Er­do­gan slams Amer­i­can am­bas­sador as rift widens

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

‘Son dakika,’ the blar­ing head­lines scream on Turk­ish me­dia web­sites. This is the term used to sig­nify break­ing news, and to­day it is about Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan speak­ing on the visa cri­sis with the United States.

“Let me be very clear, the per­son who caused this is the [US] am­bas­sador here,” the pres­i­dent said on Thurs­day. “It is un­ac­cept­able that the US has sac­ri­ficed a strate­gic part­ner like Turkey to a pre­sump­tu­ous am­bas­sador – it is a shame if the US is gov­erned by an am­bas­sador in Ankara.”

The US sus­pended non-im­mi­grant visa ser­vices in Turkey on Sun­day, af­ter Turkey ar­rested a lo­cal em­ployee of the US Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul. Turk­ish law en­force­ment has ac­cused the em­ployee, Metin Topuz, of “es­pi­onage charges and al­leged links with some lead­ing mem­bers of the Gulen net­work, ac­cused of be­ing be­hind last year’s failed coup at­tempt,” Hur­riyet News re­ported.

Ankara re­sponded by sus­pend­ing non­im­mi­grant visa ser­vices at its diplo­matic fa­cil­i­ties in the US. Turkey copied word-for-word the US sus­pen­sion state­ment in its re­ply to the US.

On Thurs­day, Er­do­gan spoke with pro­vin­cial gov­er­nors at the Bestepe Pres­i­den­tial Com­plex in Ankara to con­demn the US. He ac­cused US Am­bas­sador John Bass of not “know­ing his place.”

“We are not a tribal state, we are the state of the Repub­lic of Turkey, and you will ac­cept it. If you don’t then sorry, but we do not need you,” he said

The col­li­sion course be­tween Ankara and Wash­ing­ton on for­eign pol­icy has be­come a kind of cliché, sim­i­lar to the re­frain that Turkey is a NATO ally of the US. Both are true, but the ten­sions be­tween the coun­tries have run deep for years. Ankara blames the US for host­ing Fe­tul­lah Gulen, the ex­iled cleric who once sup­ported Er­do­gan.

The “Fe­tul­lah Ter­ror­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion,” as Turk­ish me­dia calls it, was blamed for the coup at­tempt last year that led to the ar­rest of tens of thou­sands. But Turk­ish-US re­la­tions have also frayed over other is­sues. Hasan Basri Yal­cin, in a piece at Anadolu, said there is an “ab­sence of co­her­ence” in US for­eign pol­icy.

He ac­cuses the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of do­ing the “op­po­site of what it preached” re­gard­ing democ­racy and red­lines in Syria. Trump has also been un­clear, the au­thor writes. Yal­cin ac­cuses the US of sup­port­ing “PKK off­shoots” by “pro­vid­ing heavy weaponry, po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy and air sup­port to this PKK off­shoot in north­ern Syria, de­spite Turkey’s re­peated de­nun­ci­a­tions of us­ing one ter­ror­ist group against an­other.”

“Off­shoots” refers to the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) and the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, the mostly Kur­dish US-backed forces fight­ing ISIS in Raqqa and else­where. This is Ankara’s real con­cern, as op­posed to the visa is­sue.

The visa spat is merely a symp­tom of the larger cri­sis, and one where Turkey wants to show it is not a mi­nor power that can be pushed around. Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mehmet Sim­sek said on Wed­nes­day that the cur­rent cri­sis could be re­solved soon, sound­ing a con­cil­ia­tory tone. How­ever, other Turk­ish voices won­der about the long term in the Mid­dle East.

“Will Wash­ing­ton re­lin­quish the Mid­dle East to Moscow,” asked Burhanet­tin Du­ran at the Daily Sabah. Er­do­gan re­cently met with Ira­nian lead­ers and Rus­sia sent high level del­e­ga­tions to Ankara. This is part of an over­all Turk­ish shift to­ward Moscow and Tehran.

The West tends to see Ankara through the lens of “NATO ally,” but for the last decade and a half Turkey has tried to carve out a new role for it­self.

This be­gan with the ide­ol­ogy of “neo-Ot­toman­ism” and at­tempts to bro­ker peace in the re­gion. It con­tin­ued through Turkey’s role in the Syr­ian con­flict and sup­port of Qatar. And now it is en­ter­ing a third phase with Turkey’s in­creas­ing warmth for Moscow and its role in Syria’s north­west­ern Idlib prov­ince.

At each it­er­a­tion it isn’t a ques­tion of the US “los­ing” Turkey, it is that Turkey has a very clear and ro­bust view of its own role. Some­times the US pol­icy dove­tails with that; in re­cent years they are in­creas­ingly at odds. Amer­i­can me­dia are now fo­cus­ing on the role of pris­on­ers in Turkey who are dual US cit­i­zens or on pros­e­cu­tions of jour­nal­ists. How­ever, like the visa dis­pute, these are sym­bolic of a much larger smol­der­ing clash be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Ankara, and a po­lit­i­cal shift in Turkey away from the West.

(Yasin Bul­bul/Pres­i­den­tial Palace/Reuters)

TURKEY’S PRES­I­DENT Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan de­liv­ers a speech dur­ing a meet­ing with pro­vin­cial gov­er­nors in Ankara yes­ter­day.

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