Friday, 18 Jan 2019

US-Turkish relations are better but still tense: QuickTake

Since relations between the United States and Turkey plummeted in August, the two countries settled the dispute between two years and a US pastor detained in Turkey. However, more complex problems continue to divide NATO allies and threaten new crises. These include the consequences of a coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, Turkey's intention to buy a missile defense system from Russia and the US alliance. with a Syrian militia considered by Turkey as an enemy. Both countries affirm the need to maintain their alliance, but the differences that have emerged have eroded confidence on both sides.

1. What is the relationship between the coup attempt and the United States?

For Erdogan, the failed coup d'état remains a purulent plague. The same is true for Washington's reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish religious living in exile in Pennsylvania, whom Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the failed coup. According to US officials, the evidence presented by Turkey against Gulen, who settled in the United States two decades ago and lives in a complex in the Pocono Mountains, is not sufficient to extradite him. Claiming that Gulen's supporters had set up a "deep state" by infiltrating the security services, schools and courts, Erdogan had begun a purge of the public service that cost about 130,000 people their jobs. Turkish officials have also arrested American Andrew Brunson, evangelical preacher, for participation in the overthrow effort.

2. Why did this precipitate a crisis?

While Turkish officials said the Brunson case was a legal and not a political affair, Erdogan deepened US suspicions that the pastor was being held as a currency for exchange. he had suggested last year that Turkey could release him in exchange for Gulen. "Give a pastor, take a pastor," he said. Insisting that Brunson was unjustly arrested, the United States lobbied Turkey to free him by imposing sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. , causing a fall in Turkish financial markets. Turkey has responded with measures against US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. After a Turkish court released Brunson in October, both countries dropped their sanctions.

3. Are there any other signs of rapprochement?

On November 5, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Turkey was one of eight countries to have a temporary waiver of new US sanctions on countries buying Iranian oil. Erdogan said the talks with the United States on his concerns over the operations of Turkish state lender Halkbank are on a "positive path". Turkish and US forces began joint patrols on 1 November in rural areas of Manbij town in northwestern Syria. And on November 6, the United States announced awards for information leading to three top officials of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who had been fighting for autonomy in Turkey for more than three decades. This was the first action of this type led by the United States since Turkey's accession to the organization of the group as a terrorist organization in 1997.

4. What continues to stretch the links?

In addition to the argument concerning the extradition of Gulen, the main issues are the unresolved Halkbank issue, Ankara's plan to acquire a missile defense system in Russia despite strong opposition from the Treaty Organization of North Atlantic and differences over the war in Syria. Turkey strives to obtain the release of its citizen Mehmet Hakan Atilla, former head of international banking at Halkbank, sentenced by a New York court earlier this year for taking part in a program to help Iran to evade US financial sanctions. Turkey alleges that the case is based on evidence fabricated by Gulen supporters.

5. What if Turkey bought Russian missile defenses?

The Russian S-400 system is not compatible with NATO technology. This fueled US demand to suspend planned deliveries of F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, where portions of the Lockheed Martin Co. aircraft are under construction. The United States is concerned that the Russian system will be used to collect information on the stealth capabilities of the F-35.

6. What are the divisions on Syria?

Under President Barack Obama, the United States decided that its most reliable ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria was a Kurdish-led militia and provided considerable support. This angry Turkey, which considers the militia as a subsidiary of the PKK. Turkey has called on Trump to reverse Obama's policy, but instead has doubled and decided to directly arm Syrian Kurds. Turkish forces attacked the militia in Syria. In late October, Turkey bombed the fighters near the Kurdish stronghold of Kobani in northern Kurdistan, while the United States expressed "great concern" at the security of US forces deployed in the region. The United States also said the motivation of the Turkish army was slowing the campaign against the Islamic State, an assertion refuted by Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.

7. Other pain points?

At least three other people arrested in Turkey as part of the 2016 coup attempt and links with the Kurdish separatist group of the PKK drew the attention of the United States and fueled tensions. Serkan Golge, a former NASA scientist, and two Turkish employees of US diplomatic missions, including Metin Topuz consulates in Istanbul and Adana's Hamza Ulucay. The United States says they are innocent.

8. Is Turkey looking for allies elsewhere?

Relations strengthen between Turkey and Russia, even though they supported opponents of the Syrian civil war and Turkey shot down a Russian fighter to support Syrian government forces in 2015, saying it had entered in its airspace. As part of an agreement with Russia and its ally, Iran, Turkey has deployed troops in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, to create a demilitarized zone. She sought the support of France and Germany to try to find a political solution to the conflict.

9. What could keep Turkey on the American orbit?

Common interests have prevented past disputes from degenerating into a permanent break, and these shared interests remain. Turkey depends on short-term foreign investment by Americans and those led by Washington. Meanwhile, the United States does not have reliable allies among the Islamic countries of the Middle East, a region where Russia and Iran are bottom-up. Trump promises a much tougher line against Iran and may not want to push Turkey too far into the opposing side. Turkey has the second largest NATO army and is home to the Incirlik strategic air base, which is used for operations against an Islamic state.

To contact the reporter about this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at, Amy Teibel, Lisa Beyer

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P.


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