Deal angles of the upcoming Erdoğan-Biden meeting

Whether a deal between Erdoğan and Biden is probable or not, that we do not know. What we may pretend to know is the fact that a deal, a mutual understanding is definitely possible when the two leaders will meet for the first time in Brussels in the margins of the NATO summit on the 14th of June.

Whether a deal between Erdoğan and Biden is probable or not, that we do not know. What we may pretend to know is the fact that a deal, a mutual understanding is definitely possible when the two leaders will meet for the first time in Brussels in the margins of the NATO summit on the 14th of June. Right after that, there will be two “bigger bang” events. First the U.S.-EU meeting and then in Geneva the Biden-Putin summit. To cite these two events alongside the first one is to factor them both within the context Biden-Erdoğan meeting. In other words, Turkey will be on the agenda in the other two summits and hence Erdoğan will go to Brussels with that data at hand.

The normally smooth diplomatic ride of preparing the leaders’ meeting is more or less effectively bungled by the Turkish side. Was that on purpose or due to mere amateurishness is hard to tell. Erdoğan himself openly accused Biden of having blood on his hands. Interior Minister Soylu for the umpteenth time blamed the U.S. for directly organizing the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. Turkish parliament’s foreign relations committee chair Kılıç, an AKP figure close to Erdoğan, reiterated that the S-400 issue not open for discussion. Blinken skipped Ankara in his regional tour that included Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. Instead, his deputy Sherman and UN Permanent Representative Greenfield touched base in Ankara. Neither dignitary’s visit appeared to produce any tangible outcomes beyond smiles.

Then how on earth one can predict a common foundation in Brussels? To my mind, it is first of all simply because any deal is possible anywhere in the world in our time. Maybe it is just me, maybe I am totally off the mark, but that is the situation that leads me to say that this is the end of foreign policy. Pushing aside these elucubrations of mine, a deal between Biden and Erdoğan still appears to be within the cards. The sole issue that needs creativity and tact is the Russian S400 air defense systems acquired by Turkey on a whim. Its price tag stands at an eye-popping 2.5 billion U.S. dollars. By default, the diplomatic price tag of indefinitely shelving them too is expected to be as exorbitant. Beyond the S400s, Syria and Libya are the easier bits, as long as Turkey falls in line with the U.S. in tackling the global priorities of Russia and China.

Turkey creates no longer a cause for concern. Its’ muscular, assertive foreign policy gave way to usual theatres of tension in Cyprus with its’ suggested two-state solution and in Iraq with an expanding and long-haul military operation. In Libya, Watiya Military Base remains where it is yet Ankara proved itself unable to monetize its either military or political investments. Turkey’s expensive research vessels are moored in Antalya Bay. “Blue Homeland” slogan which never was a doctrine swiftly turned into a distant memory. Greek and Turkish foreign ministers exchanged visits and apparently came to the mutual conclusion that to keep their national tourism economies alive takes precedence to nationalistic saber-rattling. On the 6th of June, the Turkish Foreign Minister was received in Paris to mend fences with yet another estranged NATO ally. Within NATO, Turkey more than ever energetically shoulders its responsibilities in the Baltic and the Black Sea.

All of the above military adventures came with a long bill. Turkish economy is more than fragile due to the pandemic and the unforced errors committed by the whimsical one-man regime. As with any other tables in the casino, the one to be set up in Brussels will forcefully entail give and takes. Erdoğan will be on the demanding side and that already weakens its hand. Judging by the acts and the words, “if the U.S. can live and work with ‘a Sisi’ ot with ‘a MbS’ why on earth not with me?” the thinking goes in Ankara. Biden’s move to not to renew DeltaCrescentOil’s waiver from Syria sanctions effectively killed AANES’ hope of keeping the first “A” in its acronym alive. Furthermore, since he took over as the U.S. president, Biden did not give any hints of voracious appetite for delving into all matters middle eastern. Instead, the U.S. seems poised to offload as much weight as possible towards willing partners, be they transactional or not.

Ergo it is difficult to preach that the metaphorical stars are aligned for a great bargain between Erdoğan and Biden in Brussels. At the same time, beyond the S400 issue, both sides may walk together with many thorns on their thighs. To cite the obvious, to reach for a deal one has to angle for a deal in the first place. If Erdoğan’s gambit is to solely harvest a photo opportunity, then there won’t be any need for a deal anyway. Testing a common ground for a deal is a narrower but more realistic target but that too remains easier said than done. Alignment with the U.S. to contain and curb Russia and China, taking the load off of the shoulders of the U.S. in Syria and Libya, not to commit any “faux-pas” with Iran may be enough for the U.S. side. And the Turkish side can play along as long as its’ economy is kept afloat with a little help from its’ friends. Then, as of now, human rights, freedom of speech, rule of law, and the Kurds will be the usual casualties in Brussels.

May 17, 2021 An odd road companion