Biden puts Erdogan under high pressure

Erdogan, who is besieged by crises, faces the prospect of Biden recognising the Armenian genocide after having excluded Turkey from the F-35 programme.

Friday 23/04/2021
A file picture shows a demonstrator holding a sign during a rally to commemorate the 1915 Turkish massacre of Armenians in Times Square in New York City. (AFP)
A file picture shows a demonstrator holding a sign during a rally to commemorate the 1915 Turkish massacre of Armenians in Times Square in New York City. (AFP)

WASHINGTON/ ANKARA – The administration of President Joe Biden has dashed Turkey’s hopes for calmer days with the US, putting it under high pressure by officially removing it from a project to manufacture F-35 fighter planes, while expectations grow that Biden will announce Saturday formal US recognition of the historical responsibility of the Turks for the Armenian genocide.

This step that is likely to infuriate Turkey and exacerbate tensions between the two countries.

A US Defence Department official announced Washington has notified Turkey it is officially excluded from the F-35 fighter jet production programme.

The official said the US and eight other countries had cancelled a 2006 memorandum of understanding and signed a new one, but did not go into further details.

Ankara had ordered and manufactured parts of more than 100 F-35s. But it was removed from the programme in 2019 after it purchased Russian S-400 ground-to-air missile systems, which Washington says constitute a security threat for the F-35 fighters.

Analysts say the Biden administration took a serious second look at its relations with Turkey, which wants to be a member of NATO and at the same time an ally of Russia.

Washington is now telling Ankara that the new administration is different from the previous one and that Turkey will be forced to reassess its ambiguous policy of pursuing strategic military cooperation with Moscow and Washington at the same time.

Observers pointed out that the exclusion of Ankara from the stealth fighter project and the recognition of the Armenian genocide narrative are two steps that personally challenge the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who finds himself besieged by crises and unable to push his usual brinkmanship any further.

Erdogan has pledged to continue defending the case against those who, he maintains, for political reasons promote the “slander and lies” of the “Armenian genocide”, in reference to the US President’s decision to be announced on Saturday.

Washington’s resolve to remove Ankara from the F-35 project is likely to push Turkey closer  to Russia and further strain its relationship with NATO, especially considering the tensions shaking its ties with member countries, over a number of issues, including gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and the stance on Libya.

Before his confirmation as US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken described Ankara last January as a ” socalled strategic partner”.

And he  indicated that more sanctions could be imposed on Ankara for its purchase of Russian missile systems.

” “The idea that a strategic – so-called strategic – partner of ours would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable,” he said.

 

The firm American stance towards Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 system coincides with a new escalation, that is unrelated the issue of military alliances.

It has to do instead with Biden’s intention to recognise that the massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was an act of genocide.

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Three US sources familiar with the matter said that Biden is likely to use the phrase “genocide” in a statement he will make on April 24 on the occasion of annual events commemorating the victims of the massacres.

“My understanding is that he took the decision and will use the word genocide in his statement on Saturday,” said a source familiar with the matter.

However, the sources cautioned that Biden may decide at the last minute not to use this term in light of the importance of bilateral relations with Turkey.

“I expect we will have more to say about Remembrance Day on Saturday,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday when asked about Biden’s commitment. “But I don’t have anything to get ahead of that at this point in time.”

“The recognition by the United States will be a moral beacon for many countries,” said Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan.

“This is not about Armenia and Turkey, this is about our commitment to recognise and condemn genocide in the past, present and future,” he added.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that any move by

Biden to recognise the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottomans as a genocide will further harm already strained ties between the NATO allies.

A year ago, when Biden was still a presidential candidate, he commemorated the anniversary of the 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children who lost their lives in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.

He pledged to support efforts to describe these killings as genocide.

The “New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal” reported that Biden is scheduled to declare the massacres classified as “genocide” on Saturday on the occasion of the 106th anniversary of the mass killings that began in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire was fighting Tsarist Russia during World War I in the region known now as Armenia.

More than 100 members of Congress, led by the Democratic member Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, have sent a letter to Biden urging him to fulfil his pledge to recognise genocide during his election campaign.

“For decades, as leaders around the world recognised the first genocide of the twentieth century, the president of the United States maintained his silence,” the letter said.

“Mr President, as you said last year in your statement of the 24th of April, silence is complicity. And the shameful silence of the United States Government on the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide has gone on for too long, and it must end.”

The massacres were already officially recognised by the US Congress as an act of genocide in December 2019 in an essentially symbolic vote.

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group, said Biden’s expected move reflects the deteriorating relationship between the two countries, but that Erdogan’s options will be limited.

“It is unlikely that Erdogan will provoke the United States with actions that could further undermine Turkey’s weak economy,” he added.