Erdoğan’s First Meeting With Biden Ends With No Agreements
The one-on-one session held on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels is highly touted in Turkey
The problems in Turkish-US relations are solvable, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said after his first meeting with Joe Biden since the US president took office. But analysts told The Media Line that the Turkish leader is just trying to boost his country’s image amid serious fractures in relations.
Erdoğan said discussions on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on Monday were “fruitful and sincere” and repeatedly stressed that he hoped there could be future cooperation, including in defense and trade, but provided little detail.
He also told reporters at NATO’s headquarters that Biden said he might visit Turkey.
However, Erdoğan also listed several areas of dispute, including US support for Kurdish forces in Syria and Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons, without suggesting any agreements had been reached.
At a press conference after the meeting, Biden said he had a detailed and productive discussion with Erdoğan, adding that their governments would continue to meet.
“I’m confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey and the United States,” the American president said.
Imdat Oner, a former Turkish diplomat, told The Media Line that regardless of what was discussed during the meeting, Biden would not suggest there was a split within NATO during a summit.
“This was a face-saving meeting for Erdoğan, just to present an image to the world that ‘We are still a NATO ally, we are still a US ally,” said Oner, who is currently a doctoral candidate in international relations at Florida International University.
Erdoğan has been attempting to improve ties with Western allies as he faces a deteriorating economy, declining popularity at home and isolation abroad.
Relations with the US have a major impact on Turkey’s finances, as proved by a 2018 diplomatic row that led to sanctions against Ankara, followed by a meltdown of Turkish currency.
Oner said Erdoğan is hoping to show that he is still working with Biden and is not fully aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Turkish economy is expecting positive rapprochement [with the US] but I’m quite negative on that expectation,” said Oner.
Ties between the two countries have become significantly worse on several fronts, with Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-missile defense system as one of the leading reasons.
Erdoğan said on Monday that he brought up previous ideas about Turkey’s use of the Russian weapons, which in the past included suggesting a monitoring mechanism.
Aaron Stein, research director at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that would not be good enough for Biden and that Ankara has failed to provide workable solutions.
“I think we have to get used to the fact that this is the status quo. The status quo now is the US isn’t going to chase someone,” Stein told The Media Line.
Amid reports that Ankara offered to provide security for Kabul’s airport after the US withdraws all of its troops from Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey will have an important role to play but that no decisions have been made.
Differences between Washington and Ankara were made even more evident with the release of the NATO summit statement labeling China as a security challenge.
The statement also said the military alliance remains vigilant about security threats to borders, including possible missiles hitting Turkey from Syria.
On Sunday, Erdoğan announced that his country’s central bank had agreed with the People’s Bank of China to raise an existing currency swap arrangement to $6 billion from $2.4 billion, in a move that could boost foreign reserves.
The agreement came on the same day that the G7, which includes the US, completed a summit in England with a communiqué raising concerns over human rights in China and demanding an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in the country.
Muzaffer Şenel, from Ankara-based Medipol University’s political science and international relations department, said Erdoğan in his meeting with Biden likely would have asserted that Turkey does not just protect its own borders but also NATO’s border, as it is the easternmost member state, sharing a border with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Ankara has long said the US is working against its security interests by cooperating with Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, near the Turkish border, who helped fight against the Islamic State.
Ankara says those forces are connected to a militia in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Şenel said that, within Turkey, Erdoğan will be able to easily sell the meeting as a success because of the number of media outlets that he and his allies control.
Relations between the two presidents have been frosty, with Biden waiting three months to hold a phone call with Erdoğan after coming in to office.
Biden had already expressed disdain for Erdoğan before winning the US presidential election.
During a New York Times interview in December 2019, Biden said he would support Turkey’s political opposition and called Erdoğan an “autocrat.”
Şenel said that while significant differences remain, the Turkish president will value the image of the two leaders meeting.
“It will bring visibility for Erdoğan for sure,” Şenel said. “Erdoğan is being portrayed negatively in the international media and this will bring at least an [image of] acceptance.”