Until recently, Steve Bannon was the chief strategist in the White House. During the 2016 presidential election, he headed U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign. In other words, Bannon spent enough time with Trump to get to know him; he understands what the U.S. president likes, what infuriates him and where he stands on policy.
In a recent interview with CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Bannon said he thought Trump "gravitates to personalities that are strong personalities." He proceeded to describe the world leaders that the U.S. president envied, "They are nationalists. They put their countries first, and they get on with it and they don't care what other people think." There are three men, according to the former Trump aide, that fit the profile, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
I will explain why I brought up the Bannon interview, but let us talk about Washington's new economic sanctions on Iran first. As you know, Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, which was concluded by his predecessor, and said he would impose comprehensive sanctions on Tehran. Although the Trump administration faced criticism from the European Union and others, Washington is committed to twisting Iran's arm.
Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea traveled to India and Turkey to share the administration's views on its sanctions on Iran with his counterparts. In Turkey, he held talks with representatives of the Finance Ministry as well as members of the business community. In those meetings, Billingslea revealed that Washington will gradually strengthen its sanctions on Iran on Aug. 6 and Nov. 4. Accordingly, countries and companies importing natural gas and petroleum from Iran after the Nov. 4 deadline will face consequences. At the same time, Billingslea warned that "companies that continue to do business with Iran won't be able to operate in the U.S. market and financial system."
Where does Turkey stand on the Iran sanctions? What are the country's sensitivities that the U.S. claims to understand? Iran is one of Turkey's neighbors and there are strong economic ties between the two countries. During his visit, Billingslea said they were aware of this situation and noted that Turkey's trade relations with Iran were something that needed to be discussed. He added that the administration was sensitive toward the impact of the sanctions on Iran on the Turkish economy and said Turkey and the U.S. were discussing at length their respective concerns. The question is whether this type of assurance will be enough for the Turks.
Needless to say, Ankara encountered similar problems in the past. When the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran, which were violated by German and French companies, Turkey complied with them in part and sought to neutralize their negative side effects through the gold trade. We all know what happened next. The Barack Obama administration reached an agreement with Iran, and Turkey took the fall.
The U.S. seems to impose sanctions on Iran and make up at will, with complete disregard for the economic interests of Turkey, its NATO ally. Either way, it expects Ankara to follow the rules to the letter. It goes without saying that there is a serious problem with Washington's approach to Turkey. If U.S. policymakers keep doing what they have been doing and force Ankara to act against its interests, nothing will come out of their efforts. If Washington wants Turkey to get on board with the sanctions, here is what it needs to do: It must reach an agreement with Ankara over a broader regional strategy.
In other words, there must be no disagreement between the two countries over what they want to accomplish in Syria, including the future of the terrorist organization PKK's Syrian branch, the People's Protection Units (YPG). Secondly, the U.S. must extradite Fetullah Gülen and members of his terrorist group, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), who are operating on U.S. soil. Furthermore, Washington needs to cover Turkey's short- and long-term economic losses related to the sanctions on Iran. At the same time, U.S. officials need to explain to Ankara how they will meet their need for natural gas with Iran out of the game. Natural gas is something that Turkey cannot just ignore.
What happens if the U.S. does not address Turkey's concerns adequately? Let us now go back to the beginning and recall how Bannon described people like Erdoğan, "They put their countries first. And they get on with it, and they don't care what other people think."