Global Independent Analytics

Turkish President Faces a Cool Reception in US Visit

Obama turns down one-on-one meeting with Erdogan at nuclear summit, reflecting concerns about key ally’s crackdowns on dissent, Kurdish insurgents

WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum and Carol E. Lee report: Mr. Obama has turned down Mr. Erdogan’s request to join him for the inauguration of a Turkish-funded mosque in Maryland, and the U.S. president has no plans for a formal one-on-one meeting with his Turkish counterpart, who is a vital ally in the fight against Islamic State, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

Such response quite differs from one Erdogan received in 2013, when during his state visit he was congratulated by Obama for launching peace talks with Kurdish separatists which eventually would lead Turkey to economic prosperity.

Instead of meeting Obama, the White House is instead anticipated to have Vice President Joe Biden meet with Erdogan. However, senior U.S. administration officials assured that Obama’s refusal to meet Erdogan was not based on any significant reason rather than the fact that the two Presidents have already met in November at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey, and had a phone conversation in February.

“The president has been in such regular contact with few other world leaders,” said a senior U.S. administration official. “When it comes to the NSS, there is not a robust [bilateral] schedule, so it’s not as if Erdogan is being excluded.”

“Turkey is at the center of the fight against Islamic State, the struggle to end Syria’s civil war, and the global refugee crisis, making Mr. Erdogan a key partner for Western leaders. Mr. Erdogan has alienated some allies by overseeing a crackdown on domestic critics and waging a new fight with Kurdish insurgents. The allies’ need to work with the Turkish president has tempered their public criticism,” continue Nissenbaum and Lee.

“This is one of the least bright spots for Mr. Erdogan’s foreign-policy agenda, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He took a stellar personal relationship with the U.S. president and look where it is today.”

The U.S. and the members of its coalition need Turkey’s help to fight against extremists of the Islamic State. Turkish administration has been saving peace talks for a private meeting in Washington, which, apparently, will not happen. Despite the fact that Obama once called Erdogan one of his closest allies and that they had pretty tight friendship, their relations have gradually become cooler.

Erdogan has several times demonstrated his authoritarian approach. First, he cracked down protesters trying to prevent mall construction in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Then he arrested those who attempted to reach his door accusing him of corruption. Finally, he is rather notorious for his persecution of journalists who have criticized him.

When Biden traveled to Istanbul in January, he also met journalists critical of Erdogan, which upset the Turkish President. “We don’t need any external advice,” a senior aide to Mr. Erdogan said last week. “This is the behavior of a big brother giving lessons. We need friendship.” “Turkey has a critical period where security can come before freedom, but these are just short moments,” said the aide, who urged America to temper its criticism. “Turkey still has its face towards the West. It’s not rhetoric.”

President Erdogan has repeatedly called for U.S. authorities to set finally their minds and stop working with Syrian Kurds aligned with the PKK, a group classified by both countries as a terrorist one. However, the U.S. values Syrian Kurds as their primary ally in the war and refuses to cut their ties.

“The White House does not want to make President Erdogan look welcome,” said Max Hoffman, associate director of national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. “The Gezi Park protests in May 2013, and the ensuing crackdown crystallized long-running concerns about Erdogan’s authoritarianism and the stifling of political dissent,” he said. “The shuttering of newspapers and TV channels has continued, and the consensus in Washington now is that Erdogan is corrupting Turkey’s democracy to pursue his personal ambition.”

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

EXPERT OPINION

Joshua Tartakovsky

As was clear from the interview done with The Atlantic, Obama seems to say he is not a big fan of Erdogan. Now he gave him the cold shoulder. But Erdogan is on full speed with his program for an Islamized Turkey, and Turkey enjoys full NATO support. That didn’t change. Obama is on his way out and his personal actions towards Erdogan, which may even be motivated by personal rivalry, will probably not be of significance. 

Read more

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