U.S. President Joe Biden may put aside disagreements with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the two leaders attempt to improve a fractured relationship, said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. envoy to Turkey.
Biden and Erdoğan met at a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday to discuss a series of bilateral disagreements. They include U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Iraq, which Jeffrey said would continue so long as U.S. troops remained in the country.
Turkey’s acquisition of S-400 air defence missiles from Russia in 2019 have resulted in congressionally mandated sanctions against its defence industry and Turkey’s exclusion from a programme to purchase the F-35 stealth fighter jet. The latter was a “big military loss” for the country, Jeffrey told CBS News in an interview on Tuesday.
“So we’re not going to fix these problems, the recommendation of many is to set them to one side,” he said. “I think that they (Biden and Erdoğan) probably took a step in that direction… But we have to see when we learn more about what in the weeks ahead President Biden means by progress. I am certainly encouraged by the use of that word.”
Jeffrey, who served as ambassador to Turkey between 2008 and 2010 and U.S. special representative for Syria from 2018 to 2020, said the relationship between Turkey and the United States has “gone steeply downhill” on a working level since 2013/2014 and it was Biden’s job to fix that.
“First of all it’s a transactional relationship – there’s not a lot of love on either side,” he said.
“To maintain a global order you need Turkey – it’s too big, it’s too powerful, it’s militarily and economically strong and it’s geographical position is critical. But Erdoğan is a difficult partner.”
Despite their differences, the United States and Turkey share important common goals and policies, Jeffrey said.
“He (Erdoğan) and Biden share an interest in deterring and containing the threats we see in the region – Iran, Russia, terrorism,” Jeffrey said. The interests of the United States and Turkey mostly coincide in Syria, Turkey is a great supporter of Ukraine against Russia and is willing to keep troops in Afghanistan as NATO partners withdraw, he said.
“Erdoğan seems to be willing, at least in tone, to go halfway. We’ll see what comes out of this meeting. It was a good first step though.”