Politics In Syria pullout, US reaches detente with Turkey
Whether or not there was an explicit understanding, the withdrawal of US troops opens the way for an offensive by Turkey, which was much less likely to strike when risking US casualties.
„This is a major boost for Turkey and, I believe, an improvement in US-Turkish relations, while making Turkey less dependent on Russia also,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
Turkey — a member of NATO, the alliance designed as a bulwark against the Soviet Union — alarmed the United States a year ago when it signed a deal for S-400 missiles from Russia.
Also this week, the United States announced the approval of a sale of $3.5 billion worth of Patriot and other missiles to Turkey, offering a stark choice to Erdogan on where to buy weapons.
Relations sank further when Turkey detained Andrew Brunson, a US pastor based in the coastal city of Izmir, and demanded the extradition from Pennsylvania of Fetullah Gulen, an influential cleric whom Erdogan accuses of plotting a failed 2016 coup against him.
The Trump administration, which counts on evangelical Christians as a core constituency, turned Brunson’s detention into a top priority, slapping sanctions that rocked the Turkish economy including the value of the lira until his release in October.
„I believe the deal was that the Turks release Brunson in exchange for the US refraining from doing anything to damage the Turkish economy further,” said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
„The people in Washington who have argued for saving the relationship won,” he said.
– Admiration for Erdogan? –
Trump, who has often been accused of feeling more comfortable with strongmen than democratic allies, has indicated that he feels an affinity with Erdogan.
Meeting him last year, Trump called Erdogan a friend and said he gave him „very high marks” as he clamped down on dissent.
Cavusoglu, who predicted the Syria withdrawal, also said that Trump had promised he was „working on” the extradition of Gulen.
Two partners of Trump’s disgraced first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, were separately indicted this week for illegally scheming with Turkey to seek Gulen.
The White House said Tuesday that Trump only agreed to „take a look at” Gulen’s extradition — but, in light of recent events, the cleric is unlikely to be sleeping easy.