The new Turkey
Turkey - US relations March 2018

February 2018. March 2018. April 2018. May 2018.

Turkey - US relations. Some articles from february 2018.

S-400 sanctions threat grows as U.S. officials visit Ankara for defence talks

31 March 2018

Turkey will face sanctions over its deal to buy the Russian S-400 air defence system, according to Turkish daily Evrensel.

The report comes as U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tina Kaidanow, who heads the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, was in Ankara to attend the 5th gathering of Turkey - U.S. Defence Trade Dialogue, following a 2-year hiatus

Top of the agenda was an offer to sell Turkey the Patriot missile system as an alternative to the S-400. Previous negotiations over Patriots have stalled over issues such as the price and technology transfer.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said last week that Turkish efforts to buy the Patriot system would continue, but added, “These are not an alternative to the S-400. Turkey has already made its S-400 decision." 

However, since the Turkish deal to buy S-400s, the U.S. Congress has adopted laws that could see Turkey facing sanctions over the deal. Russia has meanwhile accelerated efforts to deliver S-400s to Turkey.

In discussing the Ankara talks, Evrensel reports that a U.S. official struck a positive message over sales of F-35 fighter jets and other military equipment, but called for the abandonment of the S-400 deal, stressing that it was contrary to commitments made by Turkey at a NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016.

The official also said that any potential Turkish purchase of Patriot missiles could not go though so long as the S-400 deal remained standing, saying, "We understand the desire to strengthen Turkey's air defence. But in doing so, all NATO nations need to use equipment compatible with NATO systems. A Russian system will not provide this standard,” adding, “We have stressed our concerns over the many interviews we have done with Turkish government officials.” Source

U.S. line hardening on Turkey – Washington Times

29 March 2018

The new U.S. Secretary of State is expected to take a harder line on Turkey than his predecessors, Guy Taylor and Dan Boylan wrote in The Washington Times.

Mike Pompeo “may seize on a moment of bipartisan support from U.S. lawmakers to draw a line in the sand over Turkey’s increasing closeness to Moscow,” the pair wrote. 

“Turkey is an important NATO member and a critical U.S. ally, but President Erdogan’s approach to the Kremlin has been disturbing to me and many of my bipartisan colleagues for some time now,” The Washington Times quoted Senator Benjamin L. Cardin as saying.

Another senator has called for sanctions to be applied to Turkish officials as individuals. 

“There are many nations around the world where such behavior is commonplace, such as Cuba and Iran,” James Lankford wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “But the recent level of thuggishness is unprecedented for an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

However, sanctions would likely lead to a backlash against the West from within Turkey, academic Helin Sarı said.

“If the U.S. puts sanctions in practice, it would simply increase that nationalist mood in Turkey and strengthen the government’s thesis against the West,” she said. “Then Turkey would definitely move closer to Russia and Iran, which in fact would not suit American interests.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey said that sanctioning a NATO ally “was a crazy idea”.

“Sovereign countries do not let the parliaments of other countries dictate their country’s national security decisions,” he said.

“If you sanction them, you will destroy the relationship,” he said. “If they can’t buy our weapons, who will they buy them from?”

“I think (Mike Pompeo is) in line with some of the people at the White House who are maybe a little less trusting or running out of patience with Turkey.” Jonathan Schanzer, a senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said, adding however that he doubted that sanctions were on the cards.

Mr. Pompeo, who made his first acknowledged foreign trip to Turkey after he was confirmed as CIA director last year, “is a bit less afraid to throw an elbow here or there, and I think he’s in line with some of the people at the White House who are maybe a little less trusting or running out of patience with Turkey.”

“I went out for beers with him when he was a congressman,” Mr. Schanzer said. “Let’s just say he’s no fan of the ‘Islamist light’ coalition.” Source

Turkish lawyer calls for arrest of former US district attorney Preet Bharara

28 March 2018

The US district attorney who launched the trial of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla for violating sanctions on Iran may think twice about setting foot in Turkey, after a Turkish lawyer submitted a demand for his arrest to a public prosecutor’s office, the Ahval news website reported.

