Daily Briefing: Trump and Erdogan Meet: Talks are Friendly but Policy Differences Persist (November 18, 2019)

Description President Donald J. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey at the United Nations General Assembly (Source: Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Trump-Erdogan Meeting Yields Little Progress: Vivian Salama and Michael R. Gordon, WSJ, Nov. 13, 2019

Behind Trump’s Dealings With Turkey: Sons-in-Law Married to Power:  David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Lipton, NYTimes, Nov. 12, 2019

Turkey Has Long Had Nuclear Dreams: Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy, Nov. 1, 2019

Turkey, NATO, and a Shifting World: Jay Nordlinger, National Review, Nov. 12, 2019 


Trump-Erdogan Meeting Yields Little Progress
Vivian Salama and Michael R. Gordon
WSJ, Nov. 13, 2019

A long-awaited meeting between President Trump and Turkey’s leader ended Wednesday without a resolution of key issues on which the two sides have been divided, including Ankara’s purchase of a Russian air-defense system and the U.S. partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The chemistry between Mr. Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dominated the visit. Mr. Trump volunteered that he was a “big fan” of Mr. Erdogan. The Turkish leader called for a new chapter in relations between the two countries.

But there was no indication of headway on Turkey’s purchase of the sophisticated S-400 air-defense missile system from Russia, which has been a major concern for the Pentagon, or on other issues that have led to a deteriorating view of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally among most U.S. lawmakers.

Administration officials tried to lower expectations ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, insisting that “continued dialogue” was as important as achieving results.

The Pentagon has said the Russian S-400 could be used by the Kremlin to gather intelligence on the U.S.’s stealthy new F-35 jet fighters. After Turkey went ahead with its purchase from Russia, the U.S. said it was withholding sales of the jets to Turkey. The U.S. also suspended Ankara’s role in the production program, a costly move for Turkish companies that have manufactured more than 900 parts for the plane.

U.S. officials have explored a compromise in which Turkey would keep the S-400 system but not operate it, thus enabling the U.S. to sell the planes to Ankara and restore its participation in the F-35 program. But Mr. Erdogan gave no indication in his public remarks that he would accept such an arrangement. Mr. Trump said only that there were “lots of options” to resolve the dispute.

Despite calls from Congress for tough action, Mr. Trump has held back from imposing sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, known as CAATSA, over the S-400 purchase.

On fighting in Syria, Mr. Trump asserted that the cease-fire in northern Syria was holding. An agreement negotiated by Vice President Mike Pence last month called for Syrian Kurds to pull back from the border area and for Turkey to stop its military advance.

But that statement was challenged by Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led SDF, a U.S. ally, who said in a Twitter post after an initial Trump-Erdogan meeting Wednesday that Turkish forces had launched attacks on the Syrian town of Tal Tamar, “causing massive displacement of the residents, in clear violation of the cease-fire agreement.”

Located in a largely Christian area, the town is outside of the 70-mile stretch in which Mr. Pence negotiated a suspension of hostilities. But U.S. officials have said they expected Turkey to refrain from attacks against Syrian Kurds in other areas as well.

The visit on Wednesday centered on personal dynamics. The last time Mr. Erdogan came to the White House, he and Mr. Trump delivered joint statements, but took no questions from reporters. Wednesday’s event involved more fanfare, including an East Room press conference, attended by dignitaries and several Republican senators. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]


Behind Trump’s Dealings With Turkey: Sons-in-Law Married to Power
David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Lipton
NYTimes, Nov. 12, 2019

Behind President Trump’s accommodating attitude toward Turkey is an unusual back channel: a trio of sons-in-law who married into power and now play key roles in connecting Ankara with Washington.

One, Turkey’s finance minister, is the son-in-law of its strongman president and oversees his country’s relationship with the United States.

Another is the son-in-law of a Turkish tycoon and became a business partner to the Trump Organization. Now he advocates for Turkey with the Trump administration.

And the third is Jared Kushner, who as the son-in-law of and senior adviser to Mr. Trump has a vague if expansive foreign policy portfolio.

Operating both individually and in tandem, the three men have developed an informal, next-generation line of communication between Mr. Trump and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who only weeks after his military incursion into northern Syria is scheduled to visit the White House on Wednesday.

