The political agenda is focused so much on COVID-19 and racial protests in the United States these days that developments in the country's foreign policies have remained forgotten for a long time. There have been positive developments, however, in three important issues that are of close interest to Turkey.
Although the U.S. and Turkey are very far apart concerning the YPG/PKK, the two NATO allies agree that Bashar Assad should leave office in Syria. Congress took a major bipartisan step, imposing the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act on 39 people and institutions related to the Syrian government, including Assad and his wife. It was signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 21. After certain procedures were completed, this act came into force last week setting forth sanctions on foreign persons and institutions that support the activities of the Assad government or exchange large amounts of money with them. In fact, it makes it almost impossible for companies, or even many countries, to carry out business with Syria.
I believe that if this enforcement had taken place during former President Barak Obama’s presidency, neither half a million people would have died nor 6.5 million would have been displaced. Although it is possible for Syria to survive these economic sanctions with the support of China, Russia and Iran, they will be very challenging for Assad over the long term. According to the latest figures reported by the United Nations, the poverty rate in Syria is 83%. Their currency fell to 3,500 Syrian pounds to the U.S. dollar this month, down from 700 Syrian pounds in January. If we assume, as determined by financial institutions, that eight out of 10 people in Syria earn less than $100 per month, it should not be surprising that the Syrian government is panicking as it described these sanctions as economic terrorism. Members of Congress I have spoken to, both from the Democratic and Republican parties, believe that this legislation will put Syria in a very tight corner. Lebanon, which hosts 900,000 Syrian refugees, has the most to lose because it is the country that trades the most with Syria. We'll see how long Assad will resist under these conditions or when those supporting him will want him out of office.
I would also like to address the Supporting Act for Uyghur Turks, which is another important issue for Turkey. The act freezes the assets of Chinese officers in the U.S. and restrains their visas due to their oppression of Uighurs Turks living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. We have close relationships with our Uighur Turk friends in Washington, D.C. They have contributed a lot to the enforcement of the law with their long-term professional work. Of course, the Trump administration made use of the Uighur issue as a means of putting pressure on China. As a result, there is a feeling of contentment as it helped Uighur Turks’ voices be heard and prompted the necessary responsive actions.
In conclusion, we have witnessed a satisfying development at the U.N., which would not normally be effective during many global crises, including the issue of Syria. I congratulated Volkan Bozkır for his election as the 75th president of the General Assembly last week, even before he had been formally chosen. The fact that Turkey received its largest amount of votes ever in the presidential elections of the highest decision-making body of the U.N., the General Council, also drew a great deal of attention. Bozkır's leadership will be very important, especially when it comes to spoiling the games of countries that arbitrarily veto bills in the U.N. Security Council based on their own interests or getting important decisions passed at the General Assembly. He is also critical of the U.S., as it not only hosts the U.N.'s headquarters in New York, but it also provides significant capital to its budget and is extremely influential within the U.N.
In this respect, I consider Bozkır's role to be precious in terms of Turkish-American relationships.
*President of the Turkish Heritage Organization and a 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient
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