The US game plan to frighten Erdogan and get him to fall in line on Syria has boomeranged
Prima facie, there is nothing in common between the arrest of a highly-connected Turkish banker in New York on Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the arrival of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ankara two days later. But Turkish-American relationship has a long history of coercive diplomacy.
Turkey used to be a “frontline state” in the Cold War era and its importance as strategic asset is no less today for the US when Russian-American relations continue to deteriorate and old faultlines in Central Europe, the Balkans and the Black Sea are reappearing. (On Tuesday, US’ top commander in Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti testified before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington seeking deployment of “armored and mechanized brigades” to Europe to deter Russia; on the same day, US Senate overwhelmingly approved the induction of Montenegro as the newest NATO member state.)
Turkey’s nationalist leader Recep Erdogan often tends to forget that his country belongs to NATO and its foreign and security policies are expected to toe the American line. The attempted coup last July should have prompted him to draw proper conclusions, but on the contrary, it made him even more resolute and assertive in the pursuit of independent foreign policies. He crossed the “red line” by his dalliance with Russia and his independent course on Syria, both of which weaken the US’ regional strategy.
With the arrest of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, vice president for international banking, Halkbank (Turkey’s state-owned bank) by FBI sleuths in New York on Monday, the Empire has struck back at Erdogan. The New York district attorney’s office accuses Attila with participating “in a years-long scheme to violate American sanctions laws by helping Reza Zarrab, a major gold trader, use U.S. financial institutions to engage in prohibited financial transactions that illegally funneled millions of dollars to Iran.” Zarrab, a Turkish citizen of Azeri Iranian background, is already in US custody. It’s all very, very murky.
Zarrab allegedly acted as the go-between for Turkey and Iran when Washington maintained a nearly watertight sanctions regime against Tehran over its nuclear program. But then, he is also implicated in a scandal bribing Turkish cabinet ministers, including then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This led to the fallout between the Islamist preacher Fetullah Gulen and Erdogan, who had been allies until then. (For more about the scandal which erupted in 2014, read this report.)
Gulen in turn is credited with links to the CIA, which probably explains why Washington is stonewalling Ankara’s persistent demands for his extradition for involvement in the coup attempt against Erdogan last July.
At any rate, Ankara has forcefully defended Attila and alleged that his arrest in New York was a “completely political move” aimed at tarnishing Erdogan. (There are only two weeks left for the Turkish referendum slated for April 16 where Erdogan is seeking mandate for transforming the country as a presidential system.)
Be that as it may, Ankara has hit back at the US by hinting that American diplomats posted in Turkey had kept active contacts with the perpetrators of the July coup attempt. The Turkish authorities came out with details today that the US consulate in Istanbul was in touch with Adil Öksüz, the prime suspect in the coup attempt (who is, curiously enough, a fugitive still), even days after the July coup. Suffice it to say, Turkey is on the brink of alleging that the CIA plotted the coup attempt against Erdogan.
All in all, if the American attempt was to put God’s fear into Erdogan by threatening to expose him and his family members for amassing great wealth through cutbacks by helping Iran to circumvent the US sanctions and sell oil in the world market, Erdogan has now turned the table on the Americans by disclosing that US diplomats kept in touch with the principal coup plotter (who is still hiding somewhere in Turkey).
The US game plan to frighten Erdogan and get him to fall in line on Syria seems to have boomeranged. Going by reports of Tillerson’s press conference in Ankara after today’s talks, he must be returning home empty-handed. Turks apparently did some plain-speaking. The Turkish-American relations are on roller-coaster. A thick fog of mutual suspicions has descended on the relationship between the two key NATO allies.
Against such a complex backdrop, it remains to be seen how the US can go ahead with the planned offensive on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the ISIS in Syria. Erdogan’s next move will be keenly watched. Do not put it beyond the Sultan to order the eviction of the US military from Incirlik base from where American operations in northern Syria are largely conducted. Of course, the implication of the US consulate in Turkey in the July coup attempt is pure dynamite, which can blow up the diplomatic ties into smithereens any moment. Meanwhile, Attila’s continued detention and interrogation in New York brings the hour of reckoning closer by the day.
Source: Indian Punchline