At a moment when Mr. Trump has come under bipartisan criticism from Congress for a series of stands favorable to Mr. Erdogan, the ties among the three men show how informal and often-unseen connections between the two presidents have helped shape American policy in a volatile part of the world.

Mr. Erdogan predicted in a television interview this year that a private dialogue between Berat Albayrak, his son-in-law and finance minister, and Mr. Kushner would soon put “back on track” the vexed relations between Washington and Ankara. “The bridge works well in this manner,” Mr. Erdogan said.

“Backdoor diplomacy,” Mr. Albayrak called his work with Mr. Kushner.

Mr. Trump’s policy toward Turkey has confounded his fellow Republicans in Congress on a number of fronts. Mr. Trump twice surprised his own advisers by agreeing during phone calls with Mr. Erdogan to pull United States troops from northern Syria — and the second time, in early October, he followed through, clearing the way for Turkish forces to attack an American-backed militia there.
Critics say the Trump administration has balked at aggressively punishing a state-owned Turkish bank for evading American sanctions against Iran. Mr. Trump has also deferred legally mandated sanctions against Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, for installing Russian missile defense systems.

Speaking last week at a closed-door presentation hosted by Morgan Stanley, John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, said Mr. Trump often confuses personal relationships with national relationships when it comes to setting policy. He cited as an example the president’s reluctance to confront Mr. Erdogan by imposing sanctions on Turkey over the Russian weapons purchase, a person who was in the room for his presentation said on Tuesday after NBC News reported a version of Mr. Bolton’s remarks.

On the Russian missiles, banking sanctions and other matters, Mr. Erdogan has deployed both his own son-in-law and Mr. Trump’s Turkish business partner, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, as emissaries to the administration, sometimes through Mr. Kushner, according to Turkish officials and public records.
In April, for example, Mr. Albayrak had come to Washington for a conference organized by Mr. Yalcindag at the Trump International Hotel. And in the middle of the event, Mr. Kushner summoned Mr. Albayrak to an impromptu meeting in the Oval Office, where Mr. Albayrak successfully pressed Mr. Trump to hold back the sanctions against Turkey for buying Russian weapons. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Turkey Has Long Had Nuclear Dreams
Colum Lynch
Foreign Policy, Nov. 1, 2019

In September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his party that it is time for his country to acquire its own nuclear bomb. Such a move would mark a sharp break from previous obligations by Turkey, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which bars non-nuclear states from acquiring nuclear weapons. But this is not the first time that Turkey—which has played host to U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1950s—has craved its own nuclear weapons program.

As part of our Document of the Week series, Foreign Policy is posting a copy of a Sept. 26, 1966, memo describing to then-Ambassador Parker T. Hart a troubling conversation Clarence Wendel, the U.S. minerals attache at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, had with a “reliable” Turkish scientist on Turkey’s nuclear ambitions.

The memo, one of 20 previously declassified documents on nuclear weapons in Turkey compiled this week by the National Security Archive, claims the source disclosed that officials from Turkey’s General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration “had been asked to cooperate with General [Refik] Tulga and Professor Omer Inonu (Professor of Physics at METU) [Middle East Technical University] in a Turkish program to develop an ‘Atomic Bomb.’”

Wendel, according to the memo, had flagged a number of developments suggesting the claim may be credible, including: “Repeated Turkish assertions that a 200 mega-watt nuclear reactor is planned for Istanbul”; the stockpiling of reserves of 300 to 600 tons of uranium in low-grade ore deposits; and the “delaying and haggling tactics of the Turkish negotiators during discussions of the extension of the bilateral agreement on peaceful uses of atomic energy which primarily concerned the transfer of safeguards responsibility from the U.S.A. to the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Hart was skeptical that Turkey was bent on going nuclear, but he considered that it may have been preparing a contingency plan in the event that a nuclear arms race gained momentum in the region. They may be “simply putting themselves in a position to jump on the bandwagon in case there should be further serious breaks in the line against proliferation,” he wrote to John Howison, the Turkey country director in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

Much of the history of the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in Turkey as part of a wider European deterrent force remains classified. But several documents compiled by the archive detail discussions related to the deployment of Honest John and Jupiter missiles in Turkey in 1959 and the early 1960s, and persistent concerns about the risk that they might be seized in the event that U.S. relations with a future Turkish leader deteriorated. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Turkey, NATO, and a Shifting World
Jay Nordlinger
National Review, Nov. 12, 2019

Tomorrow, November 13, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the strongman of Turkey, will visit Washington. He last visited in May 2017 (“a great honor,” President Trump tweeted). Americans got a glimpse — just a glimpse — of Erdogan’s rule on that occasion.

