Even after the Ukraine deal, Erdogan stays a headache for Biden

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WASHINGTON — Recep Tayyip Erdogan performed the function of benevolent statesman when Russia and Ukraine agreed on Friday to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

Mr. Erdogan stated the deal, which Turkey helped dealer, would profit “the entire of humanity” as he sat in an Ottoman palace in Istanbul.

The Biden administration welcomed the settlement, which might ease a world meals disaster exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and blockade of its ports. Fewer than a day after the pact was signed, Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian port metropolis of Odesa. Nonetheless, a White Home spokesman praised Mr. Erdogan’s efforts.

In non-public, nonetheless, Biden administration officers have remained irritated by Mr. Erdogan.

The Turkish autocrat warned days earlier than presiding over the grain settlement that he would possibly veto NATO’s plans to simply accept Sweden and Finland as members within the coming months, a transfer that will embarrass the alliance and the Biden administration. Congress expressed misgivings this month about Mr. Biden’s pledge to promote dozens of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey at a NATO summit final month.

Erdogan traveled to Tehran on Tuesday to fulfill with Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. Analysts stated the photographs of two prime American rivals with Mr. Erdogan, the chief of a NATO nation, clashed with the Western narrative of deeply remoted Iran and Russia.

Afterward, a White Home spokesman reiterated U.S. considerations about Mr. Erdogan’s threats to invade northern Syria and goal U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters they think about terrorists. As a navy ally typically at odds along with his Western allies, Mr. Erdogan’s actions – and Mr. Biden’s lack of ability to restrain them – underscore the Turkish chief’s distinctive place as a navy ally. Typically, it’s a irritating function for U.S. officers.

“Erdogan is the Joe Manchin of NATO,” stated Elizabeth Shackelford, a former International Service officer, referring to the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia who has stymied Mr. Biden’s home agenda. “He’s on our staff, however then he does issues that aren’t good for our staff. And I don’t see that altering.”

However Biden administration officers say that writing off Mr. Erdogan solely could be self-defeating. His nation’s place on the crossroads of East and West is strategically important. It permits him to be an interlocutor with much more troublesome neighbors — as evidenced by the grain deal, which created a demilitarized hall by the Black Sea for Ukraine’s agricultural exports.

A senior U.S. official stated that a lot of Mr. Erdogan’s problematic habits was on account of his political weak point in Turkey, the place the inflation charge climbed to almost 80 percent final month. Hoping to shift consideration from his mismanaged economic system, Mr. Erdogan has turned to chest-thumping shows of nationalism and demagogy over the menace from the P.Ok.Ok., a Kurdish separatist motion in Turkey, and Kurdish teams in Syria.

Main NATO initiatives, just like the proposed enlargement of the 30-member alliance to incorporate Sweden and Finland, require unanimous consent. Mr. Biden stated in Might that he hoped the 2 international locations might “rapidly” take part what could be a serious strategic blow to Mr. Putin.

However Mr. Erdogan raised objections, complaining that potential new members have lent political and monetary help to the P.Ok.Ok., which the USA has designated as a terrorist group due to its historical past of violent assaults. U.S. and NATO officers apprehensive that the deliberate enlargement might collapse in a serious propaganda win for Mr. Putin, who has lengthy labored to divide the alliance.

NATO leaders heaved sighs of reduction at their summit final month when Mr. Erdogan reached an settlement with the leaders of Sweden and Finland. They pledged to behave in opposition to terrorist organizations and be part of extradition agreements with Turkey, which needs to prosecute P.Ok.Ok. members residing in these international locations.

Mr. Biden appeared extremely grateful for the breakthrough. “I wish to significantly thanks for what you probably did placing collectively the scenario regarding Finland and Sweden,” he instructed Mr. Erdogan within the presence of reporters.

The two-page agreement stated in generalized language that Sweden and Finland would handle Turkey’s “pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and completely.” However Turkish officers have stated they anticipate the extradition of greater than 70 people. It was unclear whether or not Sweden and Finland would agree or how Mr. Erdogan would possibly react if they didn’t.

