US and Turkey seek to mend ties, Turkish Foreign Minister Visit to Washington

The US is seeking to improve its relationship with Turkey, as Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine grinds on, but many issues still divide the two countries.
Antony Blinken and Mevlut Cavusoglu meet at State Department, Jan. 18, 2023 (Photo: Antony Blinken/Twitter)
Antony Blinken and Mevlut Cavusoglu meet at State Department, Jan. 18, 2023 (Photo: Antony Blinken/Twitter)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Wednesday. The US is seeking to improve its relationship with Turkey, as Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine grinds on.

Although Turkey has played a key role in mitigating the worst possible consequences of that war—such as a global food shortage—many issues still divide Washington and Ankara.

Among the issues include Turkey’s opposition to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s main partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria, and Turkey’s role in preventing Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, who have sought membership for nearly a year, when Russia’s unprovoked assault on its smaller neighbor began.

In addition, Turkey seeks to purchase the US fighter-jet, the F-16.

Turkey is planning to hold elections in June of his year. Among Erdogan’s greatest challenges is Turkey’s economic situation. The economy is in poor shape, with inflation running over 100% annually, according to independent experts.

The elections “mark the biggest political challenge yet for Erdogan,” Reuters recently reported. Yet if Erdogan can present the public some major victory, it could well provide him the crucial support he needs to win another term in office.

“Owing to sagging poll numbers, Erdogan is clutching at every straw to make himself appealing to voters,” Sinan Ciddi, an Associate Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University, wrote earlier this month in “The National Interest.”

Ciddi suggested that Ankara’s obstructionist stance on Sweden’s NATO membership is to demonstrate “to Turkish voters that Erdogan is holding the Scandinavian country accountable for its alleged support of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party.]”

“This is the same reason,” Ciddi continued, “why Turkey threatens to invade Syria—allegedly to go after Kurdish ‘terrorists,’ whose only actions have focused on fighting ISIS.”

“Washington should come to understand that right now, every policy arena in Turkey is focused on getting Erdogan re-elected,” Ciddi concluded.

The White House is trying to use the F-16 sale to get Turkey to drop its opposition to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, as Amb. John Bolton explained recently in The Wall Street Journal.

Whether that will work, remains to be seen. Military sales require congressional approval, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez (New Jersey), has vowed to block the transfer of the planes to Turkey, unless it improves its human rights record and stops threatening US allies in the region.

However, Menendez is a Democrat, and, possibly, the White House believes it can persuade him to adopt its position and allow the F-16 sale to go ahead to solidify the resistance within Europe to Russian aggression.

Yet speaking to reporters at the Turkish embassy after his meeting with Blinken, Cavusoglu said that the two issues were not related and that Turkey expected Washington to approve the sale of the military planes, according to Turkey’s Daily Sabah.

In addition, while Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack the SDF in northeast Syria, the US has repeatedly stated that it opposes such an attack. On Wednesday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, in discussing Cavusoglu’s visit, once again voiced US opposition to any “unilateral moves.”

Whether this will stop Erdogan is unclear. Mazloum Abdi, the SDF’s Commander-in-Chief, warned earlier this week that he, nonetheless, expects Turkey to launch a cross-border ground assault next month.

“Turkey is heading for elections, and we are aware that President Erdogan wants to rally nationalist support, and it seems he believes that attacking Rojava can serve this purpose,” Abdi said.

Read More: SDF Commander-in-Chief expects Turkish attack in February: Al Monitor

Russia’s Role

Senior political figures in northeast Syria have recently begun to explain how Russia is involved in promoting a reconciliation between Damascus and Ankara that would allow both countries to move against the SDF and the political entity that governs the area it controls: the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES.)

That awareness is—most significantly—reflected in both the more independent Kurdish media in northeast Syria, as well as the PKK’s media outlets there.

On Wednesday, Ilham Ahmad, President of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), explained the Russian role, as North Press Agency (NPA) reported.

“According to Ahmad, the rapprochement between Syria and Turkey comes as a result of Russian pressure,” NPA said. The “normalization attempt” aims at two Russian goals, Ahmad explained.

One is to preserve the rule of Bashar al-Assad and the other is to “put pressure” on the US-led Coalition against ISIS “and its presence in Syria, thereby dismantling the SDF and the AANES.”

Similarly, ANHA on Wednesday reported that Kadar Berri, head of Kurds without Borders, “warned of the repercussions” of a rapprochement between Turkey and Syria.

Turkey “wants to eliminate the Kurds and the Autonomous Administration,” Berri told ANHA, while the [Syrian] regime and Russia want to control Syria’s resources.”

The war in Ukraine also plays a role, he explained. Russia “seeks to please Turkey to achieve gains in Ukraine,” Berri said, while Moscow believes that the elimination of the SDF and, along with it, the US presence in Syria, would be a major victory.