In front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence, there were protesters. Erdogan’s presidential guard beat them to a pulp, as the leader looked on. D.C. police, astonished, intervened as best they could. Later, Senator John McCain tweeted, “This is the United States of America. We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior.” If Erdogan’s men do this sort of thing in America’s capital — in broad daylight — imagine what they do at home, when no one — no foreigner — is looking.

Trump and Erdogan have had a generally friendly relationship. From the NATO summit in July 2018, held in Brussels, Politico reported, Trump made small talk with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán while going out of his way to attack Germany. After a brief chat with Turkey’s authoritarian president on the sidelines of the summit, Trump mouthed: “I like him, I like him.” Still, Turkey is a strange ally of the United States, and a strange member of NATO. This has been clear for several years now. It has become yet clearer in recent weeks.

On October 6, Erdogan had a phone call with Trump, in which the Turk informed the American that Turkish forces would invade Syria in order to attack Syrian Kurds. (The Syrian Kurds had long been allied with the United States in the fight against the terrorist organization ISIS.) Trump said the U.S. would not interfere — would, in fact, clear out of the region. On October 9, Turkey invaded, in what it called “Operation Peace Spring.”

Before the operation, and after word had gotten out, there was an uproar: Could the United States really abandon the Kurds in this way, standing aside for the Turks? In response to this uproar, Trump issued an extraordinary warning on October 7. He did so by Twitter. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” It is unclear what the president meant by “I’ve done before!” He concluded, “THE USA IS GREAT!”

It perhaps goes without saying that it is very, very unusual for one NATO member to threaten another with the total destruction, or obliteration, of its economy.

On October 11, U.S. troops who had not yet cleared out of the region came under artillery fire from the Turks. (No one was harmed, or at least no American.) U.S. officers said that this was no accident: The Turks knew exactly what they were doing. And why were they doing it? To announce that there was a new sheriff in town? To administer something like “an Ottoman slap”?
This phrase had been introduced by Erdogan in early 2018. He used it in a speech to his parliament, responding to an American general, Paul Funk. Funk had warned Turkey not to tangle with Americans in Syria. “You hit us,” he said, “we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.” Speaking to the parliament, Erdogan said, “It’s obvious that those who say, ‘You hit us, we will respond aggressively,’ have never received an Ottoman slap.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Despite Tensions, Turkey’s President Will Visit Washington. What’s Next For U.S.-Turkey Relations?:  Meghna Chakrabarti and Stefano Kotsonis, WBur, Nov. Nov. 12, 2019 — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Washington at a time of heightened tension between the two NATO allies. We ask where the relationship is headed.

US and Turkey Have Friendly Talks But Differences Persist: Deb Riechmann, AP, Nov. 13, 2019 President Donald Trump says he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are “very good friends,” but their meeting Wednesday at the White House failed to resolve an issue that has badly strained relations between the two NATO allies.

Strategic Lessons for Israel from the Turkish Intervention in Syria Mosaic, Nov. 1, 2019, Audio — While it is impossible to know with any certainty, Gershon Hacohen surmises that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not expect his invasion of Syrian Kurdistan to lead Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies to advance into nearby areas. If so, Ankara inadvertently handed Moscow a victory.

Former Ambassador to US: Turkey, Iran are Strong, Arab States Weak Seth J. Frentzman, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 13, 2019 — Israel is facing a Middle East in which Turkey and Iran are growing stronger and the Arab states are weak, according to former Israeli ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich.

‘Very Concerned’: Allies Of Erdoğan Enemy Gülen Fear Trump Will Ship Him To Turkey: Rob Crilly, Washington Examiner, Nov. 12, 2019 — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrives at the White House on Wednesday at a time of high tension between the United States and Turkey.