Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday departed for Brussels to attend the NATO summit, in which the trans-Atlantic alliance's "NATO 2030" process will be evaluated.
The summit will also focus on potential threats and challenges to NATO security with an exchange of views at the strategic level. As part of ending the NATO mission in Afghanistan this year, steps for ensuring the continuation of the alliance's support to Afghanistan will also be evaluated in the summit.
According to NATO, the summit is being held to respond to the challenges "of today and tomorrow." These include terrorism, cyberattacks, disruptive technologies and the security implications of climate change. The NATO 2030 initiative to "continue adapting" the alliance is at the heart of the summit.
While Erdoğan is expected to hold bilateral meetings with other NATO leaders on the sidelines of the summit, the meeting with the United States President Joe Biden comes to the forefront, as it will be the first face-to-face interaction between the two since the latter's election as president.
Erdoğan will also hold one-on-one meetings with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Latvian President Egils Levits, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He is also expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Besides matters related to the NATO alliance, bilateral ties and regional issues will be discussed during the talks. According to sources, respect for Turkey's sovereignty and security sensitivities with regard to regional developments are expected to top the country's agenda at the NATO summit. It will be made clear that Turkey is a member state that fulfills its duties as part of the alliance and underlined that it offers to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and in managing humanitarian crises. Turkey's concerns and suggestions on the Afghan peace process will also be conveyed.
A positive agenda is prioritized for the upcoming meeting between Erdoğan and Biden, with potential areas of cooperation and opportunities expected to dominate talks in addition to discussions about ongoing disagreements. Biden and Erdoğan are scheduled to meet and discuss a range of issues including Syria, Afghanistan, the Eastern Mediterranean and the S-400s issue on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on Monday. The meeting comes against the backdrop of a fair amount of tension between the two countries. Although NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. have voiced interest in resetting recently strained ties, disagreements on several points remain, and sources have pointed out that political cooperation is the key to progress.
Ankara and Washington disagree on a number of issues that have further strained bilateral ties in recent years, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems to the U.S. support to the PKK terrorist group's Syrian branch, the YPG terrorist group, as well as the U.S. refusal to extradite Fetullah Gülen, leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and some other legal matters.
The greatest challenge that Turkey-U.S. relations face is not the problem of Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system but rather Washington’s support for the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian wing, the YPG, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated recently.
The two NATO allies also have differing views on some regional issues, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as Ankara's hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the other hand, the two leaders are expected to discuss potential cooperation areas and opportunities in regional issues, especially in Libya, Afghanistan and northwestern Syria. There are areas of common ground including efforts to reach a political solution in Libya and opposition to the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. The two countries can also play a major role in the reconstruction of Libya, while both defend the continuation of cross-border aid to northwestern Syria despite Russia’s opposition.
Turkey is approaching the upcoming meeting between Erdoğan and Biden with a positive agenda, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last week, adding that Ankara has received similar optimistic signals from Washington. Çavuşoğlu noted that the U.S. wants to cooperate with Turkey not only on the issues of Libya and Syria, but also in many areas from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and Caucasus regions.
Biden is also looking forward to reviewing the "full breadth" of Ankara-Washington ties, as he and Erdoğan are scheduled to meet and discuss Syria, Afghanistan and other regional issues, the U.S.' national security advisor said last week, underlining that the two leaders will also look at the "significant differences" between the two NATO allies.
“I believe that our meeting with Mr. Biden at the NATO summit will be the harbinger of a new era,” Erdoğan said in a televised address while holding a roundtable call with a group of executives from large U.S. companies.
“From Syria to Libya, and from fighting against terrorism to energy, and from trade to investments, we have serious potential for cooperation with the U.S.,” the Turkish president said.
The issue of Afghanistan will be one of the main topics of the NATO summit. Under the February 2020 deal secured with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump, all U.S. forces were to be out of Afghanistan by May 1.
But Biden said in April that the pullout would be completed by the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. that prompted the U.S.-led invasion and ouster of the Taliban government that sheltered the group.
With violence raging, many U.S. lawmakers and current and former officials fear that the departure of the foreign forces and stalled peace talks are pushing Afghanistan into an all-out civil war that could return the Taliban to power.
The Pentagon says the U.S. withdrawal is more than 50% complete. Turkey, with more than 500 soldiers still in Afghanistan training security forces, now has the largest foreign military contingent there.
Turkey's potential role in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the planned U.S. pullout could serve as an area of cooperation. Turkey has offered to guard and run Kabul's airport after NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The airport plan may offer a rare opportunity to build goodwill and trust and could help improve ties between Ankara and the West.
Turkish officials say they made the Kabul airport proposal at a NATO meeting in May when the U.S. and its partners agreed to a plan to withdraw their forces by Sept. 11 after 20 years of backing the Afghan government in a war against the Taliban.
"We intend to stay in Afghanistan depending on conditions. What are our conditions? Political, financial and logistical support. If these are met, we can remain at Hamid Karzai International Airport," Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said last week. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said that Turkey was discussing the security of the airport with allies, namely the U.S., but that no country could handle the mission without support.
Following statements from Ankara, the Pentagon said that Turkey and the U.S. held preliminary talks on the security of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of American and other NATO forces from Afghanistan.
At the request of the U.S., Turkey also pledged to host a high-level international peace conference on Afghanistan in April, but the Taliban declined to attend, forcing Ankara to postpone it. Ankara also recently pointed to continuing efforts for the Afghanistan peace process in coordination with Washington.