Turkey

US vice president also warns Turkey against purchase of Russian missile defense system

US Vice President Mike Pence on April 3 chastised Germany for not spending enough on defense, warned Turkey against going ahead with the purchase of a Russian missile defense system, cautioned against the rise of China, and sought to reassure NATO allies that they will always have the United States’ support.


US President Donald J. Trump has led the charge against NATO allies who do not meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending target set at the Alliance’s Wales Summit in 2014. All allies are supposed to meet that goal by 2024. So far only seven of NATO’s twenty-nine member states meet that target; Germany is among those that lag behind.

On April 3, the eve of NATO’s seventieth anniversary, it was Pence’s turn to take allies to task.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on April 3 insisted that Ankara will not bow to US pressure to scrap a deal to buy a Russian missile defense system and said mixed signals on Syria from the United States show that the administration does not have a coherent strategy.


The Trump administration has prevented Turkey from receiving equipment related to the F-35 fighter jet until Ankara cancels an order of the Russian S-400 Triumf missile defense system, which it says would compromise the security of the F-35.

Çavuşoğlu insisted that Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s is a “done deal and we will not step back.”

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Fifteen years ago, NATO welcomed seven new members into the Alliance, expanding its borders eastward from the Baltic to Black Seas. As NATO reaches its seventieth birthday, it could now be time to look toward adding a new member: this time in the Eastern Mediterranean.

After the end of World War Two, policy makers in London and across the Atlantic worried the Cyprus problem could unravel the entire Eastern Mediterranean. Following independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, tensions on the Mediterranean island flared between the Greek and Turkish communities residing there, inflaming tensions between new NATO allies, Turkey and Greece. There was considerable concern in the West that a deterioration of the situation could leave the door open for the Soviets to gain a foothold in the Mediterranean basin.

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Turkey was once the main sponsor of the Syrian opposition’s effort to topple Bashar al Assad. However, beginning in late 2016, Turkish policy has shifted following the Russian defeat of Turkish backed proxies in Aleppo. This change in policy sparked a reassessment of Turkish strategy away from the overthrow of the regime and towards close cooperation with Russia and competition with the United States. Beginning in the summer of 2016, Ankara settled on the pursuit of four closely interrelated goals in Syria: blocking westward expansion of the American backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF); frustrating American military operations east of the Euphrates River; working through Russia to ensure that Syria remains a unitary state after the conflict ends; resettling displaced people in Turkish controlled territory in northern Syria.

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On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national living in self-exile in the United States, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That was the last time he was seen alive. The reason for Jamal’s visit to the consulate is familiar to foreigners who marry Turkish nationals. To set-a-date for one’s wedding, the Turkish government requires a document certifying that you are not already married. Ultimately, it was Jamal’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, that alerted Turkish authorities about the disappearance, touching off a gruesome and tragic story, rooted in Saudi incompetence and Turkish opportunism to try and take advantage of global outrage over the reported death of a popular figure.

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The release by an Izmir court of US Pastor Andrew Brunson on October 12 reflects a new round of pragmatism by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to undo some of the damage recent policies have done to Turkey’s ties with the United States, other Western allies, and neighbors as he struggles to ease the country’s economic, security, and foreign policy problems.

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After a bizarre morning during which many of the prosecution’s secret witnesses recanted statements made in support of the idea that Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American, supported terrorists, a Turkish court on October 12 sentenced Brunson to time served and lifted travel restrictions. In short: Brunson is free to leave Turkey and is on his way back to the United States. The US government has, over the past year, been in talks with its Turkish counterparts about the terms of Brunson’s release. His release will close a strange chapter in US-Turkish diplomatic history. It will not, however, resolve tensions.

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A Turkish court on October 12 freed from house arrest a US pastor whose case had severely strained ties between Washington and Ankara—NATO allies.

Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in 2016 and convicted on terrorism charges in relation with a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Brunson has denied the charges.

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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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