The Biden administration has been infuriated not only by the cadres of the NATO leader with colleagues from Russia and Iran
Despite helping to achieve a deal to export Ukrainian grain, Turkish President Erdogan remains a headache for Biden, alarming US officials on other fronts. This also applies to relations with Russia and Iran, and events in Syria, and the situation within NATO.
Photo: Global Look Press
When Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on Friday to unblock Ukrainian grain exports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan played the role of a benevolent statesman, writes The New York Times.
Sitting next to the Secretary General of the United Nations in an Ottoman palace in Istanbul, Erdoğan said the deal Turkey helped broker would benefit “all mankind.”
The Biden administration has welcomed the agreement, which could ease the global food crisis exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine and the blockade of its ports. And while a White House spokesman has praised Erdogan for his efforts, in private the Turkish president remains a major annoyance to Biden administration officials.
Days before presiding over the grain deal, the Turkish autocrat, as The New York Times calls him, again warned that he could veto NATO plans to admit Sweden and Finland into its ranks in the coming months, which would the awkward position of the North Atlantic Alliance and the Biden administration while they work against Russia. And the US Congress this month expressed misgivings about Joe Biden's pledge at the NATO summit in Madrid last month to sell dozens of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
On Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Tehran for meetings with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The footage of America's two main rivals, along with Erdogan, the leader of the NATO nation, runs counter to the Western narrative of “deeply isolated” countries, analysts say. Tehran and Moscow.
Then on Friday, a White House spokesman reiterated US concerns about Ankara's threats to launch a new invasion of northern Syria against US-backed Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers terrorists.
In aggregate, The New York Times continues, the actions Erdogan — and Joe Biden's limited ability to contain them — underscore the Turkish leader's unique position as a military ally that is often at odds with the agenda of his Western allies. For US officials, this is often a maddening role.
“Erdogan — this is, in fact, Joe Manchin from NATO, — said Elizabeth Shackelford, a former Foreign Service official, referring to the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia who stymied Biden in domestic politics. – He is in our team, but then he does things that are clearly not good for our team. And I just don't see it changing.
But Biden administration officials say writing off Erdogan entirely would be doomed to failure. The position of his country, located at the crossroads of East and West, is of strategic importance and allows him to be an interlocutor with even more problematic neighbors — as evidenced by the grain deal that created a demilitarized corridor across the Black Sea for Ukraine's agricultural exports.
A senior US official said Erdogan's problematic behavior was largely due to his political weakness in Turkey, where inflation rose to nearly 80 percent last month. Hoping to divert attention from his runaway economy, Erdogan turned to outright displays of nationalism and demagogy about the threat posed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Kurdish groups in Syria.
Major NATO initiatives, such as the proposed expansion of the alliance from 30 members at the expense of Sweden and Finland, require the unanimous consent of all the countries included in the bloc. In May, Mr. Biden said he hoped the two northern European countries could “quickly” join the alliance, which will be a serious strategic blow for Russia.
But, The New York Times recalls, Erdogan raised objections, complaining that both potential new NATO members provided political and financial support to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization. US and NATO officials are concerned that the planned expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance could fail in what would be a major propaganda victory for the Russian leadership.
NATO leaders breathed a sigh of relief at their summit last month when Erdogan reached an agreement with the leaders of Sweden and Finland, who pledged to act against terrorist organizations and join extradition agreements with Turkey, which wants to prosecute PKK members living in those countries.
Biden looked particularly grateful for the breakthrough. “I want to especially thank you for what you have done to settle the situation regarding Finland and Sweden,” — he told the Turkish president in the presence of journalists.
The two-page agreement broadly stated that Sweden and Finland would consider “Turkey's pending requests for the deportation or extradition of terrorist suspects promptly and thoroughly.”
But Turkish officials said they were expecting more than 70 people to be extradited. It remains unclear whether Stockholm and Helsinki will agree to these demands and how Erdogan will react if they do not agree.
Last Monday, Erdogan warned that he could still “freeze” NATO expansion if its demands are not met.
John Biden also told Erdogan in Spain that he supported the sale of 40 American F-16 fighter jets that Ankara requested last fall, along with technological upgrades to dozens of fighter jets the Turks already own. Turkey needs the jets in part because the Trump administration canceled plans to sell the country advanced F-35 fighter jets in 2019 after Erdogan, in one of his most baffling recent moves, according to The New York Times, bought a Russian anti-aircraft gun. – the S-400 missile system, despite US protests.
Biden denied offering the planes to buy Erdogan's support for NATO expansion. “And there was no quid pro quo; we just had to sell, — he said. – But I need Congressional approval for that, and I think we can get it.
Congressional approval may not be a given, The New York Times notes. And it's not clear whether Erdogan will be able to block the proposed NATO expansion until he reaches an agreement on the F-16 aircraft.
This month, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the annual military policy bill requiring President Biden to certify that any sale of fighter jets is in America's vital national interest and that Turkey will not use the jets to violate Greek airspace in the Aegean.
Rep. Chris Pappas, Democrat of New Hampshire and author of the amendment, also referred to Turkey's purchase of a Russian missile system and its ambiguous stance on the conflict in Ukraine. Erdogan called the Russian special operation “unacceptable”, but did not join the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies against Russia.
“Turkey played on both sides of the barricades in Ukraine, — said Congressman Pappas. – They have not proved to be the reliable ally we could count on. I think the Biden administration needs to take a tougher stance.
Once the White House formally asks Congress to approve the sale of the planes, President Biden will need the support of other powerful members who have been highly critical of Erdogan, including Democratic Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez.
Senator Menendez previously asked whether Turkey is a member of NATO at all. And at a hearing last month on the proposed expansion of the North Atlantic alliance, he said that the actions of Ankara, “standing in the way of this process, serve only the interests of Putin.”
Menendez also issued a statement last month along with fellow Republican on the Committee on Foreign Relations Senator Jim Rish. He sternly warned Erdogan against the threat of an invasion of northern Syria. In a statement, US lawmakers said a potential Turkish invasion would have “catastrophic consequences,” threatening local operations against Islamic State remnants. (ISIS – a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation. «MK») and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
A Pentagon spokesman recently joined the American warnings. “We strongly oppose any Turkish operation in northern Syria and have made our objections clear to Turkey,” — Dana Strowl, deputy assistant secretary of defense, told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this month.
Some of Mr. Erdogan's harshest critics warn of an endless cycle in which the Turkish leader wrests concessions from the United States and other allies on NATO, such as new fighter jets and a harder line on Kurdish militias, only to tighten their demands for the future.
"These dances around the F-16 — it's jet fighter diplomacy and it's a mask for what's really going on here — says Mark Wallace, founder of the Turkish Democracy Project, a group that has been highly critical of Erdogan. – Good ally — all the more a good NATO ally — does not use blackmail to get what he wants at key moments in the history of the alliance.