Biden's first foreign policy challenge - to tame Turkey, a rogue ally

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, India Published: Feb 16, 2021, 11:00 PM(IST)

US President Joe Biden (L) shaking hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) at Turkish Presidential Complex in Ankara Photograph:( AFP )

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United States President Joe Biden faces the ultimate challenge of foreign policy. Biden is a seasoned player at this game, but until now he operated behind the scenes - first as a US senator, and then as deputy to the US president.

United States President Joe Biden faces the ultimate challenge of foreign policy. Biden is a seasoned player at this game, but until now he operated behind the scenes - first as a US senator, and then as deputy to the US president.

Biden's first challenge is to tame a rogue ally - Turkey. American and Turkish interests don't converge anymore, and the relationship has been rocky for a while now The personal equation between Trump and Erdogan kept it intact. During trump's presidency, Turkey repeatedly provoked Washington. First - with the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles. And then, with an attack on Kurdish fighters.

Both the times, Trump's response was reluctant. Then, Biden arrived on the scene - promising change.

"He is an autocrat. He's the president of Turkey and a lot more. I'm still of the view that we can support those elements of the Turkish leadership that still exist and embolden them to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, but by electoral process", Biden said about Erdogan recently.

Joe Biden has not spoken to Erdogan yet but his administration has rebuked Turkey multiple times. First, they demanded the release of activist Osman Kavala. Then - they condemned Erdogan's homophobic rhetoric against student protesters. But the Turkish president is unmoved. On Sunday, Turkey accused the Kurdistan Workers Party of executing 13 Turks. The US condemned the attack, but Erdogan called the statement a joke.

Also read: Biden wants US Congress to reform American gun laws

''Now there is a statement made by the United States. It's a joke. Were you not supposed to stand against the terrorist, the PKK, the YPG and PYD? You clearly support them and stand behind them", Erdogan said. ''If we are together with you in NATO (US), if we are to continue our unity in the world and in NATO, then you will act sincerely towards us. Then, you will stand with us, not with the terrorists", Erdogan added.

For the record, the US has designated the Kurdistan Workers Party as a terrorist group. During the war against ISIS, they had allied with another Kurdish militia called the YPG. The question of Kurdish fighters will always be a thorn between Turkey and America. The Kurdish alliance was created by Barack Obama, Biden's former boss.

All indications are that Biden wants to be an activist president. He is talking about holding a democracy summit - later this year. Erdogan may not feature in Biden's plan. But the country he rules does. Turkey is a strategic ally of Washington, and both Erdogan and Biden want to reset ties.

Also read: Turkish President Erdogan accuses US of backing 'terrorists' in Iraq

But a reset means different things for the two leaders. For Biden - it's a return to US-led, liberal world order. For Erdogan - it's a new geopolitical reality in Eurasia - one where Turkey is the big dog.

Beyond a rogue ally, Biden must also contend with an old foe - Iran. Biden wants to return to the Iran nuclear deal, but Tehran is not making it easy.

On Monday, a volley of rockets was fired at the American military base in Erbil, in Iraq. One civilian military contractor was killed and eight others were injured. It was the deadliest attack on coalition troops - in a year and the perpetrators were Awliya Al-dam, a little-known Shia group - one of the many proxies, paid and backed by Iran.

America's top diplomat condemned the attack and has promised action against those responsible. But Biden is reluctant to pursue military options against Iran and wants to repair the nuclear deal. But he also wants Iran to comply with the terms first. Many predicted a thaw in US-Iran ties with Biden in office. What we're getting instead is a stalemate.

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