'Erdoğan, and not Biden, has high expectations from the crucial meeting' - Merve Tahiroğlu

A new page for the relationship between Turkey and the United States doesn’t seem plausible without real democracy and reforms, even if Turkey manages to come up with solutions for the outstanding issues between the two NATO allies, Merve Tahiroğlu, the Turkey Program Coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy, told Ahval’s editor-in-chief Yavuz Baydar on Saturday.

The two leaders are set to meet on the sidelines during Monday’s NATO summit in Brussels, marking the first face-to-face occasion for the pair since Biden’s inauguration in January.

Ankara really wants an image of positive U.S-Turkish relations, Tahiroğlu said, adding that the Turkish government “says that it has come to some sort of resolution in one of the major bilateral issues”.

Turkey could find solutions for the S-400 crisis, where Turkey’s purchase of the Russian weapons systems led to its removal from NATO’s fifth-generation fighter jet programme and brought on U.S. sanctions, or the eastern Mediterranean crisis, where Turkey stands antagonistic against almost all its maritime neighbours, but without real democracy the new leaf in U.S.-Turkey relations is not coming, according to Tahiroğlu.

“The more authoritarian Turkey becomes and the more it strays away from democratic values, it is only going to continue to play a spoiler role in multilateral institutions that are aimed at safeguarding democratic principles around the world,” she warned.

The analyst doesn’t think that Washington has a similar expectation of major improvement, because “wanted sort of rushing off this meeting from the beginning”.

“Washington’s expectations are very low, but Ankara’s expectations are really high,” she said.

“If Turkey comes up with one solution -or more- for foreign policy issues and thinks that would be enough to put American-Turkish relations back on track and turn a new leaf, that is a complete wrong reading of the Biden administration,” Tahiroğlu said.

Biden needs to raise specific issues important for Turkey’s democratic trajectory in the in-person meeting, she added.

Tahiroğlu does not expect anything concrete to come out of this meeting since President Biden “doesn’t really have much love for strong men like Erdoğan”, or for the way the latter deals with domestic and foreign issues.

“In addition to all of the horrific acts of repression Erdoğan has committed just this year since Biden took office,” Tahiroğlu said, “I do not think that President Biden is going to want to give Erdoğan a photo of what he wants, which is very important for Erdogan to fix Turkey’s worsening economy.”

The analyst was referring to protests against an Erdoğan-appointed rector at the prestigious Boğaziçi University, and the continued detention of civil society figures in high-profile cases including Osman Kavala’s, “and the complete anti-Americanism of the Turkish government”.

“The only way he can do that is by projecting an image of positive relations with the U.S.,” she added.

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