The gap between Washington and Ankara widens day by day, especially after US President Joe Biden announced that the massacres of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constituted genocide, which was the latest source of tension between the two countries.
On the other hand, Ankara still plans to deploy Russian-made S-400 air defense systems. As a result, the United States imposed sanctions on Turkey and excluded it from the F-35 program.
In an article in The Hill newspaper, former US official Dove S. Zakheim The influence of human rights defenders within the Biden administration and the Democratic Party, especially in Congress, is further fueling US-Turkish relations.
Republicans did not object to Democrats’ criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because they are upset by his relations with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, his support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and his hostility to Israel, Zakheim says.
According to Zakheim, Jewish groups have openly criticized Erdogan not only for his Middle Eastern policies but also for his sometimes anti-Semitic statements, saying, “Fear is spreading among the country’s small Jewish community, as it is the case for Jews in Iran.”
“Erdogan, who was once seen as the embodiment of moderate Islam, has turned to authoritarianism, similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” he added.
According to the US State Department’s 2020 Reports on Human Rights Practices released in March, Erdogan has imprisoned tens of thousands of alleged political enemies, including journalists, civil servants, lawyers, and human rights defenders.
“Erdogan has undermined the judicial system in the country, and his army, which conducts operations inside Iraq and Syria, is impunity,” Zakheim said.
In April, the government detained 10 retired admirals over a statement signed by 103 retired Navy officers that emphasized the importance of the 1936 Montreux Convention governing the passage of merchant and military ships through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.
The statement was a reaction to Erdogan’s plan to construct a huge canal linking the Black Sea north of Istanbul with the Sea of Marmara in the south, and it will run parallel to the Bosphorus, and the impact of this on the Montreux Agreement.
And he continued, “Erdogan’s behavior forced even the administration of former President Donald Trump to comply with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) through the 2017 sanctions on Turkish defense industries.”
Zakheim believes that Biden did not provide any indication that Washington would ease the sanctions that further weaken the Turkish economy, which is already suffering due to the impact of Covid-19 disease and Erdogan’s mismanagement of the country’s economic and monetary policy.
While Biden promised to send vaccines to India, he did not talk much about helping Turkey, which announced on April 28 that it would receive 50 million doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine.
Despite Erdogan’s record, Zakheim says: “Turkey remains an important ally of the United States. It is a major member of NATO, has the second-largest army (after the United States), and a maritime border with Russia. In a way, Washington and Ankara must find an interim settlement. “.
According to the former US official, “Erdogan has begun to soften his position in the Middle East by communicating, albeit temporarily, with Israel and Egypt.”
However, the key to any US rapprochement with Ankara must rest on the S-400 system, as well as the release of journalists, military officers, and civil servants from prison, Zakheim says.
Zakheim believes that resolving the S-400 dilemma is less difficult than satisfying America’s human rights concerns, adding, “Erdogan can disarm the air defense system and ensure that no Russian personnel maintains it.”
On the other hand, releasing the prisoners would require Erdogan to back away from the iron fist of his rule, a prospect already grim, according to Zakheim.
But if Erdogan does nothing about his “obnoxious record” on human rights that are a political priority for the White House, he will not resolve the dispute with the Biden administration.