Preet Bharara, the former district attorney for the Southern District of New York, began proceedings against Atilla and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab after details emerged during corruption investigations in Turkey in December 2013 of a scheme to bypass US sanctions on Iran by moving money through Halkbank, a Turkish state-owned bank.

The ensuing investigation, and Zarrab’s testimony during Atilla’s trial last December, implicated top Turkish state officials, including former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who allegedly accepted multimillion dollar bribes in the scheme, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is said to have given it the go-ahead.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claims that the US trial was part of a long-running series of plots to topple the government by followers of Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Islamic cleric accused of masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Burak Bekiroğlu, a Turkish lawyer for an anti-Gülen civil association, submitted the document to a chief public prosecutor’s office on Tuesday, demanding the issuance of an official arrest warrant for Bharara and Michael Rubin, an American Enterprise Institute scholar with a notoriously hostile line on the AKP.

Zafer Akın, Faruk Taban, Kemal Öksüz and Emre Çelik, US-based Turkish citizens with alleged links to Gülen, were also named in the document, which recommended Turkey put out an Interpol Red Notice for their arrest.

Bekiroğlu accuses the six of “attempting to prevent the Turkish government from functioning,” “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “using the judiciary to attempt a coup,” referencing the December 2013 corruption investigations and the trial triggered by Bharara in the United States.

“Maybe I will be arrested during my live Podcast at the Apollo,” Bharara tweeted in response to news of Bekiroğlu’s demand.

Metin Külünk, an AKP Istanbul deputy known for his closeness to Erdoğan, tweeted his support for the demand with a picture of the title page of the document, which he called “118 extremely important pages,” going on to thank Bekiroğlu for his efforts. source

US is not leaving İncirlik Air Base

25 March 2018

The United States Central Command denied on Sunday the reports that U.S. is preparing to leave the İncirlik air base in Turkey.

The Central Command posted a tweet, reading “The US is not leaving İncirlik Air Base in Turkey, nor is the US leaving Al Udeid AB, Qatar. These reports are false and without merit”. 

The US is not leaving Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, nor is the US leaving Al Udeid AB, Qatar. These reports are false and without merit.

There were reports earlier this week that the U.S. has decided to liquidate its two main airbases in the Middle East.

However, the Central Command did not deny that the U.S. has been reducing its presence at Turkey’s Incirlik air base. The Wall Street Journal reported on March that the U.S. had sharply reduced combat operations at Turkey’s İncirlik air base and was considering permanent cutbacks due to deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Turkey which have made it challenging for the U.S. to operate at Incirlik.

The U.S. has been using the base to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq since 2015. In January the U.S. moved A-10 ground jets from İncirlik base, leaving only refueling aircraft, while also reducing the number of military members living at the base. At the time, the Pentagon explained that the decision to move aircrafts was taken so as to step up operations in Afghanistan. Source

U.S. has no right to be in Manbij – Turkey’s Erdoğan

21 March 2018

The United States has no right to be in the Syrian region of Manbij, where Turkey would be continuing its Syrian operations after capturing the town of Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted by state news agency Anadolu as saying.

“They are going on about the issue of the next targets of our operations, which we have announced time and time again,” Erdoğan said.

“They (say they) are not going to withdraw from Manbij. For once forget withdrawing, you have no right to be there (in the first place).”

Erdoğan said that the weapons provided to Kurdish forces in Syria by the United States would either be turned against Turkey or Iran.

Erdogan asked, without naming the U.S., "why are you coming here from 11000, 12000 kilometers away? Are these lands yours? What do you have to do with these lands? They [US] came there [N.Syria] and injected YPG and PYD. 90% of local people of those lands are Arabs. But they expelled Arabs."

“There is no one else. Russia will not enter into such things. The moment it does, World War Three will erupt,” he said.

He blamed U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, but not Trump himself, for the deteriorating relations between Turkey and the United States.

“We expect an attitude from U.S. President Mr. Trump that will remove the confusion in his policies towards our country and prevent these announcements that are beginning to cross the line,” he said. Erdogan pointed out to different U.S. spokespeople and asked "Mr. Trump" to "teach their place" when comes to Turkey related issues in their statement. 

