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Erdogan’s confrontation with Trump

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

No country stood against the US and won. They all lose no matter how long it takes. This is a fact in most cases.

The Americans’ strongest weapons are not military but economic. Turkey is not stronger than Germany and China, the two countries which preferred not to confront the Trump administration and which chose to negotiate, make concessions and keep away from escalation and verbal wars.

What’s the problem? Washington expects Turkey to meet few demands, of which the most important is suspending trade with Iran, and the least important is releasing the American pastor whom Turkey accuses of espionage.

In terms of besieging Iran, there are three countries that can together or alone play the balancing role to the regime in Tehran, and they are Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The three countries have strong ties with the US but Turkey is the major passage of Iranian trade.

Turkey is an important country in the western system as it is the only Islamic state in NATO, and is important in any upcoming confrontation with Russia as the Russian-American dispute escalates and with the possibility of the return of the Cold War.

Trump wants Turkey to either play its normal role as an ally or not. Washington will not accept that Turkey buys strategic defense weapons from Russia and be commercially open to Iran while at the same time sits with it in the NATO and considers itself an ally.

Washington will not accept that Turkey buys strategic defense weapons from Russia and be commercially open to Iran while at the same time sits with it in the NATO and considers itself an ally

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The tense relation between Washington and Ankara limits the strategic relation between the two countries. Despite the fuss that accompanied it, US President Donald Trump imposed limited “sanctions” on Turkey, and which are symbolic for the purpose of pressuring President Erdogan.

He froze the bank accounts of two Turkish ministers and imposed fees on only two Turkish products. Of course, the consequences of these two measures are serious on Turkey. The lira declined and there’s panic in the Turkish market. The reason is primarily political because pessimism dominated the relation with the US and its future.

At the front of the crisis there are a Turkish cleric and an American pastor. Erdogan accuses Trump’s government of granting asylum to opposition leader Gulen, an opposition, which was eliminated during the elimination operations following the coup attempt. Trump links lifting the sanctions off with the release of the American pastor detained in Turkey.

Pastor and Gulen

I think neither Gulen nor the pastor is the problem, even though they’re the mentioned excuse in the media. The dispute has been escalating for a while now and it includes different issues including the dispute inside Syria and the relation with Russia and which is related to objections to Ankara’s strong commercial relation with Iran.

This latter reason specifically may be the most dangerous one behind the tension with Trump who is determined on commercially suffocating Iran. This does not please Turkey, the Iranians’ major commercial partner.

Trump is neither hasty nor reckless despite the massive damages caused by his decision to double the fees on Turkey’s exports of iron and aluminum. Truth is Trump has shown special appreciation to Erdogan, against the desire of other American politicians.

He intervened and pressured the Israeli government to release a Turkish woman accused of funding the Hamas Movement and released Erdogan’s bodyguards who were accused of beating up protestors in Washington.

Trump was one of the first presidents in the world to call Erdogan and congratulate him for winning the presidency. There is a good relation between the two countries that sets aside the conspiracy theory, which Erdogan talked about.

Turkey is not a revolutionary state like Iran and Turkey’s value is thanks to its economy and not its revolutionary guards and terror activities like Iran. Turkey’s worth is also due to its presence within the political and military western system.

Does the Turkish government dare confront the US? It’s unlikely. Turkey is a state that boasts it is economically successful, and its economy is based on trade with the West and not with Iran or the Arabs.

Turkey cannot defy economic sanctions on Iran, as it did so during Barack Obama’s presidential term but the Trump administration made several warnings to the countries dealing with Iran and said it will punish them.

Also, a marginal issue, such as the detention of the pastor – who has been released from prison and put under house arrest in Turkey’s Izmir – is not reason enough to sabotage the Turkish economy.

Trump is using the pastor’s case as a card in this pressuring game because he knows that if Turkey releases him, he will take the credit and if it does not release him, he will use him as an electoral card in his favor by showing he stood by him and punished Turkey for detaining him. As for Turkey, it’s the loser on both sides if it leaves the problem open.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.