Event Summary: US-Turkey Relations: Challenges and Opportunities ahead of the G20 Summit
On Wednesday, October 27, 2021, The SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘US-Turkey Relations: Challenges and Opportunities ahead of the G20 Summit.’ The discussion featured The Honorable Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, and Ambassador James Jeffrey, Chair of the Middle East Program and Distinguished Fellow at the Wilson Center. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC.
To begin, Ambassador Jeffrey explained that the recent diplomatic row is a good case study in how the US-Turkish relationship can go off the rails for seemingly unimportant reasons. As a result, Presidents Biden and Erdogan have much to discuss in Glasgow. Further, Ambassador Jeffrey wondered how seriously Washington will contest Iran’s activities in the region. The Biden administration has made two of its main priorities clear, tackling China and climate change, but the rest of the administration’s priorities are not as well known. As Turkey remains on the front lines against Iranian and Russian aggression, the US must offer its ally a clear strategy. In terms of the F-35 program, he insisted that the problem is that there are ways to shoot down a stealth bomber, and therefore there are real risks if a radar or missile system made in Russia is talking with the F-35. He believes that the F-35 controversy is a standalone, technical issue. Overall, Ambassador Jeffrey noted that he remains positive about the future of the US-Turkish relationship, and has ample trust in the teams in Washington and Ankara working on the portfolio. He made it clear that progress can be made on these very tough issues but the rhetoric coming from both sides does not help.
Wexler drew attention to the fact that the US and Turkey must focus on common objectives while still being able to point out the flaws. Despite the recent diplomatic spat, Biden and Erdogan must meet in Glasgow to discuss these common objectives, and there appears to be an eagerness on both sides to keep the relationship on course. He noted that those concerned about American arms sales to Turkey have more political weapons to use in an argument given Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400. Whether one is comfortable with that sale to Turkey or not, we should celebrate the fact that we can still engage with Turkey on a weapons system they already have and in which they are a crucial partner. In terms of Iranian influence in the region, Wexler stated that what will likely happen is that Iran and the US will not reach an agreement on the nuclear deal and therefore it is important for the Biden administration to articulate what American policy will be without the agreement. To close, he made it clear that Turkey is a friend of the US, and when charting a path forward vis a vis Russia and China, the US wants Turkey on its side.