While today’s headlines have been dominated by the long awaited moment when the US has officially re-imposed all pre-2015 sanctions against Iran as well as new Trump era sanctions, the far more crucial story in respect of immediate global developments surrounds the question of ‘which eight countries will receive sanctions waivers from the United States’? According to the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the US reserves the right to sanction so-called second party nations that continue their trade with any nation being directly targeted by American sanctions. This means that all of the nations that continue to trade with Iran after the 5th of November are theoretically subject to US sanctions. However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the US has decided to offer temporary second party sanctions waivers to eight nations that the Washington is expected to name on Monday.
While it is widely thought that new US partner India along with long time Asian allies Japan and energy hungry South Korea will be offered waivers, Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Fatih Dönmez has stated that Turkey will be included in the list of nations what will be able to buy Iranian oil after Monday without facing US sanctions.
This is a substantial development as the US has frequently used the threat of sanctions against Turkey over Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian made S-400 missile defence system. Furthermore, prior to the 5th of November, the US offered no clear indication of its position on a would-be Turkish waiver after Ankara vowed to continue buying energy from Iran irrespective of US threats.
Likewise, prior to the release of convicted terrorist collaborator Andrew Brunson (a US national), the US directly sanctioned Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu in an attempt to pressure an illegal political intervention by the Turkish government into the affairs of the Turkish judiciary. It is therefore highly relevant that on the very day that ‘mega-sanctions’ go into effect against Iran, Turkey should see sanctions lifted on Gul and Soylu. That being said, there is no word that a punitive 50% tariff increase on Turkish steel and aluminium will be lifted even though the US justified these tariff increases on the Brunson trial that has now been concluded to the apparent mutual satisfaction of both Ankara and Washington.
Overall, it can be concluded that Turkey’s uncompromising position on its desire to continue buying energy from Iran and buying weapons from Russia was interpreted by the US to derive from a Turkish position of internal and regional strength. What’s more is that if Turkey had not been granted a sanctions waiver over Iran, it would have merely compounded to the other areas of dispute that continue to arise between Washington and Ankara. Such areas include the Russian S-400 deal, America’s battlefield alliance with the YPG/PKK terror group in Syria (in spite of the US proscribing the Turkish branch of the terror group as such), America’s dubious relationship to the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) and the barrage of negative western speculation against the Turkish Lira that has generally subsided but which was still described by Turkey’s President as a warlike act of hostility.
Knowing that historically Turkey makes a good friend and a difficult adversary, the US appears to have conducted a cost-benefit analysis and determined that it was not worth risking further alienation of Turkey which could damage prospects of cooperation in northern Syria, including in the city of Manbij that Ankara has vowed to liberate from YPG/PKK occupation either with or without US cooperation. As Turkey has vowed to continue to neutralise terrorists east of the River Euphrates in northern Syria, the message from Ankara to the Washington in this theatre of war is clear: ‘Either you cooperate with us or we will neutralise threats to Turkish security alone’.
Tensions in northern Syria still run high as the US has yet to relinquish its alliance with the YPG/PKK. Earlier today, a US Army spokesman even had the audacity to claim that Turkey’s tough response to YPG/PKK terrorism was to blame for a resurgent Daesh in eastern Syria. Thus serves to underscore that rather than having a unified position on relations with Turkey, the US is deeply internally divided between those seeking to escalate tensions with Turkey and those calling for an urgent rapprochement.
In any case, the fact that Turkey will receive a sanctions waiver is indicative of the fact that in the battle for the hearts and minds of US officials in respect of forming a cohesive set of policies regarding Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tough stance of uncompromising foreign policy independence has made the US blink first. As such, Washington has decided not to escalate tensions with Turkey by meddling in the positive relationship that Turkey continues to cultivate with its Iranian neighbour. This itself will be a disappointment to the powerful America based Israel lobby that has ratcheted up a campaign of hatred against Turkey along side groups that have traditionally antagonistic positions vis-a-vis Turkey. Of course in all of these matters, Turkey’s global vindication regarding its statements on the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi have likely had a further impact on the US decision not to create a new conflict with Turkey regarding Ankara’s purchases of Iranian energy.
Those who have argued that Erdogan risked Turkish prosperity and security by standing up to the US over areas in which the two NATO members disagree have officially lost the argument. President Erdogan’s policy of putting Turkish interests ahead of foreign interests even when this means disagreeing with a traditional partner have been vindicated. Turkey has had sanctions dropped against two of its governmental officials on the same day that a Turkish government minister announced that the US will give Ankara a waiver over its transactions with Iran. This was a win-win conclusion that came after months of tough negotiations and stern warnings from Erdogan and his political supporters. This approach has now been self-evidently vindicated. In stating that Turkey had no plans to cease its relations with Iran regarding the purchase of energy, Erdogan called the American bluff and got what he desired as a result.