There has been growing concern about deteriorating press freedoms under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in particular over the numbers of journalists facing legal proceedings on accusations of insulting top officials. (Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey Starts US Initiative to Improve Relations

Ankara tries to smooth over the fall-out from their Russian S-400 purchase as Turkish-American relations plunge

Facing pressure from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as from the U.S. over its recent purchase of the S-400 anti-missile defense system from Russia, Turkey has initiated a series of discussions in New York and Washington, hoping to allay fears over the acquisition.

NATO is virulently opposed to Turkey’s procurement because of the fear that its joint defense system might be compromised by the new Russian-Turkish military connection.

“This campaign will be focusing on the S-400 and [explaining] that it will not jeopardize the U.S. and its allies. They are going to emphasize that the Russian system will be used separately and on different equipment from the NATO system,” said Vehbi Baysan, assistant professor at Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul.

The May 21-24 two-city initiative targets lawmakers, journalists and academics.

The United States also opposes the S-400 missile deal because of the potential threat it poses to its new generation F-35 fighter jet, which as a NATO member is available to Turkey. Baysan explained that as a result, Washington has threatened not to deliver any more jets and to stop training Turkish pilots who come to the States in order to learn how to operate the planes.

“Turkey needs the new generation of fighter planes. It is absolutely critical to them,” Baysan said. Nevertheless, Ankara said it will continue with the missile deal with Russia.

Bulent Aliriza, Director and Senior Associate of the Turkey Project at the Washington -based Center for Strategic and International Studies contends that if the U.S. makes good on its threat, it will be catastrophic for relations between those two countries.

“If the U.S. goes through with [halting delivery of the F-35 to Turkey,] and it is looking more likely that it will, we will be having the worst crisis in Turkish-U.S. relations since at least the 1947 Truman Doctrine,” Aliriza told The Media Line.

Aliriza notes that If the United States cuts-off Turkey’s F-35 supply, it would not be the first-time in recent history that tensions between the nations had economic consequences. President Trump placed tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports last year, although very recently he cut the tariff in half, to 25 percent.

Another point of contention in the U.S.-Turkey relationship is Syria. Ankara opposes American coordination with the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) in Syria in the fight against ISIS, because it has close ties with the Turkish-banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a group which calls for an independent Kurdish State within Turkey that has been labeled a terrorist organization by the Erdogan regime.

Washington is not expected to change its policy because, the U.S. will not change [its] policy because it would have to send troops otherwise, which is not considered to be politically feasible. The U.S. is also concerned with Turkey’s deepening relationship with countries that have hostile relations with the U.S. In addition to getting into hot water over its strengthening of ties with Russia over the purchase of the S-400 system, Turkey was also previously accused of paying Iran for oil with gold in order to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Bi-lateral relations have been further strained by President Trump’s refusal to extradite exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally blames for instigating the failed July 2016 coup d’etat in which 250 people were killed.
Gulen now resides in self-declared exile in Pennsylvania.

Baysan, of the Turkey Project said Turkey has turned to its own information campaign in part to counteract the influence of the Gulen movement, which promulgates such values as secular education and broadmindedness, on Washington politics.

Turkey has labeled the Gulen movement a terrorist organization.

The West has also become increasingly impatient with Turkey’s record on human rights. Since the attempted 2016 coup some 150,000 government workers have been dismissed from their jobs, and large number of foreign ministry personnel were arrested over suspected links with the Gulen movement.

(Tara Kavaler is a journalism intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.)

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