Turkey crisis risks souring military ties with US

US President Donald J. Trump (R) extends his hand to President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Washington, 16 May. [Michael Reynolds/EPA]

The crisis in US-Turkish relations, which already has put Turkey’s economy under massive strain, also risks souring military ties between the two NATO allies, unleashing unknown geopolitical consequences.

US President Donald Trump last week announced new tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium, causing the country’s currency to plummet, over his frustration with Ankara’s continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Then on Friday (10 August), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote in The New York Times that unless Washington can “reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect,” Turkey will “start looking for new friends and allies.”

The warning came after Erdogan held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic and trade issues, as well as the Syria crisis.

Military ties between Turkey and the US are already fraught over Washington’s support to Syrian Kurdish fighters known as the YPG, which Ankara sees as little more than an offshoot of the “terrorist” Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

And tensions were heightened further after Turkey, despite being a NATO ally, entered into an understanding to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 air defence system.

Such a move would defy US sanctions on Moscow, and Turkey’s increasingly cosy relationship with Putin has alarmed both the US and the European Union.

Trump on Monday signed a defence authorization act that notably prohibits the delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey if it goes ahead with the S-400 purchase.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, an ex-NATO supreme allied commander, urged Washington and Ankara to do all they can to improve relations.

“To lose Turkey would be a geopolitical mistake of epic proportions,” he told MSNBC on Monday.

“Hopefully we can pull them back, but Turkey has to make the first step at this point,” Stravridis warned.

Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton met with Ambassador Serdar Kilic of Turkey on Monday to discuss “Turkey’s continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson and the state of the US-Turkey relationship,” the White House said.

Turkey’s dialogue with Russia has led some to question its reliability as a NATO partner, and even whether it should remain in the alliance.

 

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