The past 24 hours have seen the US offer multiple contradictory statements regarding its close relationship with Saudi Arabia, while equally contradictory statements were made regarding relations with Turkey. Initially, Donald Trump stated that sanctions against Turkish officials and a 50% punitive tariff increase on Turkish steel and aluminium exports would not be dropped as there was “no deal” made between Washington and Ankara regarding the release of convicted terrorist supporter Andrew Brunson – the US national just released from a Turkish prison. However, Trump later stated that “we’ll probably now really establish a terrific relationship with Turkey, we appreciate it”.
It seems peculiar that Trump did not immediately declare his intention to drop anti-Turkish sanctions and tariffs upon Brunson’s release due to the fact that when levelling the sanctions and tariffs US officials stated explicitly that they were in relation to the fact that Brunson continued to sit in prison during the course of his trial in Turkey. Now that Brunson is a convicted but free man (due to time already served during the trial), logic would dictate that sanctions relating to the Brunson matter would be dropped.
Instead, Trump is offering publicly ambiguous statements regarding his desire to mend clearly broken relations with Turkey (which date back to 2016), although he has yet to offer concrete examples of how this rapprochement might unfold.
Yet in spite of the ambiguity, there are clear steps which can and should be taken to mend the ailing partnership between Ankara and Washington.
The US must cease working with the YPG/PKK terror group in Syria
While the United States continues to list the PKK terror group as such, not least because of its campaign of bloodshed which has claimed the lives of 40,000 souls in Turkey, American soldiers continue to fight beside the PKK’s Syrian branch YPG in north-eastern Syria.
It is well known that the YPG/PKK and their sisters groups ultimately have nationalistic ambitions which threaten the territorial integrity and peace of multiple nations including Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Because of this, it was crucial that at the last meeting of the Astana group in Tehran that Turkey, Iran and Russia each pledged to fight all forms of terrorism that are currently active in Syria. This was largely seen as an endorsement by Russia and Iran of Turkey’s long standing position of opposition to the occupation of vast swaths of Syrian territory by the YPG/PKK which incidentally stands accused of ethnic cleansing against the Arab, Turkomen and Assyrian populations of the cities and regions they are illegally occupying.
Prior to Andrew Brunson’s release from prison, Turkey’s President Erdgoan warned that the agreement the US and Turkey made in May to jointly liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij from YPG/PKK occupation is in danger of dying due to US lethargy on the issue.
With Russia now openly warning that the US seeks to use the YPG/PKK to permanently seize legitimate Syrian territory in order to form a YPG/PKK dominated statelet in the region, it has become clear that the US must come clean about its intentions.
America’s relationship with the YPG/PKK in Syria remains the biggest roadblock in the way of repairing relations between Ankara and Washington. While the Brunson issue being laid to rest is important in so far as it potentially opens a large window of opportunity in respect of Turkey-US reconciliation, if Russia’s statements regarding the US being keen on supporting YPG/PKK separatism in Syria is indicative of America’s long term strategy in the region, relations between the US and Turkey could potentially degrade even further as no Turkish government would tolerate a notorious terror group setting up a permanent base in a neighbouring state. This issue clearly must be addressed at once.
After a US made F-35 fighter jet crashed over US soil during a training mission, The Pentagon decided to ground all F-35s so that problems with the new fighters could be resolved. This actually opens up a further window of opportunity in respect of Turkey’s relations with the US. While anti-Turkish pressure groups in Washington have urged either delaying or even suspending delivery of the F-35s that Turkey has order and indeed helped to design, now that initial problems in the jets have been discovered, Turkey should be invited to work with the US in resolving these technical problems.
By turning the problems with the F-35s into a win-win opportunity for Turkey and the US to re-start their initial cooperation over the fighters, many totally unnecessary tensions could be averted.
If Turkey can be partners with the US, Russia and China – The US must learn to compartmentalise its relationships with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey
As a nation that under President Erdogan has rapidly developed and continues to advance positive relations between multiple partners, the US could take a lesson from Erdogan when it comes to compartmentalising relations with nations that themselves have disagreements with one another. While Turkey does not agree with all of the geostrategic goals of its multiple partners, Turkey remains on good and improving terms with China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Africa to name but a few.
But while Turkey has found a way to be friends with as many nations as possible while avoiding potential conflicts, the US has thus far not been able to resolve the domestic Israel lobby’s alliance with traditional anti-Turkish forces with the fact that Turkey has the second largest armed forces in NATO.
As Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu continues to defame the Turkish President before Turkey’s traditional regional rivals, pro-Israel forces in the US continue to ramp up their own campaign to sway US policy markers towards Turkophobic measures. Because of this, moderates within the US establishment must fight the tendency to follow America’s Israeli ally as well as its Saudi ally down a road of irresponsible measures directed at Turkey.
While the US will always be friendly with Israel and Saudi Arabia, it needn’t overtly take sides just because Tel Aviv and Riyadh have their own agenda against Turkey’s rising influence in the neighbouring Arab world and beyond. The US must learn to compartmentalise its pro-Israel/pro-Saudi stance with its traditional commitments to Turkey in order not to be dragged down into a geopolitical rabbit hole that does not serve America’s own interests.
Come clean about FETO
The fact that Washington has yet to come clean about its role in provoking the FETO led attempted coup against the Turkish people in 2016, combined with the fact that multiple FETO terrorist agents working in US consular facilities in Turkey have been arrested by Turkish authorities, along with the FETO leader Fethullah Gulen’s protracted presence in the US in spite of multiple requests for an extradition from the Turkish government, all adds up to a clear lack of transparency in respect of America’s relations with yet another terror group which threatens Turkish security.
If Turkey were to fund domestic terror groups in the United States or for that matter in Canada or Mexico, Washington would be livid. Yet the US has an all too close relationship with FETO and pretends as if it is a non-issue when challenged by Turkish officials.
This attitude on the part of the US must dramatically shift if Turkey-US relations are to improve.
While there is much work to be done in fixing the currently fragile state of the Turkish-US partnership, Ankara has been surprisingly tolerant of American antics regarding less than transparent or noble acts directed against the Turkish state. With the Brunson matter out of the way, the US must take concrete steps to improve relations with Turkey as Donald Trump indicated he seeks to do.