Over time, the issue came back to the surface in the next meetings between the two presidents. At their recent meeting in NATO, Trump was tougher than Erdoğan on the subject of the pastor, but without result. It is a fact that the sanctions imposed on Turkish Justice and Interior Ministers affected Turkey’s economy and led to a further drop in the exchange rate of the Turkey suffering from a year of instability. This atmosphere between the two countries was shaped at the same time that Washington offered the Patriot system to Ankara, and at the same time that the Turkish pilots are being trained at the F-35. Will it be a summer cloud or will it have greater impact?
US-Turkish relations have begun to worsen and enter a dark tunnel since the summer of 2016, notably with the failed coup attempt against the Ankara regime. The Turkish administration has clearly seen NATO’s fingerprints behind it and, in particular, the US. Diplomatic source confirms that the Turkish authorities have evidence for the role of the pastor, who was visiting Izmir few days before the coup, in this attempt and that Turkey is confident that he is a CIA agent. The then US President Obama evaded the pastor’s file. Things got worse when Washington encouraged Kurdish militias in eastern Syria to cross the Euphrates river and expand to the Syrian city of Manbij. This move, amid tensions between the two countries, has prompted Ankara to reformulate the priorities of its international relations and to open a new page with Moscow, creating a strategic alliance between the two countries.
When President Trump took over the reins of the White House, Erdoğan rushed to meet him trying to re-establish the balance of relations between the two countries. However, this meeting was conducted in a bad atmosphere. Although Trump was open to efforts to reduce tension, things remain in an unstable pattern. Turkey insisted on the agreement on the purchase of the Russian S-400 system, which is not encouraging for the US government. Former Foreign Minister Tillerson attempted to smooth things through the Manbij city agreement and the Pentagon offered Patriot to Ankara in return for not completing the S-400 deal. The Turkish government considers that these steps are insufficient as far as Washington supports Kurdish militias in the east of Syria on the one hand and continues to refuse to hand over Fethullah Gülen, which Ankara considers responsible for the failed coup attempt, on the other.
Over the past two months, things have been aggravated by the refusal of the Turkish government to apply economic and oil sanctions against Iran. Turkey has concluded trade agreements over the past two years and has signed large-scale projects with the Iranian government. Iran’s gas is an important source for Ankara. In addition, the Turkish rejection of Israeli policy on the transfer of the capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was intense. After all this, Washington considered the Turkish actions unfair and should be answered. Although Turkey is an economically strong country with an important role in the region through its influence in northern Syria and northern Iraq and because of the importance of its strategic position, besides being the largest NATO military power after the United States, US economic sanctions will have a clear impact on Ankara’s strength.
It is important, before reaching any conclusion as to the extent the two countries will escalate, to stand on an important point which is that they both need each other. Washington is not in a position to reach a definitive solution in Syria without Ankara’s support. Any Turkish financial support to Iran means that US economic sanctions on the Iranian regime will not have an impact. Ankara is able to make eastern Syria, where the American soldiers exist, hell pushing the armed Syrian opposition in the “Euphrates Shield” region to open war against the Kurdish militias. In addition, Ankara leaving NATO and joining the BRICS group means that NATO will lose an important ally and that Russia will increase its movements in Ukraine and eastern Europe more intensively.
Therefore, the current crisis, in my opinion, will not escalate. Diplomatic sources confirm that diplomatic talks have already begun between officials in both countries. But things may not be restored, especially with the unstable personality leading the White House.