[Interview] Turkey's Erdogan hopes Donald Trump will resolve spat

Turkey and the US have been at loggerheads since Ankara arrested a Turkish national who worked for the US mission there. Turkey expert Soner Cagaptay says the crisis is deeply scarring for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday put the blame on Washington for the ongoing spat between Turkey and the United States. He also targeted the US ambassador in Ankara for the suspension of visa services at US diplomatic facilities in Turkey. "We do not consider [John] Bass to be Washington's legitimate representative in Turkey," he said. The suspension came on Sunday, after Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the US consulate.

DW: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has accused the US of causing the diplomatic crisis. How far do you think this conflict will go?

Soner Cagaptay: Both sides are trying to hammer out a deal behind the scenes to find an elegant solution, so neither side looks like it has lost face. Erdogan's comments targeting the US ambassador are maybe a way that he is implying that President Donald Trump could play the role of the "good cop," because Erdogan is putting the blame not on the White House or Washington but on the US embassy in Ankara. This might be way of asking President Trump to interfere and offer him a deal. I think there will be a resolution of the issue eventually


But I should also add that this is the first time Washington has pushed back against Erdogan in nearly 15 years. Washington has always looked the other way when it came to Erdogan's democratic transgressions and foreign policy adventures. So that is a very scarring event for Erdogan. Even if there is deal in the end I think that [relations between] Erdogan and United States will never be the same.

What steps should Turkey and the US take to resolve this crisis?

Turkey will have to meet at least one basic US request or demand, which is that it should stop arresting foreign service nationals who work for US missions in Turkey. And secondly, of course Washington is going to insist that Turkey release the two Turkish citizens working for US missions who are already under arrest. It may [be] it looks like this happens [if] the court decides that there are no charges to be pressed against those people arrested. That's an elegant solution, but [it is] going to take some more back and forth. At this stage it will take conversation between Erdogan and Trump to bring a resolution.

Do you believe Turkey is prepared to sacrifice its long-time strategic partner, especially considering its recent approach with Russia and Iran?

Turkey's foreign policy — actually Erdogan's foreign policy — was what I would call maintaining good ties with Turkey's traditional Western allies and at the same time engaging with unsavoury partners such as Russia, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad before the war in Syria, Iran and Sudan. I also think that this balancing act — that was played so well for nearly a decade and a half — has disappeared since the attempted coup in Turkey, and Turkey is now more actively engaging unsavoury partners.

I can give you two examples of recent visits to Turkey. The first was by the Iranian chief of military [in August]; the last time an Iranian head of the military visited Turkey was before the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. This was a very significant visit ideologically, politically and symbolically. Venezuela leader [Nicolas] Maduro who was also in Turkey in early October; the last time a Venezuelan leader visited Turkey in recent memory is never. When you add these up, I think there are concerns in Washington that Turkey's foreign policy is shifting, and Turkey is no longer interested in balancing its traditional ties to the West with the policy of engaging unsavoury allies. Turkey's foreign policy, which used to be mix of pragmatic and problematic, from Washington's perspective at least, looks problematic but not pragmatic anymore.

Does that mean Turkey will turn its back more on the West?

Turkey has too much to lose, [were it to] walk away from the Unites States. Turkey's historic nemesis is Russia, and Erdogan clearly knows that, so with the Russian threat next door I don't think Turkey is going to walk away from NATO, but I also think that a deal will be hammered out only when Erdogan and Trump establish personal channels of communications.

Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Soner Cagaptay