Alwaght- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is set to visit Washington on November 13 for talks with President Donald Trump amid a heavy cloud of tensions overshadowing the two NATO allies. The visit has caught the attention of media and observers who wonder what are Erdogan’s goals while the bilateral relations are frayed over a set of cases.
Erdogan visits Washington while relations hit by the crisis
The trip to the US comes while the two sides’ ties are strained by a string of decisive cases. Before the Turkish operation in Syria, Trump wrote to Erdogan using a quite insulting language. The letter triggered the fury of Erdogan opposition who found it an open insult to the Turkish nation.
Trump also made it clear that Washington will continue alliance with the Syrian Kurds and that it will hand over to them the oilfields. He also invited to the White House Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militant alliance comprised largely of the Kurdish fighters and a small number of Arab militants, to visit Washington. This was while Turkey pursues the commander as the de facto head of the PKK terrorist group and announced nearly a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
Additionally, on October 29, Congress passed a resolution overwhelmingly recognizing the Armenian genocide which is blamed on Ottoman-era Turkey. Congress called on the administration to sanction Turkey. The White House, on the other side, still has on hold the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey for the purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia. The disagreement over the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish preacher accused by Erdogan of masterminding the 2016 military coup in Turkey, and also the sanctions on the Turkish banks remain in place between Washington and Ankara.
What does Erdogan seek in Washington?
Having in mind that the situation is never inviting for a trip to Washington, the goals behind Erdogan’s visit call attention.
1. Using Trump’s self-centrality for Turkish interests
Erdogan knows very well the personality of the US president and is aware that Trump’s weakness in developing the right picture of international relations can help Turkey capitalize on Trump’s erratic decisions. Erdogan struggles to get the White House to the side of his regional policies after a string of anti-Turkish steps by Congress. One hope could be persuading Trump to avoid siding with the lawmakers against Turkey.
2. Wining US backing in Syria developments
Another drive for Erdogan is to press Washington for deeper involvement in the Syrian developments. Turkey is now in a complicated development as it continues its northern Syria game. The equation has three sides. Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government are one side. The US and its Kurdish allies are another side. And the third side is Turkey. Erdogan knows that in his northern Syria campaign he needs Russia abstention and the US inaction. He also knows that should the US impose sanctions on Turkey, he will lose the 2023 presidential elections and thus has to separate from the country’s politics forever. He does not want to see the economy becoming an Achilles heel for his political positions as a possible sanction will cripple the Turkish economy.
3. Persuading Washington to continue military-security cooperation
Erdogan will very likely press during talks with Trump for the realization of demands he made over the past years. He will ask Trump to review the decision to block F-35s delivery. He also will call on the White House to close the case of sanctions on Halk Bank of Turkey for alleged breach of Iranian sanctions. He will also press for Gulen handover to make home gains for his supporters.
Will he get what he wants?
The levels of crisis between Ankara and Washington considered, Erdogan can hardly archive anything from his visit and talks with Trump. After all, it is not only Trump who decides what Washington can do in reaction to the Turkish measures against the Syrian Kurds. After the anti-Kurdish incursion in the northeast last month, the American lawmakers proved they are resolved enough to respond to the Ankara campaign and that Trump is not the only decision-maker. The fact is that Erdogan will leave Washington empty-handed and his new show will only draw further opposition at home.