RECENT G20 SUMMITS AND TURKISH – U.S. RELATIONS

How the Summits Signaled Critical Developments 

The G20 summit is an annual international forum for the world’s 20 leading economies. This group of countries accounts for 85 percent of the world’s GDP and two-thirds of its population. Since the inaugural leaders’ summit in 2008 during the global financial crisis, the leaders of the 20 countries have congregated annually to discuss issues ranging from the global economy to climate change. Additionally, since 2009 the G20 Summit has presented an opportunity for informal meetings and discussions of important matters between world leaders on the sidelines official summit deliberations. 

The 2015 G20 Summit was hosted in Antalya, Turkey. The main topics on the table for this summit were counterterrorism, the emerging refugee crisis, and the global financial system. With the November 2015 Paris attacks having occurred two days before the G20 Summit, the world leaders turned the dialogue toward combatting terrorism. In addition, President Erdogan paved the way for a united coalition in combating terrorism and increased humanitarian aid to alleviate the burden for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Leading up to the 2015 G20 Summit, we saw the U.S. and Turkey strengthening relations both economically and politically. In 2014, Ankara opened Incirlik Air Base to the U.S. in efforts toward counterterrorism and fighting DAESH. The air base is located within 100 miles of the Syrian border, making it a critical strategic location used for stopping militants from smuggling goods and people across the border. 



Post G20 Turkey

Following the 2015 G20 Summit, on November 24th, a Russian jet that entered Turkey’s airspace was shot down. This event caused a great strain in Turkey-Russia relations for a time, until relations began to normalize in June, when President Erdogan expressed regret to President Putin and those involved in the jet incident. Additionally, following the G20’s address on humanitarian aid to Turkey, the EU and Turkey concluded a refugee deal in March 2016 based on a “one in, one out,” scenario.

Under this deal, migrants arriving in Greece will be sent to Turkey if they fail to apply for asylum (or their claim is rejected), and in turn, Syrian migrants already in Turkey will be granted asylum in the EU. In 2016, The World Humanitarian Summit was held in Istanbul from May 23rd to 24th. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented the aspirations of the summit: “to stand up for our common humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering.” The Syrian crisis was a central theme of the summit.

Also in 2016, Turkey suffered from multiple terrorist attacks, including bombings in Ankara on March 13th and at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on June 28th. Amongst these attacks, Turkey also experienced a military coup attempt on July 15th, 2016, later calling upon the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the suspected leader behind the coup who is residing in Pennsylvania. 

After July 15th, new tensions emerged in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, with accusations in Turkey of U.S. involvement in the coup and frustration over the long and complicated process of extraditing Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey. Vice President Joe Biden visited Ankara on August 24th to smooth over these issues, stating that the U.S. condemns the coup and is in full support of the democratically elected Turkish government. Along with the U.S.’s support of Turkey, Vice President Biden stated that the extradition of Fethullah Gulen would be top of the agenda. 

G20 China

The 2016 G20 Summit was held in Hangzhou, China, from September 4th to 5th. This summit presented an opportunity for President Barack Obama and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet and discuss tensions in U.S.-Turkey relations face-to-face for the first time since the coup attempt. During their talk, Obama strongly condemned the coup attempt and stated that the U.S. will cooperate alongside Turkish authorities to ensure that those involved in the attempt are brought to justice. President Erdogan praised President Obama’s “support against the coup attempt,” also referring to the two countries as strategic partners and very close allies.



The two leaders also discussed cooperation on fighting DAESH along the Syrian-Turkish border. After the G20 Summit, President Erdogan expressed that it “would not be a problem” for Turkey to join the U.S. in the fight against DAESH in the latter’s stronghold of Raqqa. Although some tension has been eased through this meeting, the issue of U.S. support of the YPG in the effort against DAESH is still a strain on U.S.-Turkey relations. Further complicating U.S.-Turkey relations, President Erdogan also met with President Vladimir Putin. The meeting between the two leaders further strengthened Turkey-Russia relations, which, while good for the region economically, could prove to be problematic for U.S.-Turkey relations if Turkey turns east to Russia rather than to the West. 

At the 2016 China G20 Summit, President Xi Jinping’s agenda highlighted two returning priority topics from the 2015 summit: the global refugee crisis and strengthening the global economy. For the 2016 summit, the previous priority of addressing counterterrorism was replaced by climate change. Regarding climate change, President Obama and President Xi Jinping ratified the Paris Agreement. Turkey’s main involvement at the G20 Summit in 2016 was addressing the Syrian refugee crisis and interventions in Syria. Turkey is host to almost three million Syrian refugees, which puts Turkey right in the middle of the equation.

Turkey’s intervention in Syria has led to an accelerated international effort to come to a solution with regard to Syria, DAESH, and the refugee crisis. As discussed at the 2016 G20 Summit, the World Bank is making efforts to complete a global response platform to provide support for refugees and host communities. This platform is a key part of the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees that will be co-hosted by President Obama and Ban Ki-moon on the margins of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly.

Establishing a global crisis response program with the World Bank and other international organizations is important, specifically to Turkey and the country’s struggle to support a large and increasing number of Syrian refugees. 

U.S.-Turkey relations have been growing more positive since the 2016 G20 Summit, but there is still work to be done, especially regarding the U.S.’s controversial cooperation with the YPG in the fight against DAESH and U.S. financial support for humanitarian aid. The recent cease-fire agreement for Syria made between the U.S. and Russia was met with a positive response from Turkey, which in turn will help U.S.-Turkey relations. The U.S. and Turkey also have the opportunity to mend relations by potentially launching a joint operation to oust DAESH from Raqqa. THO anticipates that the UN General Assembly will help to further open dialogue between the U.S. and Turkey toward solutions to the issues currently causing a strain on relations. Turkey’s “Operation Euphrates Shield” is an example of its determination to limit U.S. cooperation with the YPG. The U.S. must work with Turkey and come to a solution to this issue without further damaging U.S.-Turkey relations. 

Caysie N. Myers, Coordinator
Turkish Heritage Organization