The U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Tuesday “that’s funny,” when asked about Erdogan's spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin's remarks that the U.S. and Turkey reached an agreement over Syrian cit Manbij, added, “because no agreement has been reached.”

Erdogan said on Wednesday, “Turkey will not stop until it has completely removed the terrorist threat that is waiting to attack us along our borders, most of all in Manbij.” Source

Our troops are not leaving Manbij - US Spokesperson

21 March 2018

"U.S. troops are in Manbij to keep the peace, and our troops are not leaving," a U.S. spokesperson told Ahval on Wednesday.

This statement is much sharper than the message the Pentagon had been conveying to reporters earlier this week. A spokesperson in an email message to Ahval, said, "Our recent talks with Turkish counterparts were intensive and productive. Throughout, we emphasized the importance of working together to achieve our shared objectives in Syria, including the durable defeat of ISIS and a diplomatic solution for Manbij."

It appears that the U.S. administration draws the line at Manbij, even if the U.S. did not strongly oppose Turkey's Afrin operation. 

The United States "has no right" to be in the Syrian region of Manbij, where Turkey would be continuing its Syrian operations after capturing the town of Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted  by state news agency Anadolu as saying on Wednesday.

“They (say they) are not going to withdraw from Manbij. For once forget withdrawing, you have no right to be there (in the first place).”

Earlier in the day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has backtracked  on saying Turkey had reached an agreement with the United States over the Kurdish-controlled Syrian town of Manbij, a potential flashpoint between Washington and Ankara after Turkish leaders threatened to capture the area where U.S. troops are training Kurdish fighters.

"We did not say we had an agreement with the U.S. We said we have reached an understanding," Çavuşoğlu said after a telephone conversation with outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Ahval's understanding with the U.S. administration officials that the U.S. administration does not see any understanding, or does not differentiate between an agreement and an understanding, as the Turkish Foreign Minister apparently argues.

Wednesday statement coming from the U.S. State Department spokesperson is, probably for the first time, clearly indicated that the U.S. forces is now withdrawing from Manbij. 

Speaking to K24, Kurdish news agency, a senior US State Department official gave a slightly different comment on Manbij, said , “We remain in Manbij, and we remain working with our partners there on the ground," adding, "We have no intention of leaving,” she continued, “and we’ll keep staying there as long as we need to.”

At the end of the first meeting of joint U.S.-Turkish working groups set up after Tillerson's visit to Ankara in February, the Turkish side declared that both sides had reached an agreement over Manbij. The U.S. side however never confirmed these reports and now openly denies that U.S. forces have any intention to leave.

Talking to K24, the State Department official also revealed that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan spoke with his Turkish counterpart over the weekend, a “follow-up conversation” that was part of the mechanism established by Tillerson and Erdogan. Source

Turkey says ‘understanding but no deal’ with US, on Syria

21 March 2018

Turkey and the United States have reached “an understanding, but not full agreement,” about work for stabilizing the Syrian town of Manbij and other areas where the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are present, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on March 21.

“We said we have reached an understanding, which is mainly that Syria’s Manbij and the east of the Euphrates are stabilized. We said we have reached an understanding, not an agreement,” Çavuşoğlu said at a news conference in Ankara.

His remarks came after U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Turkey and U.S. have “not reached an agreement yet.”

“It will not be enough for the YPG to retreat from Manbij. There will be other cities after Manbij,” Çavuşoğlu added.

“First, the YPG will leave and the people of Manbij will govern the city. The security of the area will be ensured. We will apply the Manbij model to other areas controlled by the YPG as well,” he said.

Ankara has been seeking an agreement with Washington over who will secure Manbij after the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization due to its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), withdraws from the area.

Turkey wants the U.S. to put an end to its support for the YPG and to collect back all arms distributed to the organization.

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a leading role in recent weeks to resolve the dispute, promising to find a solution for Manbij during a visit to Turkey last month. However, his departure from the State Department, to be replaced by outgoing CIA chief Mike Pompeo, has raised questions about the future of the process.

