Nonresident Senior Fellow Howard Eissenstat Talks with the Globe Post about U.S.-Turkey Relations

On September 24, 2017, POMED nonresident senior fellow Howard Eissenstat spoke with Abdullah Ayasun of the Globe Post about how U.S. relations are not as good as they seem, despite President Trump’s warm praise of President Erdogan.

“Trump’s warm public embrace of Mr. Erdogan was a political gift for the Turkish president, burnishing his reputation at home and suggesting that rights violations will not, in fact, damage his relations with the United States,” Howard Eissenstat, Associate Professor of history and a Turkish affairs expert at St. Lawrence University, told The Globe Post.

“Erdogan may even believe that. But the truth is that relations with the US are likely to grow more rather than less tense. Trump’s protestations of goodwill won’t change basic divisions over Syria. And they are likely to sharpen rather than diminish Congressional determination to intervene in US-Turkish relations,” he added.

There has been no progress on another issue that Turkey considers important.

Ankara has been trying to secure the release of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab who was charged by the U.S. of violating sanctions against Iran.

“I think that President Erdogan retains some hope of finding leverage with President Trump on the Zarrab case…. certainly it is a very high priority for Mr. Erdogan and a very low one for Trump,” Mr. Eissenstat said.

He noted that any attempt by President Trump to intervene in the case would result in a dramatic response from Congress and, most likely, from the Justice Department too.

“Mr. Trump is certainly a risk-taker, but I can’t imagine he’ll stir that hornet’s nest for Mr. Erdogan’s sake,” Mr. Eissenstat said, noting, however, that the Turkish president still hopes for a renewed relationship with the Trump administration.

Nevertheless, there is little hope for a smoother relationship in the near future.

“More broadly, it does not seem like either party really understands the priorities and needs of the opposites. There isn’t a lot that holds the United States and Turkey together right now, and neither side seems capable of papering over the differences,” Mr. Eissenstat said.

“Add to that Congress’ clear and growing frustration with Turkey, and we are likely looking at a very fraught period of re-evaluation for both sides. The relationship is unlikely to end in divorce, but the marriage will increasingly be an unhappy one,” he added.

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