The United States' surprising decision last week to resolve the visa crisis with Turkey has been interpreted as a sign of reconciliation, while mutual reconciliatory steps need to be taken for extricating from the political impasse that 2017 has bequeathed. Turkish-U.S. relations have faced an acute dilemma over the future of the ties throughout the last year. The two sides need to show significant effort over the complex issues for full recovery of the shattered bilateral ties.
Conflicts over the Democratic Union Party (PYD), its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) appear to be the most challenging of the several issues awaiting resolution in 2018. James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, told Daily Sabah that he is optimistic for the future of the relations as "the bulk of the two countries' frictions revolve around legal issues - Gülen, the Zarrab case, the bodyguards case, arrests in Turkey, which, while troubling, can really neither be fixed by the leader nor truly threaten the other country." However, Jeffrey pointed out, "The one area of friction which does impact existential security issues for both countries but especially Turkey given its location is the PYD, but that is an issue unlike the legal ones which the leaders can improve."
In relation to the issue, Turkey has been clearly conveying its concerns and expectations from the U.S., while the latter has been reiterating its line that prevents both sides from finding a consensus.
"If the U.S. does not take the necessary steps that Turkey expects as an ally, it will be difficult to expect resolutions to the ongoing problems in 2018," Professor Kemal İnat, an academic at Sakarya University, told Daily Sabah.
In the thorny issue of the U.S's arm help to the PYD, the PKK's Syrian offshoot, Turkey's argument is that the trucks of arms provided to the PYD/YPG would eventually be transferred to the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the U.S., and would pose great security threats to Turkey.
Turkish officials have been highlighting that arming a terrorist group on the grounds of fighting Daesh is unacceptable in international relations and rejecting the role President Donald Trump allotted to them as fighters against Daesh. According to Turkish media, it is reported that the PYD has been storing weapons given to them by the U.S. throughout its 13 main bases in areas they seized and control in the region.
The terrorist organization distributes these weapons to its members from these stores, which further raises concerns. On the other hand, the U.S. has been arguing that its partnership with the PYD is a restricted one and will end when Daesh is defeated.
When Turkey insisted on its line in relation to the issue, President Trump pledged to halt arms support to the group and the Pentagon announced that it would retrieve heavy weaponry and vehicles provided to the YPG terrorists.
Prof. İnat said the U.S. would not keep its promise regarding the YPG as it previously did not fulfill promises to Turkey and added: "In the long term, the U.S. might want to use the terror organization in the region to pressure regional countries. It would use the PYD as part of a carrot and stick policy. In line with that, while the U.S. might use the terror group to impose pressure on countries in the region from time to time, it might also take steps against the group."
In opposition to İnat's opinion, Jeffrey argued that the U.S. has no intention of cornering Turkey by using the PYD.
Jeffrey said: "If the U.S. wanted to pressure Turkey with the PYD it would not have given it weapons to go after a terrorist insurgent force like ISIS [Daesh] such as infantry small arms and HUMVEE trucks with armor that hardly stops a Turkish heavy machine gun, but rather with Abrams Tanks, artillery, armed drones and MANPADS to shoot down aircraft. It did not and would not."
Commenting on the rhetoric of the U.S.'s tactical partnership with the PYD, İnat argued: "At the end of the day, the U.S. is giving arms to a terrorist group. There are unwritten rules in international law. If the U.S. is breaking taboos in this line, it might face the same kind of threats in the future."
The issue of the PYD's existence in the region now lies ahead of world leaders as the fight against Daesh is over. Turkey has been insisting that the PYD cannot play the slightest role in shaping the future of the war-torn country.
The former U.S. ambassador suggested: "it would help relations if Turkey stopped complaining constantly about arms to the PYD as it is just a diversion from the real question - what does Turkey want for its long-term security in Syria."
However, Turkey has been vehemently opposing the existence of terror groups alongside its borders and made no secret of its will to eliminate them by launching cross-border operations.
Other friction between the countries stems from FETÖ, which orchestrated the July 15 coup attempt, causing the death of 249 people and injuring many others, and further straining relations. Despite Turkey repeatedly demanding the extradition of Fetullah Gülen, legal steps are yet to be taken by the U.S.
While Turkey considers the issue of the utmost importance for the country, the U.S. government believes that the issue needs to be handled by the judiciary.
In the complex relations between the U.S. and Turkey, the latter's active diplomacy over international issues is considered to have an impact on the future of the ties.
"Turkey has strengthened its position in relations with the U.S. as it has been playing a leading role in various issues including the rejection of the Jerusalem decision in the United Nations General Assembly," Professor Nurşin Ateşoğlu Güney from Bahçeşehir Cyprus University told Daily Sabah. Güney added that the U.S. would pay heed to the fact that Turkey has been pursuing active policies in its respective region.
Now that the two countries are saddled with the challenging task of mending worn-out relations, it is clear that there is no shortcut.
For Jeffrey, the formula to get relations back on track is to "freeze the various legal issues and other secondary problems like the S-400 and concentrate on a common position on Russia in the region, containing Iranian expansionism, dealing with Syria and, within Syria, a common position toward the PYD."
Pointing out that some circles in the U.S. government pursue policies against the elected government in Turkey risk pushing Turkey away and throwing 65 years of alliance into limbo, İnat contended that when the U.S. changes its attitude and decides to fight against these circles targeting Turkey, it would be possible to expect a recovery in relations.
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