Turkey and the U.S. agreed to build a “working group” mechanism during Tillerson’s last visit to Ankara, in which the two countries’ defense ministries and intelligence agencies would work together to resolve the many issues damaging ties between the two countries.

Çavuşoğlu said he spoke on the phone with Tillerson, who said he will be monitoring the work of the working group mechanism despite leaving office. Source

U.S. pastor charged with “dividing Turkey” for Gülen, PKK

20 March 2018

A court in İzmir, western Turkey, has accepted a prosecutor’s indictment charging U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson with criminal offences on behalf of two separate terrorist organisations, with an aim to “divide Turkey” between the pair.

The charges carry a recommended sentence of up to 35 years, Turkish news site Diken reported on Tuesday.

Brunson was arrested during the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup attempt, which Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party blames on Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen and an alleged criminal organisation they call the “Fetthullahist Terrorist Organisation”, or FETÖ.

His arrest came around a year after fighting resumed between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist-designated group which has been in intermittent conflict with Turkish Armed Forces since launching a separatist insurgency in 1984.

Brunson, the charge sheets says, was part of an entity that aimed to “divide Turkey into several parts” and hand their administration over to these two organisations, and use his position as a Christian minister to sow discord among the population.

“Under the guise of an Evangelist pastor, Brunson acted more like an irregular warfare operative with an intelligence and psychological warfare doctrine,” the charge sheets said of the pastor, who had lived in the city of İzmir for 20 years before his arrest.

Brunson has rejected all the charges, and denies ever having met a member of "FETÖ."

Observers have speculated that Brunson’s arrest should be viewed as part of a Turkish foreign policy strategy of “hostage diplomacy ,” in which foreign nationals are arrested and held on flimsy charges in order to provide Turkey with leverage in its international dealings.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s suggestion last that Brunson could be exchanged for the extradition of Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, was rejected by U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, who said the pastor had been “wrongfully imprisoned.” Source

The U.S. does not understand Afrin operation, Turkey says

19 March 2018

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has slammed U.S. spokesperson Heather Nauert for her statement on Afrin, and accused the United States of using one terror group against another.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert issued a statement on Monday expressing "deep concerns" over the situation in Afrin, the northwest Syrian town captured by Turkish forces in Operation Olive Branch on Sunday. 

“It appears the majority of the population of the city, which is predominantly Kurdish, evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish backed opposition forces.” Nauert’s statement said.  

The United States also expressed concern over reports regarding FSA members’ looting inside Afrin yesterday.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded that the statement “showed that the US authorities still have not understood or do not want to understand the reasons, aims and nature of Operation Olive Branch.”

“Olive Branch operation is a counter-terrorism operation,” said the statement. “It does not target civilians, on the contrary it aims to rescue civilians from the domination of the (YPG) terror group and has enabled civilians to reach humanitarian aid."

Turkey’s launched its military operation on Jan. 20 to clear fighters from the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, out of the Afrin area, which borders the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Kilis.

While the United States has collaborated closely with the YPG in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), Turkey regards the group as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, (PKK) an outlawed group that has been in conflict with Turkish armed forces since launching a separatist insurgency in the mid-1980s.

"The claim that the operation against terrorists in Afrin would harm the anti-ISIS operation has no basis whatsoever in reality. The real harm to the efforts to defeat terrorism in Syria is done by using one terror group against another,” said the Turkish foreign ministry’s statement, adding that the United States had effectively condoned YPG policies resulting in “demographic changes” in the areas under its control. Source

Turkish Prosecutor Seeks Life Sentence for U.S. Pastor

Aykan Erdemir
13th March 2018 - FDD Policy Brief

A Turkish prosecutor today demanded a life sentence for U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of “leading a terrorist organization.” The North Carolina pastor, who is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, served a small Protestant congregation without incident for over two decades in Izmir, a city on Turkey’s Aegean coast. Turkish authorities detained Brunson in October 2016, and have since held him in pretrial detention without an indictment.

Brunson has no due process or chance of a fair trial in Turkey. Under the country’s draconian state of emergency, the pastor had no access to legal counsel or consular officials for the first two months of his detention, and authorities continue to deny him attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors initially charged Brunson with membership in a terrorist organization, and then added the more serious, but equally groundless, charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government.

