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U.S.-Turkey Relations

The Biden Administration has little tolerance for Turkish sensibilities. Erdogan’s crackdowns, plus his antagonistic and aggressive attitudes in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa, have led Congress to develop a bipartisan and bicameral belief that Erdogan is turning Turkey into an undemocratic adversary. President Barack Obama, initially enjoyed an empathetic relationship with Erdogan, but became disillusioned following Erdogan's crackdown on the Gezi Park protesters in Istanbul in May 2013. Bilateral relations continued to deteriorate for the remainder of Obama’s time in the White House. Turkey’s human rights situation continued to deteriorate, particularly following the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Turkey's geopolitical location is important, and it remains in America’s interest to keep Turkey as an ally and within NATO. US-Turkish friendship dates to the late 18th century and was officially sealed by a treaty in 1830. The present close relationship began with the agreement of July 12, 1947, which implemented the Truman Doctrine. As part of the cooperative effort to further Turkish economic and military self-reliance, the United States has loaned and granted Turkey more than $12.5 billion in economic aid and more than $14 billion in military assistance.

U.S.-Turkish relations focus on areas such as strategic energy cooperation, trade and investment, security ties, regional stability, counterterrorism, and human rights progress. Aside from Israel, the United States once had no better friend in the Middle East than Turkey, a staunch Cold War ally and a Muslim democracy that could have served as a model for its non-democratic neighbors.

Then came the war against Saddam Hussein and a dramatic change. Relations between the United States and Turkey hit a low point in 2003 when Ankara refused to host US troops for the invasion of neighboring Iraq. To the anger and surprise of the US government, Turkey refused to allow US forces to attack Iraq from its territory. When Turkey decided to stay out of the Iraq war, it was acting, as nations do, in its own interest. Turkish public opinion was overwhelmingly against the war. This forced a last-minute shift in US strategy. US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said Turkey should apologize for this lapse and its military should show more leadership.

Turkey was angry in turn. There was muttering that Americans might be encouraging a military coup. Tensions were heightened when US troops arrested eleven Turkish soldiers said to be plotting against Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq. They were eventually released and tempers have cooled, but US-Turkish relations did not thaw.

Relations were strained when Turkey refused in March 2003 to allow U.S. troops to deploy through its territory to Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but regained momentum steadily thereafter and mutual interests remain strong across a wide spectrum of issues. Cold War certainties have disappeared. The relationship which was sustained by cooperation on Iraq during and after the first Gulf War essentially also evaporated. Turkey, above all, was concerned with postwar Iraq. It feared that if the Kurds in northern Iraq achieve considerable autonomy or even independence, they could re-ignite the Kurdish rebellion in southeastern Turkey. Turkey, in Washington's view had no place at the table, and furthermore, there was no table. The United States was presiding entirely on its own over the future disposition of Iraq. So from Washington's point of view, Turkey was nothing except a nuisance factor and potentially even more risky than that. Washington found the Kurdish region to be the least problematic of any region in the country. On July 5, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul signed a Shared Vision Statement to highlight the common values and goals between our two countries and to lay out a framework for increased strategic dialogue. President George W. Bush welcomed Prime Minister Erdogan to Washington for a White House visit on November 5, 2007, during which he committed to provide greater assistance to Turkey in its fight against terrorism from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK or Kongra Gel), which he characterized as a "common enemy" of Turkey, Iraq, and the United States. He reiterated this commitment during President Gul's January 8, 2008, White House visit. Turkey allows the use of Incirlik Air Base for the transport of non-lethal cargo in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After just three months in the White House, President Barack Obama paid a historic visit to Turkey April 5-7, 2009, as the first bilateral visit of his presidency. During the visit, he spoke before the Turkish Parliament and outlined his vision of a model U.S.-Turkish partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also prioritized the U.S.-Turkey relationship, and included a stop in Turkey on her first European trip, visiting Ankara on March 7, 2009. On December 7, 2009, Prime Minister Erdogan met with President Obama at the White House. During the visit, the U.S. and Turkey launched the Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation, a new cabinet-level initiative focused on boosting trade and investment ties. In addition to the new framework, the U.S. and Turkey hold annual meetings of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council, which met in Turkey in January 2009, and Economic Partnership Commission, which last convened in Washington in April 2008. In 2008, Turkish exports to the U.S. totaled about $4.3 billion, and U.S. exports to Turkey totaled $11.9 billion.

