Turkey’s NATO membership ‘unraveling’ as leaders meet in London

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday ahead of the main leaders’ meeting. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2019

Turkey’s NATO membership ‘unraveling’ as leaders meet in London

  • Turkey's military operation against Kurds in Syria and purchase of Russian missile system has escalated tensions within the alliance
  • Ankara hosts a US airbase and American nuclear bombs as part of its membership

LONDON: NATO leaders meet on Wednesday in the UK for crunch talks amid concerns that Turkey’s membership of the organization is “unraveling.”

High on the agenda will be Ankara’s aggressive policies in the region, particularly in Syria, and its decision to purchase a Russian missile system both politically and operationally out of sync with the alliance.

Turkey joined NATO, an alliance of countries serving as a bulwark to the Soviet Union, in 1952. As part of its membership, Turkey hosts a US airbase where dozens of American nuclear bombs are stored.

But Ankara’s relations with other NATO members and particularly the US have become increasingly strained, leading to some experts suggesting its place in the alliance is under threat.

“What we can see so far is Turkey’s relationship with NATO is slowly unraveling, even prior to the Turkish military incursion in northern Syria,” Fadi Hakura, manager of the Turkey Project at Chatham House, told Arab News.

Ankara launched an offensive into north-eastern Syria on Oct. 6, which, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is meant to expel Kurdish militias.

Also, ties between allies Ankara and Berlin deteriorated sharply in the run-up to Turkey’s April 16 referendum that handed Erdogan stronger presidential powers.

One of the first signs that the alliance’s relationship with Turkey was in serious trouble came in July 2017, when Germany began to pull its troops out of the Incirlik air base where they had supported international operations against Daesh following a row with Ankara over access.

Turkey prevented German lawmakers to visit roughly 250 troops stationed there, saying that Berlin needs to improve its attitude first.

Germany has expressed concern about the widespread security crackdown that followed a failed coup in Turkey in 2016. “It’s quite remarkable that a NATO member, like Germany, had to move its pilots and fighter jets from a NATO partner, namely Turkey, to a non-NATO member, and that is Jordan,” Hakura said.

Meanwhile, NATO members, led by the US, are expected to discuss Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system bought from Russia.

Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the   system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing.

Infuriating many members of Congress, Turkey shrugged off the threat of US sanctions and began receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July. In response, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 program.

Tensions escalated when Turkey tested its S-400s up against US-made F-16 jets last week, following months of warnings from allies.

“So far, the Senate Republicans, in particular Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have followed the wishes of President Trump and avoided any congressional sanctions against Turkey. But I think, should Turkey proceed with the activation of the S-400 Russian anti-missile defense system, which looks extremely likely to happen, the Congress well enact some tough financial and economic sanctions against Turkey,” he said.

He added the sanctions are quite “serious and, according to the draft bills, may include financial sanctions against senior members of the Turkish government, sanctions preventing the US financial system, financial institutions or individuals dealing with certain ministries in Turkey, such as the ministry of defense, from purchasing Turkish debt.

Hakura also said Turkey is importing its bilateral and multilateral disputes with Europe and in the Middle East into the NATO summit. 

“Turkey has so far vetoed or prevented NATO from approving a military plan to defend the Baltic region against the perceived Russian military threat, because in return, Turkey is demanding NATO endorsement of its military incursion into northern Syria, and that is not going to happen. NATO to will not provide any cover for Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria.”

Moreover, Greece’s prime minister will meet Erdogan on Wednesday in an attempt to ease frictions over energy exploration and Ankara’s deal with Libya’s Tripoli-based government on Mediterranean maritime zones, in another issue that Turkey has “imported” into the summit.

Libya and Turkey signed an agreement on boundaries in the Mediterranean last week that could complicate Ankara’s disputes over offshore energy exploration with nations including Greece.

Athens says the accord is geographically absurd because it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya.

“I think that Greece in particular wants NATO to take a stand against Turkey over its maritime agreement withLibya,” Hakura added.

*With Reuters

 


Rouhani: Iran will bypass US sanctions or overcome them through talks

Updated 24 min 34 sec ago

Rouhani: Iran will bypass US sanctions or overcome them through talks

  • Tensions have soared between Tehran and Washington since last year
  • The Islamic Republic has rejected negotiating a new deal with the Trump administration

DUBAI: Iran will overcome US sanctions by either bypassing them or through negotiations, and it will not cross its red lines in any talks with arch-adversary Washington, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.
Tensions have soared between Tehran and Washington since last year, when President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions on Tehran that have crippled its oil-based economy.
The Islamic Republic has rejected negotiating a new deal with the Trump administration, saying talks are only possible if Washington returns to the nuclear pact and lifts sanctions.
“The government is determined to defeat (the enemy) by bypassing America’s sanctions...or through various means including talks, but we will not cross our red lines,” the semi-official Iranian news agency ISNA quoted Rouhani as saying. In a rare act of cooperation between Tehran and Washington, the United States and Iran each freed a prisoner on Saturday.
Washington said it was hopeful that the prisoner swap would lead to the release of other Americans held in Iran and that it was a sign Tehran was willing to discuss other issues.
Iran released Xiyue Wang, a US citizen who had been held for three years on spying charges, while the United States freed Iranian Massoud Soleimani, who had faced charges of violating US sanctions against Tehran.
Iran said on Monday there were about 20 Iranians jailed in the United States in cases linked to sanctions violations.