The pastor’s attorney has to defend him without having any access to the “secret evidence” and the “secret witness” being used to frame him. Media outlets subservient to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, have been printing ludicrous accusations against the pastor and smear him regularly. The Takvimdaily, which belongs to a pro-government media conglomerate run by Erdogan’s son-in-law and his brother, claimed that the pastor was the mastermind of Turkey’s failed coup and would have become the CIA director had he succeeded in overthrowing the government.

The U.S. pastor’s physical and mental health has been steadily worsening in prison. After spending many months with 20 inmates in a cell built for eight, Brunson was transferred to a maximum-security prison. Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga, the vice chairs of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) who visited the pastor in October 2017, reported that Brunson is “in a cell with two others, but he is the only American, the only English speaker, and the only Christian in the prison.” In December 2017, Pastor Brunson shared a note with his wife, saying, “one of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison.” Since his arrest, the pastor has lost more than 50 pounds.

U.S. officials’ appeals to their Turkish counterparts have so far fallen on deaf ears. During Erdogan’s Washington visit in May 2017, President Donald Trump brought up the issue three times. Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Brunson’s wife in Ankara during his March 2017 visit. In his February 2018 joint press conference with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Tillerson asked again for the release of Brunson and other U.S. citizens “unjustly detained.”

Meanwhile, there are growing calls for tougher action against Ankara. The pastor’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari recently addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, stating, “Turkey should not get away with holding my father one more day.” Her words are echoed by Brunson’s colleagues, who demand the U.S. government take action against Ankara’s appalling treatment of Brunson.

Indeed, earlier this year, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) called on the White House to institute targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act and on the secretary of state to deny entry to the U.S. to Turkish officials “knowingly responsible for the wrongful or unlawful prolonged detention of citizens or nationals of the United States.” A Turkish prosecutor’s attempt today to sentence Brunson for life will only strengthen such calls, as can be seen from USCIRF’s immediate reaction urging the administration and Congress to “redouble their ongoing efforts” and to impose “targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice.”

Aykan Erdemir is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament. Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir.

Turkish charges against pastor to boost sanctions case

14 March 2018

A Turkish prosecutor’s call to sentence a U.S. pastor to life in prison for allegedly leading a coup attempt in Turkey will only strengthen calls for Washington to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

A statement by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is now urging the U.S. administration and Congress to “redouble their ongoing efforts” to impose “targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice”, Erdemir wrote in an analysis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has intensified a crackdown on dissent against his government since a failed military coup in July 2016, imposing emergency rule and passing laws by decreee. Police and prosecutors have locked up tens of thousands of people with many yet to face trial or learn the evidence against them.

The lawyer for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who served a small protestant congregation in the western city of Izmir for two decades until his pretrial detention in October 2016, has to defend him without access to “secret evidence” and a “secret witness”, Erdemir said. Brunson has lost more than 50lbs in weight and is the only American prisoner in a high security jail.

Earlier this year, Senator James Lankford called on the White House to institute targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act to deny entry to the U.S. to Turkish officials “knowingly responsible for the wrongful or unlawful prolonged detention of citizens or nationals of the United States.”

Some U.S. politicians accuse Turkey of holding Brunson hostage in order to persuade Washington to extradite Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey blames for masterminding the coup attempt. Gülen denies the charges and U.S. officials have said the evidence supplied by Turkey is insufficient.

In December 2017, Pastor Brunson shared  a note with his wife, saying, “one of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison", Erdemir said.

Erdemir is a former parliamentarian for the main opposition and secular Republican People's Party (CHP). Source

American pastor faces possible Turkish life sentence

13 March 2018

Turkish prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Craig Brunson on charges of “membership and management of a terrorist organisation”, left-wing BirGün newspaper said .

The Protestant cleric’s trial will begin if and when the indictment is accepted by the court, the newspaper said. In the Turkish legal system, the judge decides whether the accused is guilty and then hands down a sentence.

