Where do things currently stand on Turkish-American ties?
The meetings held by the Turkish delegation during their visit to Washington earlier this week once again showed how necessary constant dialogue is due to the busy agenda of Turkish-American relations. Apart from bilateral issues, Türkiye and the United States need to step up their efforts in order to work together on regional and global issues. It is no secret that there are issues where the two NATO allies do not agree or, worse yet, pursue opposing policies. However, many challenges such as hot war, food crisis, energy, great power rivalry and climate change make it all the more necessary to focus on shared interests.
The Turkish delegation’s visit to Washington should be interpreted in terms of timing, as it took place approximately one month after the earthquake and two months before the elections. After the earthquake, a feverish rebuilding process has begun in Türkiye. In order to support this process, Türkiye is stepping up to reach the high targets it has set in its trade with many countries. Bringing up the target of increasing the trade with the U.S. to $100 billion, which was around $30 billion, sends the message that the government is confident about the election results and wants to strengthen relations in the medium and long term.
Regarding the F-16 sale, which is one of the hottest agenda items in bilateral relations, the approach of the Congress to tread and associate it with other issues is known. Although it is known that the Biden administration supported the sale and took the pulse of Congress before the official notification, it is difficult to say that it made a very special effort to persuade the senators. It is well known that some senators put forward the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden as a condition. The Biden administration does not pronounce such a condition, but it does not enter into a hard bargaining process to overcome such objections of the senators. In this context, it is not difficult to guess that the administration is of the opinion that the F-16 sales process will proceed more easily after the election, regardless of the election results.
Türkiye does not accept any other condition for the sale of the F-16 and insists on implementing the Tripartite Agreement with the candidate countries. President Erdogan’s latest statement regarding Finland’s membership also shows that the reconciliation process is progressing positively. Türkiye’s stance that it paves the way for Finland’s membership and that Sweden’s membership can be realized if it passes anti-terrorism laws, although consistent, will not be enough to mobilize the senators who are obviously waiting for the election results at this stage. However, the message that Türkiye favors NATO’s enlargement and prioritizes its own security in the fight against terrorism has been clearly conveyed. On the other hand, Finland’s admission to the alliance could allow the Biden administration to put more pressure on Congress to sell the F-16.
It is not easy to make significant progress in the fight against terrorism, which is one of the top issues on the bilateral agenda. The ball has been in the crown for a long time in the FETO issue and it is not expected that there will be any serious progress in the near future. As for the YPG, Washington prefers to address the issue in the context of the fight against Daesh, as seen in Milley’s statement regarding the visit of American soldiers in northern Syria. The Biden administration, content with trying to placate Türkiye’s security concerns, has not put forward either a comprehensive Middle East policy or a Syria policy. This lack of policy, which causes problems for the administration with almost all its allies in the Middle East, results in the reduction of the YPG issue to a technical context in the fight against terrorism.
The difference in policy between the United States and Türkiye regarding the Ukraine war does not go unnoticed. Not only did the war spread to the countries in the region and risk of nuclear conflict, it deepened the global food crisis and triggered the polarization between the West and the Russia-China line. The latest Russian planes downing an American UAV reminded us of the importance of the issue in terms of Black Sea security. In this way, in a war with both regional and global effects, the United States and Türkiye agree on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Türkiye’s diplomatic efforts also brought success such as grain agreement and prisoner exchange. But it is clear that US-led Western policy has so far not been enough to end the war with a decisive Ukrainian victory. At this stage, where both sides continue to fight, efforts for final peace remain weak.
Meanwhile, the reflections of the global power struggle in the Middle East will directly affect Turkish-American relations. The latest Iranian-Saudi normalization step, which took place through Chinese mediation, reminded Washington that the fight against China will not be achieved by withdrawing from the Middle East. The Iran-Saudi agreement announced on the day Biden sent a message to China by signing a nuclear submarine agreement with Australia and Britain was almost a counter-message. Washington’s hope that China’s efforts to fill the void left by the United States in the Middle East will stagnate is not based in reality. The Biden administration will therefore have to confront the potential of the Middle East to become a new stage in the fight against China. Türkiye’s weight and influence in the region will also be impacted by China’s attempt to enter the game as a new actor while trying to maintain good relations with both Russia and the U.S.