The meeting of June 14 between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his American counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels was expected to ease the Washington-Ankara tensions and bear constructive interaction between the two sides.
AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The meeting of June 14 between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his American counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels was expected to ease the Washington-Ankara tensions and bear constructive interaction between the two sides. But just contrary to expectations, both countries not only have not walked the path to de-escalation but also there are signs the tensions are intensifying.
But what is the cause of their stressed relations? How have their approaches fueled these tensions?
New sanctions on Turkey
Over the past years, the US and Turkey experienced unprecedented levels of tensions. Differences between the two countries' policies, including wave of Arab uprisings in the years after 2011 in West Asia and North Africa, Ankara's sharp disagreement with Washington over its alliance with Syrian Kurds, Detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson by Turkey for being associated with the Gülenist network and the PKK as well as espionage, Turkey's purchase of the Russian S400 air defenses, Imposing tariffs on Turkish exports to the US, Washington's economic sanctions against Ankara were among the most important issues that reduced the level of relations between the two countries to the lowest point.
Under Donald Trump, there was a level of cooperation and coordination between the two countries, mainly thanks to Trump’s view of the Syrian crisis. But assumption of power by Biden was not a good news for Ankara and Erdogan. In 2019, in an interview with the New York Times Biden had openly described Erdogan an authoritarian leader and called for backing to his opposition to put an end to his and the ruling party Justice and Development Party's era in Turkey.
In such atmosphere, Erdogan and Biden met in mid-June and with their diplomat smiles sent signals that the tensions between the two NATO members will possibly see a downturn. On Thursday, Washington added Ankara to a list of countries that are implicated in the use of "child soldiers" over the past year. By adding a NATO ally to such a list, the US is likely to complicate the already fraught ties with Turkey.
The US State Department determined in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) that Turkey was providing "tangible support" to the Sultan Murad division in Syria, a faction of Syrian opposition that Ankara has long, supported and a group that Washington said recruited and used child soldiers, according to Reuters news agency. The recent measure is seen as Biden's second big blow to Erdogan. First blow was when in April the US administration recognized the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, from whose ashes the modern Turkey rose, as"genocide." Certainly, putting Turkey on the list of abusers of children rights is a sophisticated and biased move against Erdogan.
Erdogan expansionism and Washington opposition
In addition to the US tension generating measures, Erdogan with his recent comments fueled the tensions. On Friday during his inspection of the tank chain factory in Sakarya province in northwestern Turkey, Erdogan said: "We are present in Libya, Azerbaijan, Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean and will continue our presence."
Erdogan's remarks came as NATO leaders at their summit stressed the need for foreign troops to leave Libya and the mercenaries be expelled. The same request was made by the Libyan Foreign Minister Najla El Mangoush on May 4, during a meeting with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in the capital Tripoli. Turkey is accused of transferring to Libya thousands of foreign mercenaries to assist the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, in the fight against General Khalifa Haftar. In fact, Turkey is involved in the Libyan civil war through its proxies, and this is yet another driver for potential tensions between Ankara and Washington.
Biden and Erdogan on route to maximum confrontation
With regard to Washington-Ankara recent tensions, it can be said that Turkey has become a headache for NATO in the recent years, playing its own game and stepping in maximum confrontation with other members. This Turkish policy was ignored by Trump. In fact, much of the US indifference to Turkey's actions against Greece and the European Union in the Mediterranean was due to Trump Washington's disregard for the European bloc. For the Trump administration, even the NATO military alliance was not a priority, and the president repeatedly criticized the "unfair" European governments' contributions to NATO budget. Therefore, it was natural that the Trump administration was not interested in entering into the Turkish-European tensions and perhaps left Ankara hand open in the Mediterranean.
The tensions grew to a level that France called for firing Turkey from NATO. Although the Trump US turned a blind eye to the Turkish rifts with the European countries and hardly criticized Ankara as an ally to Europe, in the new conditions things have changed drastically. Biden, with slogan of rebuilding the traditional Atlantic alliances, cannot be indifferent and silent to Ankara like his predecessor. Therefore, Biden's pressure on Erdogan to quit his adventures in the Mediterranean and rivalry to the Europeans is something certain. Adding Turkey to list of children recruiters is, thus, part of this policy.