Brunson had been living in the Turkish city of Izmir for 20 years when authorities ordered his deportation for “activities threatening national security” in September 2016.

However, while his deportation was being carried out, an anonymous witness testified in another case that Brunson had carried out missionary activities across Turkey and had called the Gülen movement – which the Turkish government now calls a terrorist group and accuses of carrying out the 2016 failed coup attempt – a religious group.

While neither of those activities were illegal per se, investigators later said that Brunson was in close contact with senior members of the Gülen movement in Izmir, and he was arrested on charges of group membership.

Accused of political and military espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish parliament and constitutional order during questioning in court, Brunson denied the charges, BirGün said.

“I am a defender of Jesus Christ. I am a man of faith who has established a church with the knowledge of the state,” Brunson said. “I would never support an Islamic movement. I have never met a FETÖ (Gülen movement) member in my life.” Source

Erdoğan says anti-Americanism on rise in Turkey amid bilateral talks to mend ties.

9 March

Anti-American sentiments in the Turkish public have recently hit the roof because of the U.S.’ support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, the Turkish president has said, amid the two countries’s ongoing talks that aim to ease the severely strained bilateral ties.

“Who will pay the YPG a salary? The United States. When I talk [to the U.S.] about this, they become disturbed. Why are you disturbed? They have been listed in your budget. You have provided them with armored vehicles and weapons,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech at the Academy of Politics on March 9.

“What kind of allies are we?” asked Erdoğan as he shared his recent conversation with U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson in a February meeting in Ankara.

“When I showed him all this on a screen, he complained that ‘anti-Americanism is on the rise in Turkey because you broadcast this sort of information on TVs every day.’ As a matter of fact, anti-Americanism is climbing sharply, though I have nothing to do with it,” Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan’s statements came as a joint Turkish-American committee continued talks in Washington D.C. in a bid to resolve outstanding problems between the two allies. During Tillerson’s visit to Turkey on Feb. 15-16, three mechanisms were established between Ankara and Washington with a view to contributing to normalizing bilateral relations and fixing issues related to Syria, the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and Iraq.

The U.S. State Department spokesperson on March 8 said talks between Turkish and American officials had begun in the U.S. capital and many issues would be discussed, including Syria and Turkey’s ongoing Afrin operation.

“Today is the first day that the U.S. government and Turkish officials are meeting to discuss what was agreed to when Secretary [Rex] Tillerson met with his counterpart in Istanbul a couple weeks ago,” Heather Nauert told reporters at a daily press briefing, referring to the first of three technical committees formed to solve issues between the two countries.

“This is an introductory meeting where we can start to hopefully work out some of these issues. As you all know, we have got a lot of issues to discuss. So hopefully, we can make some headway at that level today,” Nauert added.

When asked if Washington was willing to pressure Ankara to stop the Afrin offensive, Nauert said it would not come as a surprise if this issue appeared in the talks.

She also noted that nearly 20 U.S. officials, led by Acting Assistant Secretary Wes Mitchell, attended the meeting and the department plans to release a readout of the meeting’s work tomorrow.

On the Turkish side, Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Önal has been presiding over the committee on Syria, Deputy Undersecretary Cihad Erginay on the FETÖ and Fazlı Corman, the director general for South Asia at the Foreign Ministry, on Iraq.

According to Turkish officials, the primary agenda of the Syrian committee is Turkey’s demand to remove the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij, which lies to the west of the Euphrates River in northern Syria.

The committee on the FETÖ will discuss issues related to the group and also focus on Turkey’s procurement of the S-400 missile system from Russia, migration and visa issues. Source

U.S. policy against Turkey could harden as sanctions calls grow

3 March 2018

The departure of the U.S. State Department official directing Turkey policy could mark a change of direction for Washington as it removes one of the staunchest opponents to sanctions on Ankara at a time when many in Congress are calling for tough measures to be imposed over human rights concerns.

Jonathan Cohen has been deputy assistant secretary covering Cyprus, Greece and Turkey since August 2016. The White House formally nominated Cohen in February to take up a post at the United Nations as a deputy to U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Cohen’s appointment still needs to be confirmed by the Senate and it is not yet clear who will replace him.

