With Trump Out, sailing for Turkey under Joe Biden might not be smooth

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Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the statements showed “pure ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy”.

Ankara, Turkey:

With Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unlikely to be able to influence US politics with a simple phone call, as he occasionally did with Donald Trump.

However, this does not mean that the elected US president will push Turkey away, but rather hopes to re-engage the geographically strategic and militarily powerful NATO ally on tougher terms, analysts say.

After US-Turkey relations ran smoothly, they suffered in 2016 from the failed overthrow of Erdogan, attributed to a US-based Muslim preacher whom Turkey had unsuccessfully sought extradition.

The two countries are also in a dispute over the US support of a Kurdish militia in the fight against the Islamic state group in Syria.

Ankara views US-backed Syrian Kurds as terrorists threatening Turkey’s security.

However, the personal bond between Trump and Erdogan – much like that of the mercury head of the White House with a small group of other strong-willed world leaders – helped mitigate much of the damage.

Now, with Trump on his way out, Erdogan “has cause for concern,” Middle East Institute analyst Gonul Tol wrote in a research report.

“I don’t think Turkey’s Biden government will be so lenient in Syria and elsewhere,” added Sam Heller, an independent analyst for Syria.

“Tension and Concern”

More than two days after Biden’s victory was announced by the US media, Turkish officials were overtly silent, saying they would not comment until the results were “official”.

“Under a Biden administration, Washington-Ankara relations will undoubtedly begin with tension and concern on both sides,” wrote Asli Aydintasbas of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Turkish officials set the new tone, underlining a low-profile interview that Biden gave to the New York Times last December.

A play in which he referred to Erdogan as an “autocrat” went viral in August and was condemned by Ankara.

Biden also suggested that the US should “encourage” opposition figures so that they can “take over and defeat Erdogan”.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the statements showed “pure ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy”.

However, Turkish officials insist that they work with any US government.

“We put our relations above party politics,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday.

Turkish media have also speculated that when Ankara felt his victory, they contacted Biden’s team before the vote.

“Turkey is preparing for Biden,” journalist Murat Yetkin said in a webinar last week.

Restrict Turkey?

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Even under Trump, the relationship was strained across the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara is searching for natural gas in the waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greece in September to support Athens.

“Ankara fears that Biden will have even closer ties with Greece and that Turkey could become even tougher,” said Tol.

And when Ankara arrested a U.S. pastor accused of espionage, Trump hit back on the Turkish economy, plunging the country into a currency crisis that wiped out people’s savings in 2018.

Trump, however, avoided drawing attention to Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record or highlighting the treatment of the Kurdish minority.

Biden could “reintroduce a discourse promoting democracy and human rights into bilateral relations,” said Aydintasbas.

And with a less isolationist stance, Biden could seek to contain Ankara’s assertive foreign policy, which includes military intervention in Libya and a diplomatic foray into the emerging conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Ankara fears that Biden will try to curtail a resurgent Turkey,” said Aydintasbas.

Sanction threat

One of the most immediate questions is whether Biden will sanction Turkey for buying a high-tech Russian air defense system condemned by the Pentagon.

Although both parties support the sanctions in Congress, Trump has taken the less punitive step of banning Turkey from the US F-35 stealth fighter program.

Turkey defiantly tested the Russian system a few weeks before the US vote.

“A Biden administration is likely to have the same concerns as the Trump administration – that imposing sanctions on Turkey will alienate a still important NATO ally,” Aydintasbas wrote.

Similarly, Trump backed Erdogan to Turkish state-run Halkbank, which US prosecutors suspect of participating in a billion-dollar program to evade sanctions against Iran.

A federal judge in Manhattan will hear the case in March, and Erdogan reportedly called Trump to stop the Halkbank investigation, using the same direct line that he used to influence US policy on Syria.

But “in the long run, the Biden government will be more beneficial to Turkey,” Yetkin said.

“Biden is a seasoned politician, he will be more rational and his actions will be more predictable.”

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)

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