Turkey is approaching the upcoming meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden with a positive agenda, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said late Wednesday, adding that Ankara has received similar optimistic signals from Washington.
In an interview with public broadcaster TRT Haber, Çavuşoğlu noted that the United States 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.
"We see that the U.S. is willing to work with Turkey in many strategic fields. We have been observing this with all of our contacts, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Biden," he said.
A face-to-face meeting between the two leaders is scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14. Biden and Erdoğan are expected to discuss a range of issues including Syria, Afghanistan, the Eastern Mediterranean and the S-400s issue.
In a televised address while holding a roundtable call with a group of executives from large U.S. companies, Erdoğan recently said that he believes his first in-person meeting with Biden at the NATO summit will mark the beginning of a new era.
Ankara and Washington disagree on a number of issues that have further strained bilateral ties, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems to U.S. support for the Syrian branch of the PKK, the YPG, as well as the U.S. refusal to extradite Fetullah Gülen, leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).
In regard to the S-400 defense system Turkey purchased from Russia, Çavuşoğlu reminded the audience that NATO's secretary-general had previously said that allies were free to purchase defense products from whichever country they desired.
He underlined that the U.S. argues that the S-400 system is unsuited to NATO systems, and continued: "We made the offer for a technical committee, but they did not accept. Because they, too know their claims are not right."
Çavuşoğlu underlined that, "If the U.S. does not guarantee Patriot, we can get air defense system from our other allies."
Ties between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. were badly strained in 2019 over Ankara’s acquisition of the advanced S-400 Russian air defense system, prompting Washington to remove Turkey from its F-35 Lightning II jet program.
The U.S. argued that the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and that it is incompatible with NATO systems. Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Washington in December decided to impose sanctions on Turkey over the purchase. It marked the first time a NATO member state has been sanctioned for buying Russian arms. However, the Russian-made S-300 system has been sold to 20 countries, including NATO member countries like Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia.
Ankara has repeatedly stressed it was the U.S.' refusal to sell its Patriot missile systems that led the country to seek other sellers, adding that Russia had offered a better deal, including technology transfers. Turkey even proposed setting up a commission with the U.S. to clarify any technical issues.
Çavuşoğlu also drew attention to the support Washington provides to the PKK terrorist group's Syrian branch, the YPG, and the U.S. attitude toward the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is responsible for the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016.
He said: "How are we going to solve these issues? Will we be able to strengthen cooperation while repairing future-oriented relations?"
On the issue of FETÖ, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey has certain expectations but has not received a signal that they will be met by the U.S.
He added that his contacts and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told him they have seen FETÖ's "dark face."
"They make good use of technology and people. We have seen many illegal activities committed by them in many fields, from visa smuggling within the U.S. to money laundering," Çavuşoğlu said he was told.
FETÖ and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, in which 251 people were killed and 2,734 injured. FETÖ was also behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
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 PKK is a designated terrorist organization in the U.S., Turkey and the European Union, and Washington's support for its Syrian affiliate has been a major strain on bilateral relations with Ankara. The U.S. primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria in its fight against the Daesh terrorist group. On the other hand, Turkey strongly opposed the YPG's presence in northern Syria. Ankara has long objected to the U.S.' support for the YPG, a group that poses a threat to Turkey and that terrorizes local people, destroying their homes and forcing them to flee.
Under the pretext of fighting Daesh, the U.S. has provided military training and given truckloads of military support to the YPG, despite its NATO ally's security concerns. Underlining that one cannot support one terrorist group to defeat another, Turkey conducted its own counterterrorism operations, over the course of which it has managed to remove a significant number of terrorists from the region.
As both Turkey and the United States are looking to turn a new page in relations and review their long-standing differences, sources underline that significant political will is needed from Washington to overcome the existing challenges.
On Turkey's relations with France, Çavuşoğlu said the French trade minister will visit Turkey.
"We will take important economic steps together in the upcoming period, as well as strengthen our bilateral relations," he said.
Çavuşoğlu also said French President Emmanuel Macron requested a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Erdoğan at next week's summit.
"It is being scheduled as well. There will be meetings held with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis among other leaders."
Stating that negotiations between Turkey and France have begun despite disagreements, he said, "France now wants to have talks over Africa as well, which is good. We do not regard anyone as rivals. We do not compete in Africa."
Çavuşoğlu highlighted that contacts and dialogue result in fewer issues and disputes.
Ankara has repeatedly traded barbs with Paris over its policies on Syria, Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean and other issues, but the NATO members said in February they were working on a road map to normalize relations.