Unable to get a meeting with Biden himself, Erdoğan turns to his defense minister

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US President-elect Joe Biden has yet to respond to a request by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a meeting that was communicated weeks ago. As a result, Erdoğan has asked Defense Minister Hulusi Akar step in. Known for his pro-NATO stance and his efforts to promote relations with the US, Akar expressed regret about the rift between the two countries over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Turkey was removed from the joint manufacturing program of the new generation F-35 stealth fighter jets after it proceeded with the purchase and delivery of the S-400s despite repeated warnings from Washington and other NATO allies. The US government has also ruled out Turkey’s acquisition of US-made Patriots. Most recently, several high-ranking Turkish officials were slapped with US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Erdoğan, who hoped until the last minute that outgoing US President Donald Trump would win his bid for re-election, was one of the last world leaders to congratulate Biden on his victory. After it became clear that Biden had won, Erdoğan’s office in December asked for a meeting with Biden, which still remains unanswered by the Biden campaign.

Turkish officials agree that the Biden administration will adopt a much difference stance on regional politics than its predecessor. Despite the strained relations between Ankara and Washington, Defense Minister Akar has been keen on protecting his personal ties with US and NATO officials. Being a former Turkish chief of general staff, Akar is also familiar with the technical aspects of Turkey’s cooperation with NATO and the Pentagon.

Akar renewed Erdoğan’s request for an appointment with Biden. Reiterating the tension over the S-400s, Akar said Turkey wants to acquire Patriot missiles from the US and restart talks towards that end.

His remarks were arguably a billion-dollar peace offering. “Are we adversaries now?” Akar said in apparent reference to the CAATSA sanctions. “We expect the US the reconsider this decision during Biden’s term, and we expect to begin a process of normalization.”

Akar also said Turkey wants to get back into the F-35 joint program and that he does not agree with the assertion that the Russian-made S-400 system would pose a threat to F-35 operation, insisting that the problem could be dealt with through dialogue. He added, however, that a request that Turkey send back the S-400s would be problematic.

“There are ways in which we could work together with the US, which would benefit NATO, our region and the world,” Akar said while also confirming that Turkey was in talks with Moscow for a possible purchase of a second batch of S-400s.

Akar’s anxiety about Greece

As the former top commander, Akar’s eagerness to normalize ties with Washington also arose from neighboring Greece’s recent steps towards boosting their arms inventory.

On Jan. 14 the Greek parliament passed legislation for the $2.5 billion purchase of 18 Rafale jets from France as part of an ambitious defense package that the government announced in September aimed at gaining the upper hand in the country’s military rivalry with Turkey over Aegean and Mediterranean airspace.

Another step in Greece’s strategy was its bid in November to purchase 24 F-35 jets, to which the US administration has responded positively.

Cut off from the F-35 program and denied purchase of the new generation jets, Turkey is faced with a disadvantage amid Greece’s improving ties with Washington. In two statements last year, Akar had called Greece’s armament efforts “frenetic.”

Warm messages to Biden

Prior to Biden’s upcoming inauguration on Jan. 20, Erdoğan made a series of diplomatic overtures towards Israel, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Greece and expressed the will to resume dialogue with these countries, with which Turkey’s ties were strained. Erdoğan’s sudden change of tone with regard to Greece in particular led to criticism from the opposition.

Pro-AKP think tank prudent about Biden

The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), known as the think tank of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), released an opinion paper on Turkey-US relations during a Biden administration.

Published under the name of Kemal İnat, one of SETA’s directors, the report said relations with Washington under Biden might be more difficult than they were during the Trump administration.

Although the report acknowledged that Ankara’s ties with the US had declined over the past four years, it blamed the problems on the bureaucratic remnants of the Barack Obama administration while praising Trump for minimizing the damage.

“US security bureaucracy as well as the better part of the Congress escalated the hostility towards Turkey during the Trump presidency, which they had inherited from Obama’s term,” the document said.

SETA, known to exert significant influence on Turkish government policy, has also published two articles critical of Twitter’s decision to suspend Trump’s account. Meanwhile, none of its publications has predicted improvement in Turkish-US relations during Biden’s term in office.

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