President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York this past week. His visit also included a press conference to celebrate the inauguration of “Türkevi”, a newly-opened cultural center in Manhattan that will also house Turkey’s New York City consulate. Türkevi was formally opened this past Monday, September 20th.
Speaking to reporters at the opening press conference, President Erdoğan commented on the state of US-Turkey relations. Bemoaning the strained relations between NATO allies, Erdoğan compared Joe Biden to past US presidents, saying “The point we have come to in our relations with America is not good. I worked well with the younger Bush. I worked with Mr Obama, and with Mr Trump, but with Mr Biden, I cannot say that we’ve had a good start.”
US-Turkey diplomatic relations have been strained for years; Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system in 2019 widened the gulf between the two countries, with the United States and other NATO allies concerned that Turkey’s use of the Russian system would compromise NATO security. For many in the west, the incident also underlined the extent to which Turkey, a formerly staunch NATO partner, had cozied up to Russia diplomatically in recent years. Disputes over American support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria drove the two countries further apart, with Turkey insisting the militants were tied to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), classified by Turkey, the US, and other countries as a terrorist organization. Finally, America’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric accused by the Turkish government of organizing the 2016 failed coup attempt, has been a consistent sticking point.
However, the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban last month was viewed by many analysts as an opportunity for Turkey to reassert its importance in NATO, and a chance for Ankara to mend its strained relations with the United States. On the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels in June, the two leaders reportedly discussed Turkey’s role in Afghanistan, including the possibility that Turkey may continue managing Kabul’s airport. With the departure of the Turkish military from Kabul at the end of August, these plans have been scrapped.
Erdoğan’s comments in New York, however, tempered any hopes that diplomacy between the two countries might be on the verge of a thaw, and underlined the extent to which the S-400 issue remains a thorny topic. Criticizing the American opposition to Turkey’s purchase of the air defense system, Erdoğan said “For us, the S-400 issue is finished. It is not possible for us to take a step backwards. Unfortunately, America has not and is not behaving honestly.”
Speaking to Medyascope, Transatlantik contributor Gönül Tol commented that “Regarding Turkey, there are no other important matters for the US other than the S-400 issue.” Highlighting the centrality of the S-400 issue in the strained relations, Tol argued that despite differences on topics like Libya and Syria, the purchase of the Russian air defence system remains the principal disagreement between the two allies.
President Erdoğan returned to Turkey on Thursday from New York, without meeting with President Biden face-to-face.
by Leo Kendrick