Event Summary: U.S.-Turkey Relations 3 Years after the July 15 Coup Attempt
On July 11, 2019, the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. hosted an event titled, “U.S.-Turkey Relations 3 Years after the July 15 Coup Attempt.”
In the first panel on “Regional Competition and Cooperation in the Syrian Conflict,” Charles Lister spoke about the ambiguity of the U.S. strategy in Syria, and how it has prevented the United States from achieving its stated goals in the Syrian conflict. According to Lister, lines have hardened in Syria and instability has escalated—criminality is rising, pockets of resistance persist, and ISIS remains a significant threat. Lister stressed the significance of the Assad regime’s manpower shortage, and how it continues to enable Iran’s presence in Syria. He also spoke about Russia, and highlighted their failed attempts to seize opposition territory in northwestern Syria. Finally, he stated that both the United States and Turkey have focused on the threat of terrorism in Syria, from ISIS and the YPG respectively, which has created significant strategic differences between the two allies.
Muhittin Ataman stated that the United States and Turkey are currently following different strategies through their proxies in Syria. Ataman described the YPG as a group that controls one third of Syrian territory and shares the same leadership and political discourse as the PKK. For Turkey, therefore, Ataman explained that the YPG constitutes a significant national security threat. As a result, Ataman underlined that Turkey views the YPG’s presence along the northern Syrian border as a “red line” and perceives the United States’ alliance with the group as unacceptable. Ataman also commented on the Syrian refugee population in Turkey and the potential establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria.
Before the second panel, Honorable Mehdi Eker, Head of Parliamentary Friendship Group for the USA and Member of Parliament of AK Party made a keynote speech. Former Minister Eker spoke of the July 15th coup attempt and its impact on Turkey. He stressed that the coup attempt, which felt akin to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, constituted an attack on Turkish democratic values. The Minister also stated his optimism for the future of U.S.-Turkish relations. In all past disagreements, the Minister emphasized that the United States and Turkey managed to resolve tensions. He made the point that the United States must understand Turkey’s precarious security environment, and the country’s urgent need for an air defense system. While Turkey will remain in NATO, the Minister stated that Turkey must also take independent steps to achieve its own security. He concluded by highlighting that AK Party still strives for Turkey to join the European Union. However, he explained that Turkey faces unjust political barriers that have prevented Turkey’s entry into the EU.
In the second panel on “The Bilateral Ties since the July 15 Coup Attempt,” Mr. Doran spoke of his belief that the arrival of S-400 systems in Turkey will cause a “crisis” in U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations. He stressed that both sides must focus on how to minimize the damage that will be inevitably caused by this dispute. He expressed concern that the S-400 issue will cause other points of disagreement between the United States and Turkey to become even more difficult to resolve. He described the S-400 issue as playing into a current mentality in Washington that doubts Turkey’s role as an ally of the United States.
Ms. Miel spoke about the U.S.-Turkey business relationship, which she labelled as representing “a strong pillar” within bilateral relations. She spoke of the original $75 billion trade volume goal, which was increased to $100 billion during President Trump’s speech at the G20 summit. She commended on the “robust business dialogue” that exists between the two countries and stressed the desire from both sides to deepen economic ties. She recommended that both sides think more about cooperating in strategic sectors that would increase jobs and exports in both countries.
Mr. Akgün accentuated that although issues exist in U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations, President Erdogan and President Trump share an open channel of communication at a critical time. He expressed that both countries are reorienting themselves to a new world order, and that recent tensions must be considered within this larger context. He highlighted that Turkey is an essential ally for Western security, which in turn helps to maintain transatlantic security. He stressed that both countries must do more, through communication and diplomatic channels, to address current tensions that are affecting the alliance.