President Donald Trump’s administration has still yet to fill many U.S. State Department positions and ambassadorial posts , a delay already felt in Turkey. The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass was assigned to Afghanistan in June last year, but no one has yet been nominated to replace him in Ankara.

Cohen's position in discussions at the State Department against sanctioning Turkey and his preference for new mechanisms to overcome issues between the two countries is well known.

Following Secretary Rex Tillerson's visit to Ankara last month, the State Department announced the two NATO countries would establish three mechanisms to work on the relationship between them, with the first meetings taking place in March.

Cohen’s leaving from Turkey post comes at a time when there is a strong wave of sentiment against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan within Congress concerning Turkey’s human rights record, its arrest of journalists, U.S. citizens and U.S. consular workers and Ankara’s ordering of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems.

How long the State Department can resist the desire of Congress to punish Turkey’s strongman is unknown.

After Tillerson's visit to Ankara, there was a sense that Cohen was one of the leading actors pushing back against calls for sanctions on Turkey, instead calling for the administration to wait-and-see whether the new mechanisms work. After Cohen leaves the State Department, it remains to be seen whether the pushback against sanctions will remain as strong.

Cohen recently attracted attention at a meeting at the Middle East Institute in Washington by describing the U.S. relationship with the Syrian Kurds as a "tactical relationship, not a strategic relationship", implying the United States might abandon the Syrian Kurdish forces it has worked with to all but defeat Islamic State (ISIS) once the fight was over. Such a move would be something very welcome in Turkey.

But now the U.S. Congress is discussing whether the United States should sanction Turkey using the Magnitsky Act that allows the administration to impose measures against foreign government officials or individuals implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

The Magnitsky Act could thus be used to impose measures against Turkish officials or businessmen who have played a direct role in human rights violations in Turkey, even if the actions did not directly involve the United States or its citizens.

Some U.S. sources in Washington compare the current impasse between the United States and Turkey to 1974, when despite the U.S. administration’s opposition, Congress sanctioned Turkey over its invasion of northern Cyprus and in return Turkey closed the U.S. air base at Incirlik, southern Turkey. That period marked one of the lowest points in relations between Turkey and the United States.

Today's political climate between two countries, many in Washington say, is quite like that of 1974.

In addition, Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system would possibly trigger CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

Washington sources said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State A. Wess Mitchell had visited Ankara just before Tillerson, and reminded Turkish officials of the seriousness of the S-400 purchase along with other issues. His trip was not reported in the media.

Turkey's offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces in Afrin has meanwhile been greatly criticised in the U.S. media.

U.S. General Joseph L Votel told a Congressional Armed Services Commission meeting on Tuesday that the Syrian Kurds were the most effective force against ISIS and despite Ankara’s reaction, he said, "we need them (the Syrian Kurds) to finish this, to finish this fight".

U.S. officials and commanders are saying at every opportunity that the war against ISIS is not yet over and that if the Syrian Kurds refused to fight, the United States would need to deploy more forces in Syria. That would be a nightmare scenario for the Trump administration, which who does not want to send more military troops to the Middle East.

Speaking to the New York Times, Trump administration senior officials said more and more Kurdish forces and commanders were leaving the fight against ISIS and said this development was increasingly worrying Washington.

Speaking to reporters on Feb. 22, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “We can no longer fight ISIS the way that we would fully like to be able to do."

Five different U.S. military officials who spoke to the New York Times stated that Kurdish forces and their commanders had left the fight against ISIS to defend Afrin against Turkish forces.

Nauert said on Thursday that Afrin fell within the scope of the UN Security Council resolution calling for a Syrian ceasefire and asked Ankara to stop the military operation. It seems both the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department are increasingly uneasy about Turkey's Afrin incursion.

It would not come as a surprise if Western pressure on Turkey becomes more intense in the coming days. So far the United State, the United Nations and the European Union, France and other European countries have called on Turkey to abide by the ceasefire in Syria.

