Foreign affairs whirlwind
The EU Summit, US visa issue, Syria, the KRG and S-400s: how is Turkey affected?
An intensively busy foreign affairs agenda has made us all feel rather lost. This week, Emeritus Professor Ilter Turan addresses the main points to guide DUNYA Executive readers through the matters affecting Turkey. It seems that the difference in viewpoints between the European Commission (EC) and individual member countries have come to light with the EC officialdom discouraging several member countries led by Germany who want to review the ongoing negotiations with a view to suspending them; and in the case of some countries, even terminating them. I think the EC is trying to do two things: Firstly, it is keenly aware that if the negotiations are suspended, it will be so difficult to reactivate them. But if they are not suspended, and if Turkey meets the conditionalities of the EU, then accession negotiations restart. Secondly, the EC may be faciliating the job of politicians such as Angela Merkel who, as an astute politician, might feel that suspending the negotiations is a bad idea, but who finds it difficult politically to say that. The fact that the EC has taken on this responsibility probably faciliates resolving the difference between her announced policy position and letting the negotiations continue. We now have teams from both countries negotiating on what needs to be done to break the deadlock. Apparently, the Turkish side has presented evidence that the telephone communications it has tracked are unusual and would warrant questioning of the local embassy personnel. The American side has accepted taking this evidence to American authorities. It may be that there will be requests for more evidence, but the fact that a mechanism has now been established whereby Americans and Turks are talking to each other with a view to restoring the mutual issuing of visas is important. I am hopeful that a common understanding will be reached. The critical thing now is for political leaders to allow the problem to be rendered into a technical bureaucratic matter rather than keeping it on their agenda as a matter of public debate. In Syria, the developments have reached an interesting stage because it seems that, for all practical purposes, the ISIS ‘capital’ has been taken over, on the one hand, by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the Americans, and on the other hand, by the Syrian government forces supported by the Russians. It seems that a significant part of the city has been liberated by the SDF in which Kurdish elements that are closely affiliated with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PKK) are dominant. These units have already staged demonstrations, displaying posters of Abdullah Ocalan. This is going the make relations between Turkey and the US even more difficult than they have been in the past. But now that the mission of capturing the ISIS ‘capital’ is accomplished, these manifestations in support of a terrorist movement may provide the Americans with an opportunity to loosen their ties with the People’s Protection Units (YPG). In view of this open support for a terrorist organization, the Americans now have a reason to say, “This is not why we supported you.” But we should also keep in mind that what happens in Syria is tied in with Iraq. In Iraq the referendum has led to developments few could have predicted. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is now divided between those who were accommodating to the Iraqi central government and those who would have rather proceeded toward unilateral declaration of independence. The fact is that Kurdish forces have withdrawn from Kirkuk. There is a good chance now that in the areas that did not legally belong to the Kurdish region, the Iraqi government will establish its authority. These will no longer be negotiable areas. I suspect that the referendum that had been planned for Kirkuk will not be held. Furthermore, now that the central Iraqi government has gained the upper hand, it will be more and more reluctant to accomodate KRG’s demands. It has now become clear that the KRG has almost no international support in its desire to declare independence. Even the countries that were expected to display a more sympathetic approach have indicated that they do not favor KRG independence. These are all significant changes in Iraq that will inevitably effect what happens in Syria. In Iraq there is a Kurdish region with a regional government. In Syria there are small provinces, isolated from each other, demanding local autonomy with the hope of becoming a part of a greater Kurdish entity in the future. Now that this possibility is off the table, And the US will be hard pressed to admit that the idea of supporting Kurdish autonomy in Syria is not a workable idea. Although an initial payment is said to have been made, the purchasing of S-400s is far from being a closed deal. If we look back to historical cases of Turkish procurement of militaryware from abroad, similar situations have arisen. When its allies withheld the sale of armaments, Turkey sought to procure them from other sources. S-400s are of course a big deviation from standard policy because they are systems as well as weapons. The problem is that S-400s would have to be kept away from Turkey’s current NATO defenses. This would make it difficult to sustain or expand in the future. But as long as Turkey’s allies are not willing to help Turkey meet its defence needs, Turkey will continue to search for other suppliers. If the current order is eventually suspended, as it may be, then conditions of annulling the contract will be negotiated. Fortunately, it seems that the demand for S-400 is internationally rather strong so if Turkey changes tack, the Russians will be able to sell them elsewhere. In any case, there doesn’t seem to be any currently available for immediate delivery.