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Under Biden, US-Turkey relations face delicate balancing act

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Jan 20, 2021

ISTANBUL — Following the inauguration of US President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, international coverage specialists anticipate a recalibration in US-Turkey relations, which have been marked by a protracted listing of grievances lately.

As a results of diverging views on Syria, Ankara’s 2019 buy of Russian-made S-400 missile protection methods and different coverage variations, the space between the standard NATO allies has grown and the Biden administration faces a fragile balancing act in addressing factors of discord with out additional alienating Ankara.

Where President Donald Trump typically had rapport together with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, analysts anticipate the Biden group to take a tougher stance towards bilateral ties within the months to return. Incoming US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underlined this notion whereas talking at his affirmation listening to in Washington on Jan. 19 when he questioned Turkey’s standing as a strategic accomplice following the S-400 acquisition.

“The idea that a strategic — so-called strategic — partner of ours would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable,” Blinken stated, including his group would assess the impacts of US sanctions imposed final month in response to the acquisition to “determine whether [there is] more that needs to be done.”

Yet whereas the S-400s will proceed to function some extent of concern for US officers — various whom have stated the radar methods pose a safety menace to NATO navy gear within the area — the problem will stay “unresolvable” within the near time period, in keeping with Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program on the Washington Institute.

“There’s no way Erdogan can walk away from that deal at this moment,” Cagaptay informed Al-Monitor, saying {that a} change in fact might rupture Erdogan’s ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who might then work to undermine Ankara’s pursuits within the South Caucasus, Libya and Syria, the place Turkish forces stay lively.

Cagaptay stated that Erdogan as an alternative will probably unleash a “charm offensive” as he has performed beforehand and search to bolster bilateral ties.

“Erdogan is a shapeshifter. He becomes what US presidents want to see in their Turkish counterpart,” Cagaptay informed Al-Monitor. “For Biden — the internationalist, the reformer, the healer. [Erdogan] will become all of that.”

Still, many challenges lie on the highway to amicable relations. The Trump administration condemned Ankara’s energy-prospecting actions in disputed components of the jap Mediterranean and fraught EU-Turkey ties will probably weigh on future Washington coverage selections. Democratic transgressions underneath Erdogan, which accelerated after a 2016 coup try, additionally prompted Biden name the Turkish chief an “autocrat” throughout a 2019 interview with The New York Times editorial board.

From Ankara’s perspective, the United States has failed to meet extradition requests for Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric Erdogan accuses of getting orchestrated the failed coup. At the identical time, US help for Kurdish militias in Syria has raised safety issues in Ankara, which sees the forces as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

Biden’s appointment of Brett McGurk to be US Middle East coverage chief — he beforehand backed cooperation with Kurdish fighters to defeat the Islamic State in Syria — has solely additional raised issues amongst Turkish lawmakers.

In addition, authorized proceedings over the Turkish state-owned Halkbank’s function in circumventing US sanctions on Iran are set to renew March 1, and will result in new sanctions that would reverberate all through the Turkish economic system.

In a latest report, Max Hoffman, director for nationwide safety and worldwide coverage on the Center for American Progress, outlined potential paths for the United States and Turkey to de-escalate their variations. He wrote that the United States ought to search “to slow escalatory cycles that cannot be stopped, bureaucratize what have too often been emotional public disputes, and compartmentalize among the many discrete disagreements the countries face.” 

He additionally informed Al-Monitor, “For the US, its interests are in a stable, democratic Turkey with which it can cooperate on a range of issues, and punitive measures that seriously harm Turkey’s economy don’t advance that goal.” 

He added, “We also have plenty of evidence that Erdogan will spin punitive measures into a story of resistance, into a story of Western or imperialist interference” that would bolster destructive sentiments towards the United States amongst Turkish residents.

Following unfounded allegations of voter fraud within the US elections and a violent riot on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, Biden took workplace Jan. 20, proclaiming, “Democracy has prevailed.” Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey program coordinator on the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy, stated democracies globally are dealing with unprecedented challenges which can be interconnected, and he or she anticipated the incoming US administration to put renewed emphasis on democratic rights and establishments within the United States and overseas.

“While [Biden] will want to treat Turkey as a US partner and cooperate with it wherever possible, that cooperation will ultimately depend on, and be restricted by, Erdogan’s own respect for democracy and human rights in Turkey and its neighborhood,” Tahiroglu informed Al-Monitor.

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