Turkish former foreign minister Yasar Yakis wrote on Ahval on Friday that the UN ceasefire call would allow Turkey to recalibrate its Syria and particularly its Afrin policy. So far the Turkish government appears unmoved. Source

U.S. should sanction Turkey over “hostage diplomacy” - analyst

3 March 2018

That Turkey is holding foreign nationals hostage to use as bargaining chips is acknowledged in Western capitals, writes Nate Schenkkan in Foreign Policy magazine, adding that Western diplomats and politicians are wary of discussing the topic openly.

A number of high profile cases have led to accusations that Turkey has a policy of “hostage diplomacy”. The most prominent were the detention of German journalist Deniz Yücel, released last month after more than year in Turkish custody, and an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, detained since October 2016.

Whilst Turkish officials deny using foreign nationals as bargaining chips, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself stated in connection to Brunson that the United States should swap “a pastor for a pastor.” This implies that Erdoğan would release Brunson in exchange for his arch-enemy Fethullah Gülen, a cleric residing in Pennsylvania. 

The perception that Turkey is engaged in “hostage diplomacy” has become so widely accepted that when Czech authorities briefly detained Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim last weekend, speculation immediately turned to whether the Czech government would extradite him to Turkey in exchange for two Czechs currently in Turkish prisons. 

Schenkkan continues, “This is an unacceptable state of affairs for relations between allies. No citizen of an allied country should have to wonder if Turkey will make their freedom a bargaining chip,” adding that the U.S. congress is considering legislation to punish Turkey.

The proposed legislation would impose sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the wrongful detention of American citizens, a move that Schenkkan describes as a “clear and logical response to hostage-taking.”

U.S. senator James Lankford further suggested , a fortnight ago in the Wall Street Journal, that any response to Turkish hostage taking could be coupled with use of the Global Magnitsky Act. This legislation, passed in 2016, allows the U.S. president to sanction individuals and entities responsible for serious human rights violations anywhere in the world, barring them from travel to the United States, freezing their assets, and freezing them out of the U.S. financial system.

Schenkkan concludes, “Congress and the Trump administration must demonstrate to Ankara that even as the U.S.-Turkey relationship becomes more transactional, there are certain areas that will never be subject to a bargain,” adding that the U.S.  “Will continue to place anti-corruption and rule-of-law issues squarely in the center of its bilateral relations with Turkey. It is, after all, still an ally — for now.” Source

Pentagon again warns Turkey over Afrin

3 March 3013

A Pentagon spokesman has repeated warnings to Turkey over its military operation in Syria’s north-eastern Afrin region.

Speaking on Alhurrah, a U.S. based Arabic language TV channel, Lieutenant Adrian Galloway said that the Afrin operation is hindering the fight against the Islamic State (ISIL).

Noting that the United States understands Turkey’s reasons for initiating the Afrin operation, Galloway continued, "We are now faced with a situation where there is a possibility of withdrawal of forces from the war against ISIL, and this is a situation we cannot tolerate.”

Recalling that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had recently met with the Turkish Foreign Minister and agreed on a framework to resolve issues between the two countries, Galloway said that events in Afrin will form the main agenda of these discussions.

Galloway also said, We are surely concerned about the violence in Afrin. We think that this [Afrin] also distracts from ISIS which is the immediate security threat. Galloway added that "we are very concerned" about the dispute's effects "not only in Afrin but in Syria general." 

President Erdogan about two weeks ago slammed Galloway, without naming and as a US Defence Spokesperson for voicing concern about the civilian casualties in Afrin. And Galloway responded in an email  to Ahval.

He also pointed out that on different sides of the Euphrates River in Syria, to the east of which the land is controlled by U.S. backed Kurdish groups and where U.S. troops are present, different scenarios were unfolding "You see that to the east of the Euphrates River, local communities stabilize their cities after the ISIL’s, provide their own security and are recovering.

They do this with the help of our coalition, which provides support to our Syrian Democratic Forces in training, guidance and assistance. There is a very different story on the west bank of the Euphrates. You see ongoing massacres by the Syrian regime that have killed civilians and violated the UN Security Council resolutions on alleviating the violence.”

Turkey invaded Afrin on 20th Feb. in an operation codenamed “olive Branch” that aims to gain control of the region from Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists. Source

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