Turkey - U.S. relations in need of diplomacy, luck, restraint in 2021 - report

The arrival of the new U.S. administration is likely to cause simmering disagreements with Turkey to bubble over in 2021, causing a deeper fissure in Ankara-Washington relations, Max Hoffman, director for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress think tank, wrote.

Hoffman discusses the conditions that could shape relations under the Joe Biden administration before outlining possible flashpoints and trying to provide a risk outlook for 2021 in a comprehensive report on Turkey - U.S. relations going forward published on Tuesday.

 A change of tone and approach from the administration of U.S. President -elect Joe Biden and several key strategic and energy decisions, such as Syria and energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean, could determine Turkey’s future for years to come, according to Hoffman.

 Ankara has signalled that it will remain pragmatic with the next U.S. administration while in Washington, Biden has given mixed indicators of how he may deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The analyst points to a string of potential flashpoints between the two countries, grouping them into four categories:  human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; defence procurement and strategic alignment and regional conflicts and revanchism. 

Turkey’s possible activation of the Russian S-400 air defence system, the threat of sanctions against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank for evading Iran sanctions, Turkey’s ailing economy, Turkey’s stance against an array of regional players in war-torn Libya, among others, are all flashpoints that could deeply alter relations between the NATO allies, according to Hoffman.

Donald Trump’s "hands-off approach exacerbated the dramatic tumult in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean,’’ the analyst wrote, while "Biden is likely to reverse many of these trends.’’

Hoffman’s take echoes that of many analysts, who expect Erdoğan to face tougher action with Biden over issues Trump failed to tackle.

Biden should press Erdoğan on issues such as a decision on whether Turkey wishes to be a full ally or continue the double game with Russia, Hoffman wrote, referring to the S-400 systems.

In December, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the systems through the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), despite President Trump’s reluctance to take a firm stance on the issue.

Moreover, "the Biden administration should bring a change in tone and a renewed focus on mediation, if not a dramatic shift in policy in the Eastern Mediterranean,’’ Hoffman wrote, noting that Biden will need to mediate disputes between NATO allies France, Greece, and Turkey to avoid an escalation of tensions.

Reaching a break in Turkey’s relations with the United States and Europe will call for “deft diplomacy, a bit of luck, and restraint from multiple parties’’ in 2021, according to the analyst.


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