27.05.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Erdoğan’s visit to the U.S. has been postponed until July

Erdoğan's visit to the U.S. has been postponed until July

Ankara wants to outline the contours of a new relationship with Washington, while the White House is looking for an opportunity to engage with a recalcitrant Erdoğan and strengthen its regional and global influence in today’s era of growing great power competition.

The first official visit of Turkish President Recep Erdoğan to the United States during the administration of President Joseph Biden, planned for 9 May, did not take place. The Turkish side, announcing this visit, noted that a rich agenda had been prepared for the meeting of the two leaders on a number of issues of bilateral and multilateral relations (this was mentioned in particular by Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan). However, Erdoğan’s visit was postponed. Why?

Ankara’s justification was that the visit was postponed ostensibly because of the mismatch between President Erdoğan’s and President Biden’s busy work schedules. For example, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Öncü Keçeli said that President Recep Erdoğan’s visit to the United States, scheduled for 9 May, had been postponed and would take place on dates convenient to both sides.

Erdoğan himself confirmed this version and on 12 May, on the eve of the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Ankara, he gave an interview to the Greek newspaper “Kathimerini”, in which he insisted “Our visit to the United States was postponed due to conflicting schedules on both sides. As you know, the United States is on the eve of elections and Mr Biden’s schedule has become even busier. Our programmes continue to be intense, both domestically and internationally. These visits will be scheduled when it is convenient for both sides. Efforts are being made to find an appropriate date with our friends who are engaged in discussions with their counterparts.

The official version of the Turkish leader’s failed visit to the US on 9 May somewhat contradicts the logic of organising such meetings. First, it is well known that official visits by heads of state are planned in advance, taking into account a number of issues, including the leaders’ working schedules, the forthcoming agenda of issues to be discussed, the coordination of final decisions, and so on. Secondly, a visit that has been agreed, confirmed and, more importantly, announced cannot be postponed on the grounds of a “tight working schedule” simply because it was already based on that schedule. Thirdly, on 9 May, i.e. on the day agreed in advance, the world did not see the busy schedules of President Biden and President Erdoğan.

Probably only Russian President V.V. Putin had a busy schedule on this memorable day, celebrating the 79th anniversary of the Great Victory over Nazism and paying due attention to foreign dignitaries. In the US and Turkey, 9 May is not a public holiday. In the end, the Turkish leader received a similarly motivated offer from the US to postpone the expected meeting. Simply put, the four-year expectation of being received by Biden could not be derailed by Erdoğan’s “tight work schedule”, otherwise the ally in chief would have cancelled any visit by the Turkish president to the US.

Is Washington disappointed with Erdoğan’s behaviour? 

After Erdoğan’s official reception of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in April, Israel and the US were disappointed with the Turkish President’s behavior, according to the press. Accordingly, the upcoming presidential elections in the US, in which the issue of the Middle East crisis and the potential of the Jewish diaspora in America could play a key role, prevented Joseph Biden from receiving Recep Erdoğan in early May.

Of course, one cannot underestimate the role and influential position of the Jewish lobby in the US in the run-up to the presidential elections in November this year. But what will change in US-Turkish relations after 9 May, if Erdoğan’s visit is not cancelled but postponed? As we know, Israel has not yet accepted Hamas’s agreement to another ceasefire in the Gaza war zone. Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defence Forces are determined to continue offensive operations in southern Gaza at Rafah, despite the outward similarity of Washington’s and Ankara’s negative stance on the issue.

Perhaps Joseph Biden, understanding the importance of 9 May for Russia and knowing the subject of the upcoming negotiations with Recep Erdoğan on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, did not indirectly inflame relations with Moscow on Victory Day. It is highly probable that the US is trying to persuade Turkey to distance itself from Russia and actively participate in the process of military and political support for NATO in Ukraine. We are talking about supplies of arms and ammunition, strengthening the interoperability of NATO member states, tightening compliance with anti-Russian sanctions in the economic sphere, as well as diplomatic support for the Western coalition.

Meanwhile, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs John Bass told the 39th US-Turkish Council in Washington that the previously postponed visit of Turkish President Erdoğan to the US could take place on 12-13 July due to the next NATO summit. In particular, the US diplomat stressed: “We look forward to hosting President Erdoğan at our NATO Summit in July. Turkey has played an important and positive role in the context of the Ukrainian conflict. According to Bass, Ankara has also done a great job in resolving other regional crises (Iraq, Karabakh, Libya and Syria, of course). 

U.S. puts Turkey in the role of “watchdog” in the South Caucasus in opposition to Russia 

Before the NATO summit in July, the United States most likely gave Erdoğan some “homework” on the topic of restarting strategic US-Turkish relations. Washington may formally agree to Ankara’s draft diplomatic initiatives on the Palestinian issue (in particular, cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, truncated forms of recognition of Palestinian statehood, probable presence of Turkish peacekeeping forces in Palestine) in exchange for Turkey’s accommodation with Russia.

Moreover, the U.S. could offer Turkey an upgrade to NATO’s regional status in such important regions as North Africa (Libya), the Middle East (Iraq and Syria), the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Karabakh and Armenia), and Central Asia (Turkic countries). 

Washington-Ankara relations: new relationship or another “reset”

It is no coincidence that the same US Under Secretary of State J. Bass said on 11 May that Ankara and Washington are “on the threshold of a new phase” in their relations, which amounts to a return to the “basics” of a strategic alliance (including “collective defence”).

According to the Turkish journalist Fikret Akfırat, the American political centres are planning to give Turkey the role of a “counterweight to Russia and China”. This is why Washington is declaring a “new stage” in its relations with Ankara. The columnist of the “Aydınlık” newspaper notes that “the political centres in Washington are discussing how Turkey will fill the vacuum that will be created after the US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria. In other words, Ankara will be authorised by the US to control the partition of Syria and will be the “American delegate” in the affairs of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, making Turkey a counterweight to Iran, Russia and China.

This is probably why President Erdoğan has changed the focus of his public statements ahead of his upcoming visit to the US for the NATO summit and talks with Biden:

– spoke about peace with the pro-Western opposition led by the Republican People’s Party and held a corresponding meeting with the leader of this party, Özgür Özel;

– declared the expediency of signing peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia as soon as possible before November 2024 (i.e. before the US presidential elections);

– gained access to the “Iraqi transit” and signed the “Path of development” agreement with Iraq, Qatar and the UAE;

– declared the importance of political dialogue with Greece on the eve of Mitsotakis’ return visit to Ankara;

– announced the expectation of realisation of the Middle (or Turan) corridor through Armenian Zangezur;

– expressed hope for the export of Turkmen gas.

As we can see, the “harmonisation” (or restart) of Turkey’s relations with the US, the so-called “new stage” of the Turkish-American alliance presupposes a different paradigm of state security, limited by NATO and US dictate. In reality, such a choice of Ankara in opposition to Tehran, Moscow and Beijing may create serious threats and problems for the national security interests of the Republic of Turkey.


Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook


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