While Turkey and the United States have shared values and goals, tactics and methods are not always the same and have caused some misunderstandings. Diplomatic and military exchanges were strained when the Turkish parliament failed to approve in March 2003 the U.S. request to use Turkey to launch operations into Iraq. Starting in 2004, after several years of a cease-fire, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorists once again began attacking Turkish soldiers and civilians, both from its safe haven in northern Iraq and from insideTurkey.

Turkey was frustrated by what it perceived as American hesitation concerning its plight in a struggle that had cost more than 30,000 Turkish lives over the past few decades. The unfortunate result of these differences was that the Turkish public, according to the 2007 and 2008 Pew Global Attitudes Surveys, had the lowest favorable opinion of the United States out of all the countries that were surveyed.

By 2005 the only significant problem in Turkey-US relations was Iraq. Ther were at laat three specific issues regarding Iraq -- a feeling that Turkey's contributions (especially in encouraging election participation) are not appreciated; the lack of any measures against the PKK/Kongra Gel in Iraq; and, a perception that the US is ignoring Turkish warnings about developments in Kirkuk. Frequent statements that the US and Turkey share the same objectives in Iraq were simply papering over a bigger problem.

In late 2012, the deepening crisis over Gaza strained Turkish-U.S. relations, with Ankara calling on Washington to rein in Israel. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a strong attack against Israel for its ongoing military operation in Gaza. US President Barack Obama strongly defended Israel in connection with its operations against Gaza, citing its right to self-defense. Some political observers in Turkey said the opposing views of the two leaders could hurt their relationship.

Since 2013, the relations between the US and Turkey have worsened. There were mainly three reasons causing this.

  1. One is the June uprising in 2013 in Turkey. This was a mass popular uprising against Erdogan. Erdogan’s elimination of press freedoms is a source of tensions between the US and Turkey. Turkey's relations with the US, as well as European allies, were strained by Ankara's clamp down on the free press. Tweets by the US embassy supporting prosecuted academics and journalists made Ambassador John Bass a hated figure among Turkish hardliners.
  2. The second issue is the developments in Syria. The project of regime change, which was based on Erdogan’s dream in Syria, collapsed. Whereas rooting out Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq was Washington's priority, Erdogan appeared more keen to topple Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish government in 2010 was enthusiastically courting Syria’s favor and was arguably one of its closest friends. Along with the Arab League, the change in Turkish policy in 2011 was a strong indicator of Syria’s isolation. Turkey, very sensitive to the burden of a refugee crisis, opened its borders to Syrians who were forced to flee. Ankara effectively supported the Syrian opposition by allowing them to organize in Istanbul and provided them with guidance and know-how. Following her 13 February 2012 meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Turkey, is one of the leaders and has much at stake, being a neighbor and a nation of conscience that understands the suffering of the Syrian people and serves as an example of an alternative to the brutal Assad regime.”
  3. And third, the United States is torn between Turkey and the Kurds. Turkey has the Incirlik Air Base and the Kurds are the boots on the ground, and the US needs both. Erdogan’s violent military crackdown on Kurdish communities in the country’s southeast is a source of deep disagreement. The United States has consistently maintained that there should be no separate Kurdish state and has listed the PKK on its list of terror groups. Kurdish nationalist sentiment is strong in Turkey, which is home to an estimated 12 million Kurds. Tensions between Turkey and the US were high following Ankara's attacks on Kurdish militants, some of whom are seen by Washington as a key ally in the fight against "Islamic State" in Iraq and northern Syria.

By late 2014 relations with the West were strained, and Turkey initially did not allow coalition planes to use Turkish airspace for attacks against the Islamic State militants in Iraq. The Turkish government faced growing pressure from Washington amid allegations that it provided tacit support for the militants. Ankara was accused of turning a blind eye to the Islamic States recruitment efforts in Turkey.

The US President visited Antalya in November 2015 and held a bilateral meeting with the Turkish President Erdogan. Turkey’s Grand National Assembly and the U.S. Congress also enjoy vibrant relations nurtured by high level visits every year and with mutual friendship groups consisting of large numbers of parliamentarians in both countries.

US Secretary of State John Kerry stated on March 28, 2016 that: "Turkey is an important partner with the United States ... It is a NATO ally. It has joined together with Europe and NATO now in an effort to try to stem the tide of migrants flowing through the Aegean. And Turkey is host to 2.7 million refugees who have flown out of Syria and the surrounding area seeking a better life. That’s an enormous cost and we respect the fact that Turkey is trying to manage the lives of these refugees."