On Monday, Mr. Erdogan warned that he might nonetheless “freeze” NATO’s expansion if his calls for weren’t met.

Mr. Biden additionally instructed Mr. Erdogan in Spain that he supported the sale of 40 American F-16 fighter jets that Turkey requested final fall, together with expertise upgrades for dozens of fighters it already owns. Turkey needs these planes partly as a result of the Trump administration canceled plans to promote the nation superior F-35 fighter jets in 2019 after Mr. Erdogan, in considered one of his extra confounding current strikes, bought Russia’s S-400 antiaircraft missile system in defiance of U.S. warnings.

Mr. Biden denied that he provided the planes to purchase Mr. Erdogan’s help for NATO’s enlargement. “And there was no quid professional quo with that; it was simply that we should always promote,” he stated. “However I would like congressional approval to do this, and I feel we will get that.”

Congress’s approval will not be a given. And it was unclear whether or not Mr. Erdogan would possibly block NATO’s proposed enlargement till he reached a deal on the F-16 jets.

This month, the Home accepted an modification to an annual navy coverage invoice requiring Mr. Biden to certify that any sale of the fighter jets is in America’s important nationwide pursuits and that Turkey is not going to use the jets to violate the airspace of Greece, its Aegean Sea neighbor, and fellow NATO ally, with whom Ankara is engaged in a bitter territorial dispute.

Consultant Chris Pappas, Democrat of New Hampshire and the modification’s sponsor, additionally cited Mr. Erdogan’s buy of the Russian missile system and equivocal place towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Erdogan has referred to as the assault “unacceptable” however has not joined sanctions imposed by the USA and its allies on Russia.

“Sufficient is sufficient,” Mr. Pappas stated. “Turkey has performed each side of the fence in Ukraine. They haven’t been the dependable ally we should always be capable of depend on.”

“I feel the Biden administration must take a stronger stance,” he added.

As soon as the White Home formally requests that Congress approve the sale of the planes, Mr. Biden will want the help of different influential members who’ve been extremely important of Mr. Erdogan, together with the Democratic chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Mr. Menendez has beforehand questioned whether or not Turkey belongs in NATO in any respect. And at a listening to final month on the proposed NATO enlargement, he stated that “with a time of the essence, the Eleventh-hour considerations by Turkey standing in the way in which of this course of solely serve Putin’s pursuits.”

Mr. Menendez additionally issued a statement final month along with his Republican counterpart on the International Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, sternly warning Mr. Erdogan in opposition to his threatened invasion of northern Syria. They had been joined by the Democratic chairman of the Home International Affairs Committee, Consultant Gregory W. Meeks of New York, and his Republican counterpart, Consultant Michael McCaul of Texas.

Within the assertion, the lawmakers stated the potential invasion would have “disastrous outcomes,” threatening native operations in opposition to the remnants of the Islamic State and exacerbating Syria’s humanitarian disaster.

A Pentagon official just lately added to the American warnings.

“We strongly oppose any Turkish operation into northern Syria and have made clear our objections to Turkey,” Dana Stroul, a deputy assistant secretary of protection, stated this month on the Washington Institute for Close to East Coverage. “ISIS goes to make the most of that marketing campaign.”

A few of Mr. Erdogan’s harshest critics warn of an infinite cycle during which the Turkish chief wins concessions from the USA and different NATO allies, akin to new fighter jets and a harder line in opposition to Kurdish militia fighters solely to escalate his calls for sooner or later.

“This dance across the F-16 — it’s jet fighter diplomacy, and that may be a masks of what’s really at play right here,” stated Mark Wallace, founding father of the Turkish Democracy Mission, a bunch extremely important of Mr. Erdogan and his flip to authoritarianism. “A great ally — a lot much less a great NATO ally — doesn’t use blackmail to get what it needs at key moments within the alliance’s historical past.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Aspen, Colo.

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