Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke with his U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s visit to the U.S., the pro-government Daily Sabah Daily reported on Tuesday.
Washington versus the EU
The announcement came two days after Sunday’s referendum and following a Monday call by President Trump to congratulate President Erdogan for his victory. That was a significant gesture amidst OSCE and Council of Europe question marks over how free, fair, and level-playing was the referendum campaign.
Washington’s support was also crucial domestically, as the opposition challenges the legitimacy of the referendum. Al-Monitor cites a Turkish government source, suggesting President Trump’s business partners in Turkey may have been actively lobbying for President Trump’s Monday call.
Meanwhile, EU member states have largely dismissed the result and Ankara’s relations with Brussels, Berlin, and the Hague, among others, is at an all-times low.
Berlin versus Washington
Erdogan will visit Washington for formal talks with President Trump, ahead of a NATO Summit in May, which presents a clear rift in Turkey policy between Washington and Brussels.
Washington prioritizes the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, in which Turkey is an invaluable partner. With some diplomatic tact, the State Department has avoided an explicit endorsement of the referendum result, while urging for “respect for fundamental rights,” but a phone from the White House, followed by an invitation, speaks volumes.
Berlin has also been careful to maintain open channels of communication with Ankara. In March, Germany’s Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, made clear that “no one should believe that a Turkey outside NATO would listen better to us or would be easier to deal with than a Turkey in NATO.”
In reality, Turkey’s cooperation in refugee policy remains vital to Germany, especially amidst an electoral campaign.
Enduring cleavages between Ankara and Washington
Washington steps in to build bridges between NATO and Turkey.
As the Alliance is moving towards Raqqa, Turkey will continue to express concerns over Washington’s cooperation with Syria’s Kurdish YPG militias. That is a question that Defense Secretary James Mattis appears willing to address, but whether that means Washington is ready to walk away from one of its most reliable allies on the ground remains to be seen.
Washington has also met Ankara half way by launching an attack on Assad’s air force, as well as calling into question the viability of the Assad regime.
Last but not least, the question of the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based cleric Gülen remains a sore point.
A gift from Ankara to Donald Trump?
Last week, Istanbul’s Chief Public Prosecutor launched a probe into 17 individuals including US politicians, on allegations of links to the so-called Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Among the “suspects” are former CIA Director John O. Brennan, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) President, David Cohen and Henri Barkey, and the Director of the Middle East Program at Wilson Center.
Washington insists the extradition process has little to do with the White House. But, President Erdogan will want to go home with some tangible victory that is domestically significant.