Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım had positive expectations about his visit to the White House last week where he met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence for the second time this year. Yıldırım is a soft-spoken, calm person with a good sense of humor. Throughout his visit, he used his positive vibes to convince people that Ankara wishes to leave the visa crisis behind and open a new page with the Trump administration.
I am told that a smiling Yıldırım even asked Washington-based reporters to write positive stories about his visit because he was visiting the town with good intentions. To their credit, American journalists mostly covered the visit with hopeful attitudes.
The most important assessment of the visit was released by the White House following Yıldırım's meeting with Pence, which doubled the allocated time by the Vice President's office, largely considered as a positive sign. "The leaders expressed hope that their meeting would help to usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Turkey relations and agreed on the need for constructive dialogue, as friends and Allies, on bilateral challenges," the readout said.
Ushering a new chapter in relations was the main focus of Ankara. In this respect, Turkish officials left Washington in a happy mood though the Turkish delegation did not feel great about the absence of minister-level American officials in the bilateral meeting. This is understandable because the Turkish side had Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç and chief foreign policy adviser to the prime minister, Ambassador Kerim Uras on board. The American side consisted of Pence's tight circle of aides, such as Chief of Staff Nick Ayes, National Security Adviser Joan O'Hara, Special Adviser for Europe and Eurasia Molly Montgomery, Adviser for the Middle East Trevor Hough. There was also Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth Millard in attendance.
The official readout had a first for the Trump administration as well; the vice president expressed deep concern over the arrests of American citizens, Mission Turkey local staff, journalists and members of civil society. PM Yıldırım himself told journalists that he spent considerable time with Pence talking about Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is facing charges of aiding and abetting the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) in Turkey. Evangelicals have run a popular campaign for Brunson's release in recent months and put a lot of pressure on Pence who is also an Evangelical. Yıldırım told media that he told Pence there were multiple court cases in both countries involving Turkish and American citizens and that the best course is for these cases to be resolved through judicial manners.
Yıldırım also underlined that both sides wanted to increase dialogue. He even mentioned a phone line that would be open 24 hours to resolve unexpected problems. He politely retracted some remarks made by Turkish officials too. Instead of bringing up Brunson's case for a swap deal for Gülen's extradition, he totally changed the tune.
"It's not very ethical to do political bargaining on legal issues," Yıldırım said in an interview with Bloomberg at the Turkish consulate in New York. "What we want isn't a give-and-take, what we want is for justice to be served."
Pence also talked about his daughter's time in Istanbul during the meeting. Yıldırım says he invited Pence to visit Turkey as soon as possible. Pence was one of the members of the Turkish-American Caucus in the U.S. Congress when he was serving as a representative for Indiana.
Turkish officials seem content with their performance in Washington; they wanted to repair ties following the visa crisis, and they have largely succeeded.
As former U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey said last week, Turkish officials made a major effort to restart relations. If the U.S. does not respond in kind, the possible fallout will be Washington's responsibility.