The Turkish president met with senators at the White House amid fears that sanctions against Turkey could be looming
US President Donald Trump hailed a Wednesday meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but analysts told The Media Line that grave issues between the NATO allies seem to remain unresolved.
The meeting came a month after Turkey launched an incursion into Syria against Kurdish fighters who were allied with the US in the fight against ISIS. Ankara stated that the Kurds in Syria are connected to a Kurdish militia in Turkey that is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.
Divisions between the two leaders over northeastern Syria were clear during a press conference after their meeting.
A Turkish reporter asked if a Syrian-Kurdish leader, who Ankara says is connected to terrorists, will be invited to Washington.
In response, President Trump said, “We’re working very closely together and we’re also working very closely together with your president.”
Later, Erdogan insisted Turkey was the most reliable partner in the region against terrorism, likely contrasting his country to Kurdish fighters in Syria who were widely lauded for their fight against ISIS.
Erdogan added that Turkey was fighting against terrorists and not the Kurdish people, emphasizing that he had Kurdish people working in his government.
Another key point of contention between the two countries is Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system that the US asserts would undermine the technology of its F-35 fighter jets. In response, Washington has kicked Ankara out of the fighter jet program and may impose sanctions.
Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former parliamentarian with the main opposition Republican People’s Party, noted President Trump’s statement that Turkish-American NASA scientist Serkan Golge would be returning to the US “in the not too distant future” after he was jailed and then put under house arrest in Turkey during the crackdown following the 2016 failed coup.
“It could be a minor but significant win for Trump,” Erdemir said.
However, he added that there were not any significant policy announcements despite the deep problems between the two countries.
“This was quite an opaque press conference” he said. “Possibly, this is a reflection of the fact that none of these burning issues were settled today.”
During the press conference, President Trump told reporters he invited some senators, including Lindsey Graham, to meet with the Turkish president.
Erdemir suspected the real reason for the Washington meeting was for Erdogan to meet with senators who could help Turkey avoid the sanctions.
“That’s probably the real story here,” Erdemir said. “I think what really matters is that Erdogan had a chance to spend time with Republican senators. We’ll see whether he will have convinced enough of them to prevent a … sanctions vote in the Senate.”
Alan Makovsky, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who previously dealt with Turkish affairs at the US State Department, said that Congress is the key obstacle for Turkey to improve its situation on the sanctions and the US fighter jets.
“President Trump may lift the suspension of Turkish participation in F-35 co-production, but Congress is likely to be a roadblock. By all indications, Congress seems likely to insist that Turkish participation be halted unless Turkey relinquishes the S-400,” Makovsky wrote in an email to The Media Line.
He added that the mood in Congress against Turkey could not be worse.
“Turkey’s best hope in that regard is that impeachment sucks up so much oxygen in Congress that lawmakers have no time to focus on Turkey.”
President Trump also stated during the press conference that the two discussed increasing trade.
Can Selcuki, an economist and general manager with the polling company Istanbul Economics Research, told The Media Line that the Turkish president would have wanted to push for a $100 billion trade target but it is uncertain how the two countries could meet such a goal.
Another key point of discussion would have been the case of Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank, which is facing charges over being part of a plot to skirt sanctions against Iran.
Selcuki said if Halkbank had been willing to settle, the fine likely would have been much less than what it may end up being.
“But now it’s not a political issue; now it’s a judiciary issue. I don’t know how much luck Turkey will have there.”