Turkey

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, backed by Russia and Iran, has made clear its intentions to seize control of Idlib province—the last remaining rebel-held stronghold in the war-ravaged nation. Now, with Russian ships moored in the Mediterranean Sea and Assad’s forces closing in from the south, it is methodically going about doing just that.

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The American alliance with Turkey is in crisis. The two NATO allies have divergent interests in the Middle East, stemming from differing policies towards non-state actors. The United States, as the dominant external power in the Middle East, has made counter-terrorism the focal point of its Middle East strategy. American policy is linked to pervasive beliefs about the causes of the 9/11 attacks and the idea that Sunni jihadist groups are most effective when they have safe havens to plan and then execute plots against the US homeland. For Turkey, the threat of Sunni Jihadist non-state actors is secondary to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is a Kurdish insurgent group that has been active in Turkey since 1984.

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The F-35 is the next generation fighter jet designed to ensure NATO’s air superiority for the next twenty to thirty years. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter development program is a nine-country international consortium, which includes a tiered system of states that collectively contributed to the aircraft’s development and manufacture. Turkey is a Level III partner, meaning it invested an initial $125 million in the program. This investment affords Turkey a program office staff member in the F-35 office, but also means that Turkey has no direct vote on the F-35’s basic engineering and mission requirements. Ankara has invested $1.25 billion in the program since 2002, and Turkey manufactures several key components of the F-35. Despite these investments, Turkey’s future involvement in the F-35 program is no longer certain.

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On August 8, US President Donald J. Trump announced the doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, escalating the tension between the two NATO countries that has reached a boiling point over the last several weeks.

In his announcement, the American president said, “our relations with Turkey are not so good at this time!” The new tariffs follow the sanctioning of the Turkish interior and justice ministers on July 31.

The Turkish lira tumbled following Trump’s announcement and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked Turkish citizens to convert any US dollars and gold into lira to help the country in its “national struggle.”

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The 2008 war between Georgia and Russia was a critical test for Turkey. It highlighted Ankara’s delicate balancing act between the West and Russia, one that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still pursuing today.

The conflict presented a formidable challenge. Georgia was not just another neighbor for Turkey – the two countries had built robust diplomatic and commercial ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Russia, too, had become a leading commercial and political partner for Ankara. Turkish policymakers viewed Russian pushback against the West in the Black Sea as a serious threat and sought to mitigate the conflict. 

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This piece is part of a two part series on current US-Turkey relations. See the first piece here

Relations between Turkey and the United States may have hit a new low after the US Department of the Treasury sanctioned two Turkish government officials in response to the imprisonment of an American pastor in Turkey on July 31st.

The sanctions were placed on Turkey’s Minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gül, and the Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, on the basis of the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act and 2012 Magnitsky Act. These acts give the United States government the authority to sanction foreign nationals who abuse human rights or are involved in corrupt practices.

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This piece is part of a two-part series on current US-Turkey relations. See the other piece here.

There was a time when Turkish people mourned together with the people of the United States, such as when John F.  Kennedy was killed, or when they fought shoulder to shoulder together during the Korean War. How did such a great alliance turn into a cold shoulder?

The historically strong US-Turkey relationship has been tested in recent years by a seemingly never-ending series of disagreements and crises. After each development, commentators claim again and again that US-Turkey relations have never been so bad. Each point of conflict seems to make relations that much worse and the recent sanctions on two Turkish ministers have initiated a new wave of such claims. So far, relations have remained resilient and a meeting on August 3 between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu is a testament to the two NATO allies’ ability to maintain dialogue despite increasing tensions.

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The leaked language for the final version of the forthcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) suggests that the US Congress will hold the delivery of Turkish F-35 fighter aircraft, until a report is drafted that assesses Turkish industry participation in the F-35 consortium, and how best to replace Turkish manufactured components in the supply chain. The potential Congressional action comes after the Turkish government reached agreement with Russia for the delivery of the S-400 missile system. The Russian made surface-to-air missile system poses a unique threat to American aircraft: the S-400’s radar is able to act as a platform to collect electronic and signal intelligence from the F-35. If the radar operates in Turkey, alongside the F-35, Moscow could potentially gain useful knowledge about the jet and be able to detect the jet at greater ranges, potentially giving Moscow useful data about NATO’s future frontline fighter.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of unity in the Alliance during a panel discussion in Brussels on July 11. Although each of the ministers implored the Alliance to find common ground on the challenges facing the bloc, divergent views on these central questions also emerged. The ministers participated in NATO Engages, a two-day event co-hosted by the Atlantic Council on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels.

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With the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections that took place on June 24, the issue of naturalized Syrian refugees’ participation was a major point of contention. Turkish parties have divergent views on the Syrian refugee situation in Turkey, and there was an increase of public campaigns rejecting their stay in the country. A wide range of opposition party campaigns called for refugee repatriation, while Syrians with Turkish citizenship were expected to vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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