The US-Turkey partnership is based on mutual interests and mutual respect and is focused on areas such as regional security and stability, as well as economic cooperation. The United States also stands in solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism. Counterterrorism cooperation is a key element of the strategic partnership.

The partnership between Turkey and the United States is based on common values and interests. Turkey and the US share common values of democracy, human rights, diversity, tolerance and the separation of religious and civic life. The two countries hold regular consultations at both political and technical level to harmonize their priorities and actions. For decades, intermittent differences of views and opinions have not affected the sound texture of the relationship, despite its multi-layered nature, consisting of many complex regions and issues.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met President of the United States Barack Obama, at Nuclear Security Summit, in the White House 31 March 2016. Debunking claims that Obama had snubbed Erdogan on his visit to the US capital, Obama and Erdogan discussed "US-Turkey cooperation on regional security, counterterrorism and migration" on the sidelines of a nuclear summit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hoped the US would quickly spirit his archnemesis Fethullah Gulen out of rural Pennsylvania to stand trial in Turkey for plotting last week's failed coup against his government, but he'll be sorely disappointed. Erdogan accused Gulen, a Turkish cleric and former political ally with whom he had a falling out in 2013, of engineering the 15 July 2016 coup attempt from his self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, and trying to have Erdogan assassinated as part of the plot.

Gulen's extradition request would be adjudicated under a 1979 treaty between the U.S. and Turkey, one of more than 100 the US had signed with other countries. Among other requirements, the treaty spells out the content of the formal request and the channel through which it is communicated. In the case of Gulen — someone who has been accused of a crime but not convicted — it calls for an arrest warrant; a statement of facts of the case; evidence that the offense, though allegedly committed in Turkey, is prosecutable in the US; and the text of the law under which the accused would be tried. Whatever the final court verdict, the extradition would ultimately be decided by the secretary of state.

Henri J. Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, noted August 17, 2016 "The challenge for Erdogan and his colleagues is to chart a course through the emotions engendered by the brutal coup attempt. The sycophantic choir around him is attempting to undermine relations with the United States with fantastic conspiracy theories. Erdogan has fueled these by suggesting that the U.S. may have supported the coup; in effect this is all the Turkish public needs. Just about everyone today believes in U.S. complicity. Herein lies the danger for the relationship. Were he to succumb to these voices, Turkish-American relations would undergo a rough patch from which it might—and I stress might—be impossible to recover. The U.S. policy of hunkering down and trying to quietly manage the relationship in the hope that Turkey will return to its “factory settings” is folly. The July 15 coup has opened a Pandora’s Box; the relationship has been transformed and the old rules no longer apply."

Erdogan as recently as June 2016 had argued that Trump’s name should be scrubbed off the company’s Istanbul real estate. Erdogan said he regretted attending the building’s 2012 inauguration -- a photo opportunity that had been interpreted as a peace-building measure at the time.

The Turkish president's head of international relations said 03 November 2016 the U.S. presidential elections was an opportunity to reset deeply strained relations over the Syrian civil war and demands for the extradition of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was blamed for July's failed coup. Ayse Sozen Usluer, said "We are seeing the weakness of the Obama administration for a long time, for solving the problems of the region, especially in regard to the Syrian war ... Obviously U.S.-Turkish relations are in turbulence. But turbulence can be a short period, which can be passed through... I believe if the U.S. authorities will show sincere cooperation and sincere understanding of Turkish concerns about FETO and why we want Fethullah Gulen himself be returned to Turkey. Turkish-U.S. relations can be much better easily."

Semih Idiz writes about politics for the Turkish website Al-Monitor. He says people in Turkey think Trump will get the relationship between Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the U.S. back on track. “Trump is going to be more amenable towards the Erdogan government than many people assume. I think this is what Ankara is relying on. They have common enemies and I think they will try to concentrate on that...”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke about what the Trump government needs to do to reset the U.S. relationship with Turkey. Yildirim called first for the U.S. to surrender Turkish clergyman Fethullah Gulen. He is accused of inspiring last summer’s failed attempt to forcibly remove Erdogan. Gulen lives in the United States. The prime minister also demanded that the U.S. end its support of the Syrian Kurdish group known as PYD. PYD is fighting against the Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa. The Turkish government believes the PYD is also supporting Kurdish militant groups within Turkey.

After Donald Trump’s election victory, Dogan Holding, the media and energy group whose media interests had formerly antagonized the Turkish president registered the biggest surge of any company on the Istanbul exchange, on expectations that diplomacy would help solve the long-running quarrel.

