‘Enough Is Enough’: What Blinken Should Tell Turkey’s Cavusoglu

January 9, 2023 Topic: Turkey Region: Middle East Tags: TurkeyRecep Tayyip ErdoganSanctionsIranISISYpgPKK

‘Enough Is Enough’: What Blinken Should Tell Turkey’s Cavusoglu

If Washington is going to listen to Turkey’s demands, it is incumbent upon Ankara to once and for all act like an ally.


Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is expected to visit Washington in mid-January, in what is expected to be major push by Ankara to realize much-desired policy goals. Expectations should be lowered as to what Ankara and Washington are likely to achieve, and the Biden administration should be very cautious in accommodating Turkey’s desires, on account of the country’s intransigence in a number of policy areas. If Cavusoglu expects to reach an accommodation with his American counterpart, Turkey must genuinely align its foreign policy closer to the position of its Western allies.

In the run-up to Cavusoglu’s visit, Ankara has once again made a couple of overtures to woo the West. In the first days of 2023, the U.S. Treasury Department and its Turkish counterpart announced a major collaborative effort, resulting in the designation and sanctioning of various Islamic State (ISIS) entities in Turkey. For the last decade, Turkey has frustrated its Western partners in their quest to defeat ISIS, mainly by turning a blind eye to people transiting Turkey to join their ranks, in addition to directly backing other Al Qaeda-affiliated groups such as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS). Turkey has also played an important role in the Ukraine conflict; Ankara has sold combat drones to the Ukrainian military and also averted the prospect of major regional famines by helping to facilitate the shipment of Ukrainian grain to world markets. Finally, it has also made symbolic moves to terminate (some) Russian financial flows by banning the use of the MIR messaging system—Moscow’s alternative to the SWIFT service.


With these initiatives, Ankara believes that it has proven its bona fides as a dependable ally of the West, which should be rewarded by its allies. Specifically, Cavusoglu is likely to implore his counterparts at the State Department that more should be done by the Biden administration to allow Turkey to acquire F-16 fighter jets. Cavusoglu is also likely to try and get Washington to buy into Turkey’s new policy that seeks to make amends with the Assad regime—something which the United States opposes in principle, as well as by law.

Turkey’s asks are likely to go unfulfilled, and rightly so. Yes, the West should welcome Ankara’s recent moves to target ISIS inside Turkey. However, Washington needs to demand much more from Ankara in this space: Turkey continues to back radical entities in Syria, most notably HTS, and continues to threaten a new land invasion that targets the Syrian Kurds affiliated with the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—a group which Ankara designates as a terrorist organization and one which the United States supports in its ongoing efforts to eradicate ISIS. Similarly, Ankara continues to provide sanctuary to Hamas inside Turkey, by providing it office space, passports to its leaders, and access to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the very least, Secretary of State Antony Blinken should implore his Turkish counterpart to designate Hamas as a terrorist entity and for Turkey to terminate its relationship with it. This would be the bare minimum that Ankara could do to convince its Western allies that it is serious about reining in its support of terrorist organizations. This is the only way that negotiations to remove Turkey from the “grey list”—a global watchlist of states that engage in money laundering and funding of terrorist entities—could begin.

Erdogan also needs to terminate his spoiler role in the transatlantic alliance by allowing the Turkish parliament to ratify Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO. Since mid-2022, Turkey has dragged its feet on this issue, demanding that Sweden take concrete steps to end support it has given to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). To this end, Sweden has not only given verbal assurances to Turkey, but also extradited several individuals which Ankara has accused of being PKK terrorists. Erdogan is not satisfied and wants Sweden to deliver more individuals before he considers green-lighting its NATO membership. This instance has finally been rebuked by Sweden, and rightly so. Swedish premier Ulf Kristersson delivered an important message to Ankara by remarking “Turkey both confirm[ed] that we have done what we said we would do, but they also say that they want things that we cannot or do not want to give them.”

This should be the way to approach Turkey: to not give in to unreasonable demands that are intended to service Erdogan’s domestic political needs. Sometime before June 2023, he will face the prospect of re-election. Owing to sagging poll numbers, Erdogan is clutching at every straw to make himself appealing to voters. Taking a supposedly tough stance on Sweden’s NATO membership is a short-term measure demonstrating to Turkish voters that Erdogan is holding the Scandinavian country accountable for its alleged support of the PKK. This is the same reason why Turkey threatens to invade Syria—allegedly to go after Kurdish “terrorists,” whose only actions have focused on fighting ISIS. Washington should come to understand that right now, every policy arena in Turkey is focused on getting Erdogan re-elected.

During his visit, Blinken should be very frank with Minister Cavusoglu: If Washington is going to listen to Turkey’s demands, it is incumbent upon Ankara to once and for all act like an ally. This means unconditional Turkish assurances that an invasion of Syria will not happen. It means that Turkey stops dawdling on Swedish and Finnish membership in NATO. It means Erdogan designates Hamas as a terrorist entity and expels its members from Turkey. It means Ankara must provide guarantees that a free and fair presidential election will take place, with opposition candidates like Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu allowed to run unhindered (as opposed to being jailed). It means that Turkey takes active measures to reassert the rule of law and the independence of the country’s judiciary by releasing political prisoners such as human rights activist Osman Kavala and political hostages such as Metin Topuz. Finally, it requires Ankara to unequivocally demonstrate that it is a NATO ally by divesting itself of its ill-begotten Russian S-400 missile defense system, and by implementing further sanctions against Moscow, in congruence with its Western partners.

Just last month, the United States Treasury sanctioned Sitki Ayan, a close confidant of Erdogan for “the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil” to China and Russia, the proceeds of which were identified to have filled the coffers of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, as well as an Iranian proxy, Hezbollah. This tells us that U.S. authorities know what Ankara is capable and willing to do in order to flout U.S. and international law. The meeting of the foreign policy chiefs is an opportunity for the United States to tell Turkey that enough is enough.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). He is also an Associate Professor of Security Studies at the Command and Staff College-Marine Corps University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He tweets @sinanciddi.

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