Turkey’s president tries to mend fences with US

Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that Turkish-American relations were “seriously tested”.
Sunday 21/02/2021
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, February 10, 2021. AFP
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, February 10, 2021. (AFP)

ISTANBUL--After accusing Washington of supporting Kurdish militants, Turkey’s president is trying to mend fences with President Joe Biden’s new US administration.

In a video message late Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that Turkish-American relations were “seriously tested” but stressed that their strategic partnership has “overcome all kinds of difficulties.”

Erdogan’s conciliatory tone follows his strongly worded accusations that the US supported Kurdish militants, days after Turkish troops found the bodies of 13 Turkish hostages held by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK in a cave complex in northern Iraq after a failed Turkish rescue operation.

Ankara has been infuriated by American support for a Syrian Kurdish fighters in combatting the Islamic State group, saying they are linked to the decades-long Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey that the US also lists as terrorists.

Erdogan said Saturday the US did not give Turkey the “desired support and solidarity” in fighting the PKK and linked groups, demanding a “clear stance” from Turkey’s allies.

He also repeated the frustration over the continued US residency of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric accused of orchestrating the bloody 2016 coup attempt. Turkey wants Gulen’s extradition. He denies the allegations of links to the attempted coup.

“We believe our common interests with America far outweigh our differing opinions,” Erdogan said, adding that he wanted to strengthen relations through a “long-term perspective based on win-win.”

 Lingering suspicions 

Turkey had greeted the election of US President Joe Biden with suspicion, fearing a hardening of the American stance towards Turkey on several issues. Suspicions continue to linger on both sides.

Indeed the new US administration swiftly rebuked Turkey, urging the release of prominent civil society leader Osman Kavala and criticising homophobic rhetoric in a crackdown on student demonstrators.

Those statements were in line with Biden’s vow to put a new priority on the promotion of democracy, but the United States and Turkey have plenty of other disputes likely to exacerbate tensions.

Erdogan defiantly bought Russia’s advanced S-400 missile system, brushing aside warnings that it was jeopardising its role in the NATO alliance, leading the then US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on the Turkish defence industry.

And a New York court will in May start a trial of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank over allegedly evading sanctions on Iran, potentially inflicting a heavy economic blow on Turkey.

On Monday, Turkey accused the United States of supporting “terrorists” and summoned its ambassador after Washington declined to immediately back Ankara’s claim that Kurdish militants had executed 13 Turkish nationals in Iraq.

Erdogan’s video message was aired during the launch of a Turkish television channel in the US.