The Turkish lira rallied nearly 2% on 11 June to its strongest level in a month ahead of a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart , Joe Biden, scheduled for 14 June. A charm offensive pursued by Ankara over the past few weeks has apparently raised expectations of a thaw, if not a breakthrough, in the chilly relationship between Turkey and the US. In our view, these expectations are essentially misplaced.
While both sides are expected to pursue some pragmatic engagement and neither is interested in a showdown, the meeting will not provide Erdogan with any meaningful dividend. None of the major friction points will be solved, meaning that US-Turkey ties will continue to be fraught with difficulties and characterized by a frosty tone. Given the multiple irritants, no major deliverables are expected. Still, Ankara and Washington may highlight areas of cooperation (Afghanistan, Ukraine, and maybe Libya) to create the optics of a positive agenda.
Crucially, the US will reiterate its objection to Turkey’s possession (regardless of the specific arrangement/s that Ankara may propose, including joint supervision) of the Russian-made S-400 missile systems. This means that Turkey’s defense industry will continue to be sanctioned under CAATSA and excluded from the F-35 building consortium. Recall that the latter will cost Turkey’s economy around USD 10-12bn over the life of the F-35 program.
Although Erdogan – at the weakest point in his almost 20-year long reign – badly needs some positive results from his first face-to-face meeting with President Biden, he is not in the position to make any meaningful concession on other issues, mainly due to his coalition arrangement with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Therefore, long-standing differences over Turkey’s occupation of parts of Northern Syria and the US’ partnership with the People’s Protection Units (YPG – a Kurdish fighting force that Turkey regards as a terrorist organization), as well as Ankara’s poor record in terms of human rights, the rule of law and media freedom will remain unaddressed.
As American concerns about an important but difficult ally will likely remain unchanged, the overall relationship seems set for an overall downgrade as Washington no longer recognizes Turkey as a strategic and reliable partner. While both sides will continue to work on areas of shared interest, Erdogan is likely to return to Ankara empty-handed.