On Wednesday, October 17th, THO hosted a teleconference on “The Future of US-Turkey Relationship after Pastor Brunson’s Release.”
The teleconference was moderated by THO’s Executive Director Elvir Klempic and featured the following speakers:
Matthew Bryza – Former US Ambassador, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe & Asia, Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Atlantic Council
Hassan Basri Yalcin – Associate Professor, Director of Strategy at SETA Istanbul & Istanbul Commerce University
To begin the teleconference, Hassan Yalcin commented on the Turkish public’s perception on the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, explaining that there are two different camps of thought. On one side, the release is seen as a concession by the Turkish government to the United States, however the other side views it as a legal decision that is part of a larger negotiation process. He stated that Pastor Brunson’s case “was an emotional issue” for Turkey and the United States and now that it is resolved the two countries can once again speak to each other in a meaningful way. He developed this thought further when asked about Turkey’s expectations of its relationship with the United States. He commented on America’s aggressive foreign policy stance and how it has isolated the United States from Turkey and its other allies around the world. The United States criticizes Turkey for working closely with Russia in Syria, however it is the Americans’ inability to make concessions in Syria that has pushed Turkey closer to Russia. Mr. Yalcin explained that he does not see the relationship between Turkey and Russia as one that is long term, however the United States must be more flexible because “without a flexible partnership, we will continue to have issues.”
Ambassador Bryza commented on his hopes for the restoration of US-Turkey relations, asserting that while this is not the turning point in the countries’ relationship, it is a starting point. This will allow the United States and Turkey to once again work more closely on the pressing issues that still remain. The ambassador offered more explanation on this topic, highlighting four different issues, when asked about future obstacles that would prevent US-Turkey coordination in the future. The difference in perception between Turkey and the United States on the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the status of Gulen’s extradition, Turkey’s relationship with Iran, and America’s strategic partnership with the YPG in Syria were all highlighted as eventual tectonic issues that will eventually need to be addressed as the US-Turkey relationship moves forward.
During the question and answer session, Ambassador Bryza and Mr. Yalcin were asked about the long term plan for Syria after Manbij. Both highlighted the issue that the United States and Turkey face regarding the YPG. The ambassador commented that it is unclear how America will move from supporting a terrorist organization to restoring its alliance with Turkey in the region, especially with many in the U.S. Central Command believing that the YPG has proven itself and thus earned the ability to have a say in the post-war discussions. Hassan Yalcin added that there is a sense in the Turkish government that the U.S. is utilizing a delaying tactic when it comes to severing ties with the YPG. He explained that because of America’s inconsistent Syrian policy, it will be difficult to predict what the U.S. will do in Syria and the broader Middle East, making it difficult for the current US-Turkey relationship to be maintained.