Turkey and US work to heal cracks in bilateral relations

Friday, 2018-10-19 18:10:49
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey on October 17. (Reuters)
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NDO – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara shortly after Turkey released the US pastor, Andrew Brunson. Washington has also opened up the possibility of lifting its sanctions against Turkey. The cracked relationship between the two NATO allies is showing signs of being healed through their binding strategic interests.

The Turkish-American alliance has worsened dramatically since disputes broke out over Turkey’s arrest of pastor Brunson. The US imposed sanctions on several of Ankara’s officials, as well as doubling the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey. Ankara also retaliated through sanctions aimed at US goods.

The US sanctions made Turkey’s domestic currency, lira, tumble sharply and lose nearly 40% of its value so far this year. Relations between the two countries have also been in trouble due to differences on the war in Syria. The US-backed Kurdish force in Syria, a trusted partner of Washington in the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), has been listed as terrorists by Turkey. After a period of prolonged dispute, Turkey’s release of pastor Brunson was described by US President Donald Trump as a “difficult decision”. President Trump hailed the move as a “big step” towards a fine relationship between Washington and Ankara. However, it is regarded that the concession from Turkey aims to be an exchange for the lifting of US sanctions, which have made the economy of the country lying between Asia and Europe wobble.

The solution taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has helped to cool down the tensions in its relations with the US.

Receiving US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ankara, the Turkish President discussed many “hot” issues with the senior US diplomat.

Turkey’s release of pastor Brunson, closing a “sensitive” profile which once hindered the bilateral ties, has paved the way for the US to consider lifting its sanctions against Ankara. The US Secretary of State’s visit to Ankara also aims to promote Washington’s intermediary role in addressing the crisis in Turkey-Saudi Arabia relations concerning the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Washington does not want the troubles surrounding the case to seriously harm the relations between the two important US allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and also does not want to put the US in an awkward situation in the case that it is forced to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia as President Trump once stated.

The Brunson case, which has become a focus of the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the US, has been eliminated. However, the two countries still have to put aside their differences in the Syrian issue. Turkish President Erdogan once complained that the US had failed to implement the timetable reached concerning the withdrawal of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij in northern Syria. In opposition to Washington’s support for the YPG, Ankara threatened to conduct ground assaults on the YPG facilities, even if US troops were stationed there. In order to reduce the disagreement over Syria, Turkey and the US recently agreed to compromise. The two sides agreed on joint patrols in Manbij aiming to create stability and security in the region, and prevent terrorist activities.

Meanwhile, Turkey has adjusted its relationship axis towards Russia and other countries in the Middle East. Turkey’s moves to shake hands with Russia in terms of economics and military had “provoked” the US. The benefits of both Washington and Ankara are affected when the ties between the two sides do not go smoothly. The Turkish economy has fallen into recession, while Washington has not received support from its allies in the fight against the IS in Syria.

To some extent, the recent turmoil in Turkey-US relations has adversely affected the links within NATO, to which both the US and Turkey are members. Consequently, Washington and Ankara making concessions at this time is seen as a reasonable and “mutually beneficial” choice.