Thu, 12 Dec 2019

Tensions High Ahead of Erdogan-Trump Meeting

Voice of America
12 Nov 2019, 08:05 GMT+10

ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington this week to meet President Donald Trump, a meeting some consider an opportunity to reset relations that have been strained over numerous policy differences.

Turkey's military operation against the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, is expected to top the agenda. Ankara designates the. YPG as terrorists, but the militia is a crucial ally in the U.S.-led war against Islamic State.

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The U.S. Congress is threatening widespread sanctions against Turkey for its military operations against the Kurds. Some of the sanctions target Erdogan personally.

However, Erdogan is warning that agreements negotiated with Washington and Moscow to pause the military operation against the Kurdish militia are at risk. The Turkish leader accuses the militia of failing to withdraw from the Turkish frontier.

Analysts suggest Erdogan could look to secure at least tacit support from Trump for a resumption in the Syrian operation.

This week's presidential meeting is widely seen as coming at a critical moment in relations between the NATO allies.

"This is a very important meeting," said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"There is a long list of problems between the two countries. In fact, the relationship has never been as bad as it is today. And of course, there is the ongoing matter which is the Turkish incursion into Syria and U.S. objections. What's happening on the ground is extremely volatile."

Despite escalating bilateral tensions, the two presidents appear to have built a good working relationship, a personal chemistry that Ankara believes can offer a chance of a reset.

"I hope these two big charismatic leaders maybe bring a new acceptable and rational way forward between Turkey-.U.S. relations," said Mesut Casin, Turkish presidential adviser on foreign affairs. "The historic summit will be beneficial for both sides. I am looking to an optimistic perspective. This will be bringing new solutions and new methodologies between the two actors."

Aydintasbas warns that Ankara relying solely on Trump to resolve differences may be a risky strategy.

"A huge strategic mistake on the part of Ankara was to build the entire relationship, to reduce it all on President Trump - one man, and basically his tweets. And that is a very risky proposition. I'd say that's a Russian roulette in a relationship that is more than a century old," Aydintasbas said.

Erdogan is looking to Trump to lift an embargo on the purchase of America's latest fighter jet.

Trump imposed the freeze after Ankara procured Russia's S-400 missiles.

Washington claims the Russian missiles radar system threatens to compromise NATO defense systems, in particular the F-35 jet's stealth technology.

Washington is alarmed at Ankara's deepening ties with Moscow, but analysts question Trump's room to maneuver.

"President Trump is under political pressure with this impeachment process. He doesn't feel so comfortable," said former Turkish Ambassador Mithat Rende. "With the anti-Turkish sentiments in the Congress, he will be under pressure, and probably he won't be so forthcoming. There is growing pressure for sanctions on Turkey."

Turkish media are reporting that Trump sent a letter to Erdogan, offering a compromise.The reports allege Trump would lift sanctions in exchange for Ankara not activating the Russian missiles and ending further procurements of the missiles.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made a similar proposal which Erdogan dismissed, wondering why a country would buy a defense system and not use it.

This month, however, Ankara announced postponing until the new year the delivery of the second batch of S-400s. The delay was blamed on a dispute over the future joint production of the missile system.

Analysts suggest the suspension gives Erdogan some leverage in his meeting with Trump. Erdogan is expected to offer to buy America's patriot missiles during his visit.

"We can buy Patriots if we can come to an agreement on joint production and technology transfer," Casin said.

But Ankara points out if this week's meeting with Trump doesn't deliver a reset in ties, Moscow is waiting.

"Turkey cannot continue to have a productive alliance with the U.S. while these threats continue to the excess," Casin said."This is not beneficial. When looking to the other side, who is the winner of this situation? Russia and China."

Already, Turkish and Russian troops are cooperating in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to court Erdogan.

"Putin's long objective is to break up NATO, and he has already achieved a great deal in that regard," said Rende.

Putin is likely to be watching Erdogan's visit to Washington closely.

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