Turkey and the United States will try to smooth over a series of disagreements between NATO allies when the Turkish foreign minister visits Washington this week. But expectations that outstanding problems can be resolved are low.
Mevlut Cavusoglu leaves Tuesday to meet his US counterpart Antony Blinken on Wednesday in a rare visit by a senior Turkish official. US President Joe Biden’s administration has stayed away from Turkey due to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian leadership and policies that limit rights and freedoms.
Situated at the crossroads between East and West, Turkey remains strategically important to Washington. Last year, the Turkish government helped broker a crucial deal between Russia and Ukraine that allowed millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to be transported to world markets, averting a food crisis in the midst of war.
NATO allies, however, frequently find themselves at odds on a number of issues, with the biggest disputes centering on Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made missiles and US support for Kurdish militants in Syria.
The acquisition of the S-400 air defense system in 2017 led to sanctions and Turkey’s removal from the next-generation F-35 fighter jet development program. After losing the F-35, Ankara is currently trying to resupply its F-16 fleet. But the deal faces opposition in Congress.
Cavusoglu was confident this week that the deal to purchase 40 F-16 jets, as well as the technology to upgrade its existing fleet, would clear congressional hurdles.
“We have reached an agreement with the (Biden) administration, and it is important that the administration has emphasized that the agreement is not only important for Turkey but also for NATO,” Cavusoglu told reporters. “If the administration stands firm… then there will be no problem.”
US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel responded Friday to media reports that the Biden administration is also seeking congressional approval to send F-35s to Greece, another NATO member. and a neighbor who is increasingly irritated by the threats from Ankara.
“Turkiye and Greece are vital NATO allies and of course we have a history of supporting their security apparatus. But I’m just not going to get ahead of the process here,” Patel said, using the Erdogan government’s preferred name for Turkey.
In Syria, US support for the Kurdish militant group YPG since 2014 has angered Ankara over links between the YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 39-year insurgency against Turkey and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
Support for the YPG has led senior Turkish officials to accuse Washington of links to terror attacks such as the Istanbul bombing in November that killed six people.
US concern over Ankara’s comfortable relationship with the Kremlin has been reinvigorated by the war in Ukraine. Even as Turkey’s ties to Moscow have produced breakthroughs such as the grain deal and prisoner swaps, Washington is concerned about a breach of sanctions as Turkish-Russian trade levels have risen over the past year.
Ankara’s delay in ratifying offers from Sweden and Finland to join NATO has increased friction between the allies.
Turkey’s recent attempts to reach out to Syria after a decade of bitter enmity have opened another rift with the US. Following a meeting of the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers in Moscow last month, the US State Department The US reiterated its opposition to countries normalizing relations with Damascus.
On Thursday, the department’s top spokesman, Ned Price, told a regular news conference that “we have not seen that this regime in Damascus has done anything that deserves normalization or improved relations.”
“Anyone who engages with the regime should ask themselves how that engagement is benefiting the Syrian people, again, a people who have borne the brunt of what their own government has inflicted on them,” Price added.
The US military has also warned that a threatened Turkish operation against the YPG in northern Syria could destabilize the region and revive the Islamic State group.
In another longstanding dispute, the US Supreme Court was due to hear the Halkbank case on Tuesday. The Turkish state lender is charged with money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy for allegedly helping Iran evade sanctions. Lawyers for the bank say the 2019 indictment is illegal under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Andrew Wilks reported from Istanbul. AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.