The US-Turkey Relations under Construction

On May 5 Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, the intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan and Presidential Spokesperson Ambassador İbrahim Kalın went to Washington before the visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which is critical with regard to the reconstruction of the relations between Turkey and the US. The US-Turkey relations have not been restructured with Trump administration since January. Therefore, the Washington visit of the Akar-Kalın-Fidan trio intends to determine the new framework of the relations between Turkey and the US. In addition, it could be argued that after their visit to Washington, this trio starts to come to the forefront as the main actors of the Turkish foreign policy in the new period. This marks the ending of the Davutoğlu period at least at the level of actors.

The US-Turkey relations in the Obama period deteriorated particularly due to the conflict of  interests with regards to YPG in the Syria crisis and even escalated to a level leading to the discussion of the 60-year alliance between the two countries. Although the Turkish decision makers have the expectation that they would have more positive relations with the Trump administration compared to the Obama, they have not got the chance with President Trump until May to reconstruct the relations.

It is understood that the Akar-Kalın-Fidan trio took the first step to determine the framework of the relations between the two countries with the team of President Trump, particularly with Pentagon, CIA, the State Department and White House before the visit of President Erdoğan to Washington between May 16 and 17.

One may expect first that the general framework of the US-Turkey relations will be determined and then the role of Turkey in the Middle Eastern policy of USA will be discussed once more. In particular, the efforts to harmonize the interests of the two countries in Syria crisis will take an important part of the visit as the interests of the two countries are in complete conflict with respect to YPG in the Syria crisis. Turkey sees YPG as a terrorist organizations while the US as its ally. Therefore, it is highly probable that the most debate and difference during the negotiations will be on the issue of YPG. It seems possible that the two countries will reconsolidate their alliance relations with respect to ISIL and escalate to the level of strategic partnership. The US may be expecting Turkey to assume new roles against Iran. If Turkey and the US will have common point on the Iran issue, we can argue that the relations of the two countries will be again on the strategic partnership level.

However, we need to emphasize that the Iran policy of President Trump is far too different than the compromising attitude of the Obama administration. President Trump stated that he does not acknowledge the nuclear settlement signed during the Obama term giving his first message that he has a different stand against Iran. Likewise, Tomahawk Cruise missile strike to Shayrat air base in April 7 by the US appears to be a message against Iran and Russia indicating that the Trump administration takes to stage once more in the Syria crisis. This attack was the first international military intervention of the Trump administration and mostly perceived to be against Iran while Iran reacted to the attack more severely than Russia. Therefore, it is argued that the US will determine its Middle East policy over Iran during the Trump administration. The power vacuum created by the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq during the Obama administration was filled by Iran who achieved the leading position of the Middle East by expanding its influence areas as a regional power. Therefore, it could be argued that the new goal of the Middle East policy of the Trump administration is first to reduce the increasing influence of Iran and then to isolate Iran in the region. It could also be claimed that a US policy to create a Sunni block may be discussed to isolate Iran in the Middle East. In this context, the US part in the Washington negotiations with the Akar-Kalın-Fidan trio may ask Turkey to assume new roles particularly to isolate Iran. It is highly probable that Turkey will naturally be included in the Sunni block policy of the US.

On the other hand, it is also likely that the talks to reconstruct the relations of the two countries will include the fact that Russia became the leading actor in the Syria crisis after the Astana meetings and Turkey acted together with Iran in this process. At this point, it could be expected that the Turkish part will focus upon the inclusion of the US in the Astana process, while the US part will focus on the discontinuance of the union of Turkey with Iran.  On May 4, the State Department emphasized that the US is not a direct participant of the Astana meetings and this job cannot be done with Iran which clearly reveals the conflict of interests between the Trump administration with Turkey and Russia in the policy for Syria and Iran. Therefore, the decisions to be taken during the talks on the relations between Turkey and Russia would both impact the Turkish policy against Syria and Iran and the future of the Astana process. In this sense, determining a policy against Iran to increase the relations with the US to the strategic partnership level will require Turkey to leave the Astana process or at least to stop acting together with Iran. It could argue that Trump administration’s policy of weakening and isolating Iran in the region will add a new dimension to the relations of the two countries.

In conclusion, the negotiations in May will re-determine the general framework of the US-Turkey relations with regard to the Middle East in general and to Iran and Syria in particular. It could suggest that the course of the US-Turkey bilateral relations will restructure by Trump administration’s policy toward Iran rather than Syria crisis and YPG in the coming era.

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