President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the White House in Washington, United States on November 13, 2019.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the White House in Washington, United States on November 13, 2019.

No breakthrough in Turkish-American relations soon

There were too many controversial issues on the table in President Erdoğan’s recent visit to Washington and the meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Washington's continuing support for the People's Protection Units (YPG); the S-400 missiles; the situation with the F-35 fighter jets; Washington’s policy on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and other sanction bills against Turkey are urgent issues for Turkey that need to be tackled constructively by the American authorities. Only a reset in Turkish-American relations can assure a significant change, but the circumstances are not conducive to a reset. For the moment the Democratic Union Party (PYD) issue seems to be the biggest problem leading to constant tensions between the two countries.

There were too many controversial issues on the table in President Erdoğan’s recent visit to Washington and the meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Washington’s continuing support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG); the S-400 missiles; the situation with the F-35 fighter jets; Washington’s policy on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and other sanction bills against Turkey are urgent issues for Turkey that need to be tackled constructively by the American authorities. Only a reset in Turkish-American relations can assure a significant change, but the circumstances are not conducive to a reset. For the moment the Democratic Union Party (PYD) issue seems to be the biggest problem leading to constant tensions between the two countries.

We expect no breakthrough in Turkish-American relations any time soon. Even the Trump-Erdoğan meeting in the White House will not assure a significant improvement in Turkish-American relations in the coming weeks. The meeting can rather be seen as the beginning of new momentum in bilateral relations. The relations between the two countries had deteriorated terribly, especially in the last five years, and the relationship is experiencing one of its worst periods in decades. The lobbies and the political actors who are against the normalization of Turkish-American relations are quite strong and they pursue a very effective anti-Turkey campaign in the U.S.

The PYD/YPG does not have any strategic value for serving the long-term geopolitical interests of Washington. The existence of a Kurdish political entity that is threatening Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq may be instrumental for Israel’s regional goals, but Washington would rather benefit from Turkey as a strong ally for her regional objectives. Washington cannot use the PYD to counterbalance Iran or any other power in the region. The PYD or the PKK will never want to completely alienate Tehran or Damascus. The YPG will also have no strategic value for the U.S. in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions. The YPG will only cooperate for the struggle against other terror groups such as Daesh if Washington helps to boost nationalist expectations of the PYD.

With the death of Daesh leader al-Baghdadi, the fight against Daesh gained significant momentum in the last couple of weeks. Turkey is undertaking a very effective role in this struggle. There is no reason for Washington to invest further in the YPG solely for the purpose of fighting against Daesh. The YPG rather released Daesh prisoners when the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) initiated Operation Peace Spring.

Even this move demonstrated the problems of reliability for the YPG as a partner against Daesh. If Washington makes an accurate and rational assessment of the costs and benefits of their misguided PYD policy they can change their preferences but they seem to be ideologically committed to the PYD and FETÖ.

The weakening of ties between Washington and Ankara will strategically weaken Washington’s stake in European security. Washington seems to be uninterested in further investing in European security. They want to focus on an emerging rival in East Asia.

Improving relations with Ankara may reduce Washington’s burden on European security. Turkey is a very influential partner in NATO but feels completely alienated by its allies. The weakening of the NATO alliance and the weakening of the Turkey-NATO and/or U.S.-NATO ties may make Europe more vulnerable to security threats.

This meeting will be a modest step in the direction of normalization of Turkish-American relations. Gradual and reciprocated confidence-building steps that would include different segments of both parties should be planned for sustainable normalization. What may facilitate the normalization of Turkish-American relations is the possible overlap of the strategic goals of both counties.

The PYD and FETÖ can have no long term strategic value for expanding broader American strategic interests. Turkey plays a critical role in serving Washington’s strategic goals in Europe and Asia. If Ankara reaches the conclusion that the relations with the U.S. and European actors cannot be fixed any time soon this may push Turkey to consider alternative strategic options. Washington and Brussels’ attitudes in the sale of strategic weapon systems to Turkey and their support for the PYD/PKK will be crucial in Turkey’s assessment in this direction.

[Daily Sabah, 15 November 2019]

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