As Turkey and US agree to disagree, Erdogan heads east


Turkey and the United States have failed to iron out differences in key ar­eas of their relationship, including a visa dispute, during high-level talks that put a spotlight on tensions between An­kara and the West.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim met with US Vice-Pres­ident Mike Pence in the White House on November 9 in the first face-to-face contact by senior of­ficials of the two NATO partners since the United States angered Ankara a month earlier by sus­pending visa services for Turks in response to the arrest of an em­ployee of the US Consulate in Is­tanbul by Turkish authorities.
A White House statement issued after the Pence-Yildirim meet­ing expressed hope for a “new chapter in US-Turkey relations” as well as agreement “on the need for constructive dialogue.” Yildirim told Turkish reporters travelling with him that, while Pence had displayed a “positive” approach towards Turkey, the visa problem remained unsolved. “We will follow developments,” he said.
Turkey introduced similar re­strictions for US citizens and both countries had relaxed their visa bans before Yildirim’s visit.
The White House and Turkey were unable to resolve other is­sues as well. Yildirim said Pence had made it clear that US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria, seen as a terrorist group by Ankara, would continue despite Turkish protests. Pence pressed Yildirim on the case of Andrew Brunson, a US pastor under arrest in Turkey, and Yildirim criticised an indict­ment by US prosecutors against Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader awaiting trial in New York. Reports have said Zarrab’s trial might rekindle corruption al­legations against the Erdogan gov­ernment.
“We have decided to continue the dialogue,” Yildirim said about his meeting with Pence, the Turk­ish newspaper Hurriyet reported. The prime minister and the vice-president agreed to create a direct phone link and Yildirim said: “Our telephones will be reachable 24 hours.”
Some observers saw Yildirim’s visit as a failure.
“The trip’s futility is hardly surprising for Turkey watch­ers,” Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Wash­ington think-tank, wrote in an analysis. “The Turkish prime minister probably had no illu­sions of his ability to extract any concessions from his American counterparts but, as Erdogan’s loyal caretaker, Yildirim per­formed the role that his boss had demanded.”
While Turkey’s ties with the United States and key European allies remain difficult, Ankara is strengthening its relations with Russia. Less than two months after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tur­key, the Turkish leader was to see him November 13 at Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Turkey raised eyebrows in the West by cooperating with Russia in the Syrian crisis and by talk­ing with Moscow about buying a Russian missile defence system, S-400, a highly unusual step for a NATO country.
Erdogan was also to fly to Ku­wait for talks that are expected to centre on the row between Qatar and a Saudi-led quar­tet of neighbouring countries. Turkey is a supporter of Qatar, while US President Donald Trump has taken a strong stance against what he calls financial support for terrorism by the government in Doha.
Thomas Seibert
is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.