A NEW CHAP­TER IN TURKEY-U.S. RE­LA­TIONS?

The YPG and FETÖ still re­main is­sues dam­ag­ing Turk­ish-U.S. re­la­tions, block­ing the two NATO allies from be­gin­ning a new nor­mal­iza­tion process

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - YAHYA BOSTAN

ANY U.S. ef­fort to­ward a clear stand against the PKK and FETÖ would take Turkey-U.S. ties to the next level and bring the coun­tries closer than they have been in the last 15 years

At the time of Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise vic­tory in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Turkey’s re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. was plagued by two heavy bur­dens – first, Washington shipped thou­sands of truck­loads of weapons and am­mu­ni­tion to the PKK’s Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate, the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), un­der the pre­text of fight­ing Daesh. At the same time, the U.S. har­bored Fe­tul­lah Gülen, the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the mastermind be­hind the July 15, 2016, coup at­tempt in Turkey. There were also other neg­a­tive in­flu­ences on the Turkey-U.S. re­la­tions at the time, but nei­ther Turkey’s prob­lems with Is­rael nor other mi­nor dis­agree­ments on a range of is­sues were as con­se­quen­tial as the first two.

Upon as­sum­ing power, Trump adopted some new poli­cies re­gard­ing Turkey’s neigh­bor­hood, which could po­ten­tially fur­ther strain bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. His ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Gulf pol­icy was par­tic­u­larly risky since Washington at­tempted to re­design the Gulf through the proxy of Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE).

The U.S. move was ac­com­pa­nied by a soft coup in Riyadh. Over the fol­low­ing months, Washington’s part­ners mounted pres­sure on Qatar, a Turk­ish ally, and Ankara re­acted against the ap­par­ent at­tempt to fa­cil­i­tate regime change there. In the end, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ter­mi­nated its un­con­di­tional sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia and urged Riyadh to make peace with Qatar. The diplo­matic traf­fic be­tween Turkey and the U.S. at the time fa­cil­i­tated di­a­logue be­tween the two cap­i­tals and pre­vented a cri­sis.

The sec­ond prob­lem was re­lated to the Qatar block­ade. Upon tak­ing the Gulf un­der his con­trol, Trump formed the “orb” al­liance to pro­tect Is­raeli in­ter­ests in the in­ter­na­tional arena. His ad­min­is­tra­tion pushed for­ward the so-called deal of the cen­tury, which in­volved Jerusalem’s recog­ni­tion as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael, yet could not fi­nal­ize it. In re­cent months, Trump seems to have lim­ited his sup­port be­hind the plan.

An­other po­ten­tially com­bustible is­sue be­tween Turkey and the U.S. was re­lated to the Iran sanc­tions. Ini­tially, Washington said that all coun­tries trad­ing with Iran would feel the neg­a­tive side ef­fects of those sanc­tions, which mounted pres­sure on the Turk­ish econ­omy. Ac­cord­ing to sources, Ankara could sup­port an ef­fort to end Tehran’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Syr­ian theater, yet op­poses an eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally desta­bi­liz­ing for­eign in­ter­ven­tion.

At a time when Turkey-U.S. re­la­tions are go­ing through a rough patch, two re­cent de­vel­op­ments have promised to clear the air and fa­cil­i­tate a rap­proche­ment be­tween the two NATO allies. First, Trump de­cided to with­draw U.S. troops from Syria. The draw­down is ex­pected to end within 60 days, end­ing Washington’s con­tro­ver­sial part­ner­ship with the ter­ror­ist YPG. It should go with­out say­ing that the U.S. with­drawal will have a pos­i­tive im­pact on Turk­ish-Amer­i­can re­la­tions. Yet the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must re­frain from ask­ing the Turks to rec­og­nize YPG as a le­git­i­mate en­tity, un­der a deal to sep­a­rate the group from PKK.

At the same time, the U.S. au­thor­i­ties have re­port­edly launched a se­ries of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the ac­tiv­i­ties of FETÖ oper­a­tives. The cur­rent ef­fort is cru­cial for Washington to see the true face of that or­ga­ni­za­tion. If the U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues in a fair and trans­par­ent man­ner, Washington could des­ig­nate FETÖ as a crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Any ef­fort by the U.S. to take a clear stand against the PKK and FETÖ could take the TurkeyU.S. re­la­tion­ship to the next level and move the two coun­tries closer than they have been in 15 years – which would serve Turk­ish and Amer­i­can in­ter­ests alike.

Pres­i­dent Er­doğan (L) shakes hands with U.S. Pres­i­dent Trump dur­ing a meet­ing at the Palace Ho­tel dur­ing the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly, New York, Sept. 21, 2017.

Yahya Bostan

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