Ahead of Erdogan-Trump Meeting, Priorities and Expectations of the Two Sides

Just before the meeting, both sides have clear priorities. What Trump actually wants is no crisis in his last year in office before running for reelection. But he also needs to sell his foreign policy as a success story to his audience, and for that, needs some kind of compromise from Turkey. As for Turkey, its red line is clear and simple, no American support for the PKK or its offshoots, writes Hüseyin Alptekin, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Istanbul Şehir University, Researcher at SETA Strategy Studies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to pay a two-day working visit to the United States tomorrow and meet the American President Donald Trump during his visit.

Many doubted whether the two leaders’ long-expected meeting would actually take place. Turkey’s military operation in Northeast Syria sparked critiques in the US, mostly in the mainstream media outlets, in the DC think tanks, and in Congress. Such circles pressured the administration to meet the YPG’s leader Şahin Cilo (Mazlum Kobane) instead to teach a lesson to Turkey. The Turkish side was also uneasy due to the recent Congress votes against Turkey on the sanctions and Armenian question regarding the events that took place in 1915. Another troubling issue for Turks was Trump’s letter to Erdoğan delivered on October 9 and later revealed by the American media. The language of the letter was well beyond diplomatic respect and created unrest in the Turkish public opinion. Despite such backlashes on both sides, this is not the first time the two leaders could manage to sort things out in the midst of troubles.

The meeting is expected to have a crowded agenda. Turkey’s foremost issue is the continuing American support for the YPG, the PKK’s Syrian offshoot. The PKK is in the terror list of the US. The official US agencies as well as top-level bureaucrats and politicians including Trump himself have repeatedly confirmed their knowledge of the ties between the PKK and YPG. Nevertheless, this has not stopped the US from backing the YPG in Syria as its boots on the ground in dealing with ISIS. Further, even after ISIS has lost its virtual caliphate and entire territorial grip, the US has continued to work with the YPG in Syria, which was perceived by Turks as a PKK statelet project in the making just across its border.

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The American side, on the other hand, seems to have different priorities in its agenda. According to the latest news, the US side’s priority is on Turkey’s purchase of S-400 air-defense system from Russia. As the US failed to stop Turkey’s purchase of the system, the new American direction is to persuade Turkey to deactivate it. US officials previously told their Turkish counterparts that the S-400 system can jeopardize F-35 aircraft project and excluded Turkey from the program although Turkey was among the investors and producers of the F-35 project. Now it seems that if Turkey deactivates its newly bought S-400 it can return to the F-35 project. Erdoğan is not keen on this offer and will probably disregard such demands as he, rather, argues the S-400 and F-35 systems both can be used by Turkey without one jeopardizing the other. Yet, it is not clear whether Turkey’s current position is acceptable to the US as especially Congress is tough on Turkey and has already been pushing Trump administration to implement the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions. It is no secret that Trump, despite all his rogue remarks against Turkey every now and then, is still reluctant on penalizing Turkey over its S-400 purchase. Rather, he is interested in continuing to do business with Turkey whether it is selling Patriots or including Turkey again in the F-35 project. Hence, he is still Turkey’s best shot in bargaining.

Just before the meeting, both sides have clear priorities. What Trump actually wants is no crisis in his last year in office before running for reelection. But he also needs to sell his foreign policy as a success story to his audience, and for that, needs some kind of compromise from Turkey. As for Turkey, its red line is clear and simple, no American support for the PKK or its offshoots. When the top priorities are kept at this level and they are not mutually exclusive, there seems to be a middle ground to meet for the two sides.

                            

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