Istanbul, Turkey – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is travelling to New York City, understanding he has been dealt a promising hand for enhancing ties with the US due to developments in Afghanistan.
At the beginning of the yr, then potential US Secretary of State Antony Blinken derided Ankara as a “so-called” companion to the United States over Turkey’s buy of Russian missiles.
Fast-forward to final month – after the Taliban took the Afghan capital forward of the US withdrawal – and Blinken tweeted that Turkey was “an important NATO ally and an invaluable partner in the region”.
The drastic change in tone provides Erdogan greater than a glimmer of hope that relations with Washington – for a number of years blighted by a seemingly inexhaustible litany of disputes – might be salvageable as he travels on Sunday to attend the UN General Assembly.
“The only difference in Erdogan’s policy goes back to a meeting with [US President Joe] Biden at which he convinced him that Turkey could play a bigger role in Afghanistan,” stated Emre Caliskan, analysis fellow on the London-based Foreign Policy Centre.
Erdogan first recommended Turkey’s position to safeguard Kabul airport to Biden at a NATO summit in June.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, added that Erdogan would use “Afghanistan as a showcase, that really Turkey and the US share pursuits on a variety of points, and that the US additionally advantages from cooperation with Turkey.
“Ankara sees this as a topic that proves that the West still needs Turkey, or the West still benefits from cooperation with Turkey.”
While Erdogan’s journey to New York is principally to attend the General Assembly, a gathering with Biden can be a chance for the most recent reset in US-Turkey ties.
After Biden got here to workplace in January, he waited three months earlier than chatting with Erdogan as the brand new White House displayed its ire at Turkey’s buy of the S-400 air defence system.
The fallout centres on Washington’s insistence that the Russian system is incompatible with NATO’s defences and particularly that it might collect secrets and techniques concerning the F-35, a next-generation stealth fighter jet that Turkey had been a part of growing.
The acquisition of S-400s noticed Turkey kicked off the fighter programme in 2019 and US sanctions had been later imposed on senior Turkish defence officers.
The row provides to different disputes between the 2 states.
Turkey is sad with US help for Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria it says are tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 37-year battle for Kurdish rights in opposition to Turkey that has killed tens of 1000’s.
It additionally calls for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding a 2016 coup try, who has lived within the US for greater than 20 years. Gulen denies the accusations in opposition to him.
Washington, in the meantime, has been important of Turkey’s human rights file, though there are few indicators of Biden finishing up his promise to place this difficulty on the centre of his overseas coverage.
More vital for the US is Turkey’s extended flirtation with Russia, most clearly encapsulated within the S-400 difficulty.
Last month, a Russian arms export official stated Turkey was near committing to obtain a second batch of S-400s, one thing that might doubtless provoke additional US sanctions in opposition to Ankara.
An olive department?
Selim Sazak, an Ankara-based analyst, recommended Turkey would search to no less than delay any extra Russian defence offers in a bid to patch up US relations.
One doable olive department the US might provide over the S-400s can be to comply with Ankara’s suggestion of a joint committee to manage the dispute, one thing the Americans have thus far flatly refused.
“Even if they know they won’t make much progress, if they establish a committee, it will be an achievement for Erdogan for his domestic audience,” Caliskan stated.
Turkey’s provide to assist run Kabul airport to make sure diplomats and help staff can travel safely appears to be Erdogan’s greatest likelihood of attractive concessions from Biden.
Turkey ran the army a part of the airport for six years earlier than the town fell to the Taliban and NATO troops left. It presently has technicians working on the website alongside a Qatari crew and hopes to increase its affect by means of its ties with Qatar and Pakistan – the 2 nations closest to Afghanistan’s new rulers.
‘A common agenda’
Caliskan stated working the airport allowed Turkey to open channels with the US, which is the “main issue” for Turkish policymakers.
“The problem with Turkey-US relations was they couldn’t find a common agenda to overcome their differences,” he added. “It seems they found a common agenda now and they have established a working relationship.”
Unluhisarcikli predicted the general Turkey-US relationship can be up for dialogue as “an extension of the Afghanistan issue”.
Despite Turkey cosying as much as Russia, it stays cautious of its conventional rival. The international locations stay on opposing sides in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno Karabakh within the Caucasus.
Likewise, Washington is eager to restrict Russian affect the place doable, Unluhisarcikli stated.
As with many abroad appearances, a lot of what Erdogan does will likely be geared toward voters again home.
Erdogan underneath stress
Elections are attributable to be held in 2023 however might come earlier. The president has been underneath stress over the financial system, the coronavirus pandemic, and the specter of additional migration from Afghanistan, which might add to some 4 million refugees presently in Turkey.
Erdogan additionally needs to re-establish his picture as a world chief for his home viewers, which any concessions from Biden would bolster.
He plans to advertise his just lately revealed e book, A Fairer World is Possible, which expands on earlier requires the reform of UN decision-making, and can open the Turkish House, a prestigious multi-purpose skyscraper that will likely be home to Turkey’s UN delegation.
“Using these two occasions, he wants to get back in the picture of global leaders,” stated Unluhisarcikli.
An enchancment in ties with the US would additionally make Turkey appear a extra interesting prospect for overseas buyers providing much-needed capital for the Turkish financial system.
On the broader entrance, Erdogan is more likely to press different leaders for some dedication over easy methods to cope with an increase in Afghan migration. Turkey has harassed it can not settle for any extra refugees and can search for a plan that retains fleeing Afghans away from its borders.
‘Much ado about nothing’
With the standing of Kabul airport nonetheless undecided – the Taliban have refused to permit overseas forces to protect the airport and there’s little worldwide confidence of their potential to carry out the duty – there are few concrete measures Erdogan can promise, in line with Sazak.
“There’s very little Erdogan has to offer except for goodwill, which he knows is already heavily overdrawn,” he stated. “There’s very little the US could ask of Erdogan that he could deliver without very significant political cost.”
Sazak added: “Overall, it’s going to be much ado about nothing. The permutation for Erdogan to achieve anything is going to be very difficult.”
Even with the Taliban’s settlement, additional Turkish involvement in Afghanistan poses important dangers.
“If things in Afghanistan go wrong, that’s a price Erdogan can’t pay in Turkey,” Caliskan stated. “If Turkey sees the bodies of dead Turkish soldiers, it will be a difficult situation for Erdogan.”