In December 2016 the Turkish government arrested one of Trump’s business partners in what appeared to be an attempt at forcing him to turn over Fethullah Gulen once he takes office. When Donald Trump first spoke with Erdogan in a congratulatory phone call after the election, Trump made a point of praising a top executive from the Dogan company, which is building Trump-branded towers in Turkey. Trump appeared to be trying to convince Erdogan to smooth the way for Dogan to build the tower. But instead, Erdogan had the executive arrested. The detention in January 2017 of Dogan Holding’s chief legal officer, Erem Turgut Yucel, and the group’s former CEO, Yahya Uzdiyen, were related to the earlier arrest of the company’s Ankara representative Barbaros Muratoglu.

Donald Trump was not aware that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had worked to further the interests of the government of Turkey before appointing him, the White House said 29 March 2017. The comments came two days after Flynn and his firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., filed paperwork with the Justice Department formally identifying him as a foreign agent and acknowledging that his work for a company owned by a Turkish businessman could have aided Turkey's government. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, U.S. citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign governments or political entities must disclose their work to the Justice Department.

Donald Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his "referendum victory," in a narrow vote that would create a powerful executive presidency from the current parliamentary system. The White House said in a statement the two leaders spoke by phone.

Trump faced criticism for congratulating Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan on winning the referendum that vastly increased his power. Trump said that he has a "conflict of interest" in Turkey because of a development there in a 2015 interview. "I have a little conflict of interest 'cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul," Trump said on Breitbart News Daily. "It's a tremendously successful job. It's called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it's two." The host of the news show was Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, who later served as an advisor to Trump in the White House. Bannon asked his future White House boss: “What do you do with Turkey? … Is Turkey a reliable partner?” Trump began by praising Erdogan. He said Turkey has “a strong leader.” Also: “Turkey has been a reliable partner.” But, he said, “Things are getting complicated.”

After meetings 16 May 2017 at the White House, Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, praised the strength of the two countries' relations, while at the same time sidestepping their differences over strategies for confronting Islamic State extremists in northern Syria. Both Trump and Erdogan described bilateral ties as strong. "We've had a great relationship," the U.S. president said, "and we will make it even better."

Neither leader mentioned Trump's decision last week to supply heavy weapons to Syrian Kurdish rebel militias, the YPG, who make up a key part of a U.S.-backed alliance preparing to march on the Islamic State's de-facto capital, Raqqa. Erdogan has argued that YPG's ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party made it likely that any U.S. weaponry supplied to the Syrian Kurds will eventually end up in Turkey, in the hands of the outlawed PKK.

VOA video showed Erdogan at the Turkish Embassy in Washington watching the violent clash 18 May 2017 involving protesters and Turkish security personnel. The protest took place across the street from the embassy, and led to 11 people being injured and two arrested. US Senators McCain and Feinstein wrote a letter of complaint to Erdogan about his guards’ actions during the melee. “We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America,” McCain said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“These are not just average people that did this beating. This is Erdogan’s security detail,” said McCain. “Somebody told them to go and beat up on these peaceful demonstrators, and I think it should have repercussions, including identifying these people and bringing charges against them. After all, they violated American laws in the United States of America, so you cannot have that happen in the United States of America. People have the right in our country to peacefully demonstrate and they were peacefully demonstrating.”

In October 2017 US Ambassador John Bass announced a temporary halt to all nonimmigrant visa applications after Turkish authorities arrested a local staff member of the US diplomatic mission. Turkey retaliated by announcing its own suspension of visa services in the United States. The United States said it was "very disappointed" by the Turkish government's arrest of two local staffers of the American Consulate, as diplomatic tensions between the two countries ramp up following the bilateral suspension of all nonimmigrant visa services.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have been troubled by disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and Turkey's unsuccessful request for the extradition of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers were blamed by the Turkish government for last year's coup attempt. The Turkish government has rounded up about 200,000 people, accusing them of not only stirring up the coup effort but also supporting the Gulen movement.

The continued imprisonment of US pastor Andrew Brunson weighed heavily on relations between the United States and Turkey, leading to a series of escalations. Ties between the two NATO allies also nosedived over American support for Syrian Kurdish forces, Ankara's plans to buy a Russian missile system and Turkey's demand that Washington extradite US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt. There was also an impending showdown in November 2018 over US sanctions on Iran, a major oil and gas supplier to Turkey.

In an op-ed published 10 august 2018 in The New York Times, Erdogan said, "The United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people's concerns," and added that "unless the United States starts respecting Turkey's sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers that our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy."

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:04:12 ZULU