What Turkey wants from Biden’s meeting with Erdoğan next week

Ankara — The meeting between President Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan next week on the sidelines of a NATO summit may provide both countries with a fresh start if they reach a consensus on some of their most acute problems.

The state of play: The June 14 meeting is politically sensitive in Ankara. Senior Turkish officials are avoiding any comments about it, going so far as to skip public events so as not to be compelled to speak about the meeting.

Why it matters: It will take place in a fragile moment for the U.S.-Turkey relationship, and with many issues to discuss.

  • Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system and the government’s human rights record have strained the relationship, as has the United States’ collaboration with Kurdish-led groups in Syria that Ankara considers terrorists.
  • But Ankara needs to maintain a positive relationship with Washington to keep its fragile economy afloat. Erdoğan wants to use this meeting to prevent any further U.S. sanctions that would harm the Turkish economy and defense sector.

What to watch: Both leaders are expected to compartmentalize the problems at the first stage.

  • The Biden administration is unlikely to show any flexibility on its position that Turkey’s possession of the S-400, activated or not, is unacceptable.
  • But giving up on the Russian-made system would be too politically costly for Erdoğan and make him look weak. As a result, the issue will likely remain unresolved during this meeting.
  • The policy differences in Syria will also be difficult to bridge.
  • Yes, but: Afghanistan could be an avenue for cooperation, including over the postponed Istanbul peace conference and Turkey’s continued security role in Kabul’s international airport after the U.S. withdrawal. 

What they’re saying: “President Biden knows Erdoğan very well. The two men have spent a good amount of time together, and they’re both, I think, looking forward to having a business-like opportunity to review the full breadth of the relationship,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at a press briefing this week.

  • That includes Syria and Afghanistan, he noted.

What’s next: If this much-anticipated meeting is held in a positive atmosphere, it could open the way for concrete results from future meetings, and it’ll raise expectations for progress in repairing bilateral ties.

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