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Sanctions against Turkey under Trump’s Ambiguous Policy
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with US President Donald Trump at the White House in May 2017. (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Sanctions against Turkey under Trump’s Ambiguous Policy

Al-Arab, London, October 31

The Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria and the agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are serious elements of concern to Washington. Informed sources in Congress and among US-based experts on Turkey claim that the ground is still shaking under the feet of Erdogan and US President Donald Trump. I arrived in Washington in mid-October and soon noticed that the media was seeking answers. Why is Trump consistently pursuing Erdogan? What is the motive behind the US president’s acquiescence to his demands? The answers are not yet clear, but they may very well become clear in the upcoming weeks or months, uncovering even more scandals and dubious business ties between the Trump Administration and its allies in Turkey. The more we examine US-Turkish relations, the more confusing they become. America’s key institutions have fallen into a remarkable state of silence on Ankara. Periodic briefings at the State Department have stopped, leaving journalists to guess what the future of these bilateral relations hold. The current polarization in Congress is reflected by the daily zigzag of members torn between principle-based action and tactics based on personal interests. Rapid shifts in the tone of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the main driver of Turkey sanctions in Congress, are a clear example of this dilemma: Should Republicans maintain their loyalty to Trump or challenge him with tougher sanctions on Turkey? Another source of confusion is the series of sharply contradictory Twitter tirades launched by Trump on a daily basis. “Anything is possible at any moment,” one source told me. Will there be sanctions? If so, how far-reaching will they be? Is Erdogan’s announced visit to the White House a foregone matter? What about inviting Gen. Mazloum Kobani, the Kurdish commander of the SDF, to Washington? Even the most experienced Turkey and White House experts cannot say anything for sure. While some suggest that the Graham-Van Hollin bill on Turkish sanctions has lost momentum, a congressional source cited another bill – prepared by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman [and Republican] Jim Risch, and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez [the committee’s ranking member] – as a measure that could be politically viable. Until then, Erdogan is likely to have completed his visit to Washington, and as the sources predict, the two presidents will embark on a new phase to repel their opponents. Based on these expectations, observers also conclude that sanctions will not be forthcoming anytime soon. What will Erdogan ask Trump? This question concerns many. Observers agree on one issue: Erdogan will firmly demand that his counterpart cancel all proceedings against Halkbank, the Turkish financial institution subjected to a criminal case for violating US sanctions on Iran. Erdogan may also request financial support for his troubled economy, and in return may promise to withdraw his troops from Syria and release some US embassy staff held in Turkish jails. Will there be any change in the rules of the game that would spoil the remarkable cooperation between the two presidents and prevent them from growing closer? The only factor, observers agree, will be to uncover the mysterious deal that binds them together. Under such circumstances, Congress will have no choice but to pass aggressive sanctions on Ankara and pursue Trump’s impeachment with even greater vigor. – Yawiz Bidar (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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