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TURKEY: Expulsion of ten ambassadors not a given despite Erdogan’s threat

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President Tayyip Erdogan stated on 23 October that he ordered to declare “persona non grata” the ambassadors of ten Western allies for seeking philanthropist Osman Kavala's release from prison. Erdogan made these remarks during a rally in the western city of Eskisehir, while speaking without the support of a teleprompter to the supporters of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

If Erdogan's threat is carried out it would trigger the worst crisis between Turkey and the Western world since the AKP got into power in 2002. At present, it seems that the foreign ministry has not yet carried out Erdogan's instructions as none of the diplomats has been formally notified. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has not yet made any comment and is reportedly on his way back to Turkey from South Korea.

The next signpost is the cabinet meeting that is expected to take place tomorrow (25 October) as a decision on the envoys could be taken then. This means that a de-escalation is still possible given the likely diplomatic (just ahead of the G20 summit and the UN climate summit in Glasgow) and economic fallout. While it could be difficult for Erdogan to walk back as he has so publicly staked out his position, it is worth noting that Erdogan has often not followed through with threats. For example, Erdogan's past threats to boycott goods from various countries (most notably the US and France) were never followed through.

As the final decision on the matter rests with on single individual – Erdogan himself – it is impossible to have firm view of what could happen next but, in our view, the worst-case scenario, represented by the expulsion of the ten ambassadors, is not a given. Even for Erdogan's standards, the decision to kick out the ten ambassadors would be utterly foolish.

As for the possible economic impact if Erdogan's threat is carried out, it is worth noting that the ten countries involved (Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, and the US) make up half of Turkey's top 10 trading partners. This group of countries also includes seven NATO members and six EU members. Also recall that Germany's is Turkey's main trading partner, the US is a paramount ally and the main supplier of weapons and military parts while the Netherlands is usually the top investor in Turkey. It goes without saying that the beleaguered Turkish Lira would fall under intense pressure, after setting various record lows over the past week.

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TURKEY: Expulsion of ten ambassadors not a given despite Erdogan’s threat

President Tayyip Erdogan stated on 23 October that he ordered to declare “persona non grata” the ambassadors of ten Western allies for seeking philanthropist