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Erdogan risks US ties with provocations
By Jayson Browder

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The current corruption scandal in Turkey has the potential to diminish hard-earned gains that the United States has recently made in the Middle East from the Iranian nuclear and Syria chemical weapons deal. It could also derail one of the most important partnerships the United States has in the region.

This would be a shame, as diplomatic ties between Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Barack Obama of

the United States are of the utmost importance for both countries. This is not only true for the leverage the US gains with its relations to Turkey in regards to American foreign policy priorities in Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Israel, but also for Turkey and the US in terms of both bilateral economic relations which reached US$19 billion in 2011 and military sales to Turkey of $3.8 billion in the last three years.

It would be a serious miscalculation for both countries to allow current emotions, accusations, and abrupt judgments sour diplomatic relations when the stakes are this high.

On December 17, police raids were initiated in Turkey culminating in the detention of many of the government's public officials, the CEO of the state-owned Halkbank, and the sons of three cabinet level ministers. The allegations of corruption and bribery has had a rippling effect on all aspects of the country from the political institutions and judicial foundations to economic establishments.

By December 19, the prime minister had removed the head of Istanbul's police as well as more than 30 senior officers supporting the corruption probe. These actions raised serious concerns internally and overseas about the ruling AKP's (Justice and Development Party's) intent to disrupt or stifle the investigation.

To ease these concerns, the embattled Erdogan followed the actions up by revamping his cabinet and pressuring three of his cabinet ministers to resign. The dangerous political circus and economic precariousness created by these recent events have also begun to trouble foreign investors, resulting in the Turkish lira hitting a record low of 2.198 against the dollar this past week. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc recently stated, "We are talking about damages of over $100 billion" to the Turkish economy.

However, as ugly as the internal imbroglio looks to outside observers, the ruling party in Turkey has yet again (Gazi Park protests) determined that the best way to address this crisis is by blaming outside governments, namely, the United States and Israel. Prime Minister Erdogan himself has explicitly denounced the corruption probe, calling it a foreign plot to discredit the Turkish government.

Other members of the AKP party and pro-government newspapers have been on the offensive, making aggressive, biased, and harmful accusations that have impacted on the US and Turkish diplomatic relationship. The most dangerous and damaging of these statements was made by Erdogan speaking of the possible expulsion of the US ambassador to Turkey, Francis J Ricciardone, at a political rally in the Black Sea province of Samsun.

Erdogan stated, "These recent days, very strangely, ambassadors get involved in some provocative acts. I am calling on them from here, do your job, if you leave your area of duty, this could extend into our government's area of jurisdiction. We do not have to keep you in our country."

This most recent accusation received a swift and immediate rebuttal from the US Embassy in Turkey. A public statement released from the embassy in Ankara stated, "Allegations targeting US Embassy employees published in some media organs do not reflect the truth ... to repeat once again: No one should endanger Turkey-US relations through such intentional slander."

In a move towards possible reconciliation, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement affirming, "We find the US ambassador's statement sufficient. There is no plan to summon him to the ministry on the issue." Subsequently, diplomats on both sides have reached out in an attempt to try and quell frustration and anger between the embassy and Erdogan.

The next few days and weeks will be crucial for Turkey and the United States moving forward with their diplomatic relations. The prime minister of Turkey is facing the greatest quandary of his career in public office. He will be under extreme pressure to govern and project stability in the face of his recent reorganization of new cabinet members and the uncertainty of possible additional corruption probes.

As history has shown us, the more endangered Erdogan feels, the more likely he is to point fingers. However, as the recent events with the United States has unfolded, Washington doesn't look to be playing this game any longer.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Jayson Browder is a multi-award winning Air Force and Iraq Veteran who graduated from Fordham University. Awarded the William J Fulbright Scholarship for 2013 to Turkey. Jayson is currently serving the US State Department in Eastern Turkey as an English Instructor at Bayburt University for academic faculty.

(Copyright 2014 Jayson Browder)




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