Why is US Congress turning up the heat on Turkey?

Turkey-US relations have not got off to a good start, but it is essential the two countries keep lines of communication open.

After a five-day trial in the US Senate deliberating on the impeachment of President Trump, an acquittal has been issued. This week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives are out of session for one week.

Next week, Congress will be back. On the agenda are negotiations for the approval of Biden’s cabinet nominees, passing the proposed Covid-19 economic relief package, and negotiations regarding issues on President Biden’s agenda.

The Biden administration has so far made a total of seven statements on Turkey in its first 25 days, with the statements always starting with “Turkey is an important ally for us, however…” and followed by a focus on human rights, S-400s, the July 15th coup attempt, and continuing support for YPG/PKK.

In particular, the spokespeople of State and Defense Departments are especially active on topics regarding Turkey.

As it can be recalled, during the election period, we discussed whether it would better for Trump to be re-elected or Biden to be elected in regards to bilateral relations. There is a consistency between the Trump administration and Biden administration in the following five areas: Turkey must give up the S-400s; YPG/PKK support will continue; the July 15 coup has been condemned, do not expect more; human rights, democracy, law, etc; and Turkey is a valuable NATO ally.

We will hear more from the Biden Administration on law and human rights in this period. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu about the longstanding importance of US-Turkish bilateral ties — the first diplomatic dialogue was a much welcomed development.

When we look at Congress through the lens of Turkish-American relations, it is hard to be optimistic. Congress, during Trump’s impeachment proceedings, wrote a harsh letter drafted by 54 senators against Turkey.

On February 12, the Turkey-US Interparliamentary Friendship Group Chairman Mehdi Eker, in a joint statement signed by members of parliament from the AK Party, CHP, MHP, and Iyi Parti, responded to the Senate regarding their criticism of Turkey’s human rights issues, the presentation of Enes Kanter, a FETO member, as an example, and Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan. This written statement is important, but it will certainly be more meaningful to initiate an urgent, inter-party visit to DC.

Last week, I heard that a second letter against Turkey is now open for signatories at the House of Representatives, making it two letters in just one week. Such statements against Turkey, especially on law and human rights issues, have come out of the capital in the past. But why is the situation in Congress getting worse ?

For one there is a common, bipartisan stance on most issues concerning Turkey which is evidence in the large number of signatories on these letters. Also, the Biden administration’s message indicates that they will not take steps without the support of Congress.

Anti-Turkish lobbying efforts have also played a decisive role in gathering support to oppose Turkey, and a lack of Turkish lobbying means that the narratives being spun in Congress are one-sided.

A more united Turkish diaspora in the US would help to consolidate Turkish effort to convince Congress of Turkey’s positions, but a fragmented diaspora has meant there is little support in that regard.

I would recommend that Turkey undertake non-partisan justice reforms as soon as possible. A reform to the legal system should be implemented for the sake of the Turkish public and will help improve Turkey’s image in the West.

There are 86 Turkish Caucus members in the Congress, and even some of them are unhappy with current developments in Turkey.

Both countries have their problems. The US took a blow recently, in terms of democracy, with the storming of Capitol Hill on January 6. What is important is the undisputed implementation of the principle that “sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the people.”

There is a place for positive criticism regarding Turkish–US relations, but this should not strengthen Turkey’s enemies’ hands. Therefore, as we always say: trust and dialogue. Bilateral relations are rapidly going downhill and we need to rebuild ties between US Congress and the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

Foreign Policy Expert on U.S.-Turkey Relations, ME, Security, NATO, Transatlantic / Journalist / 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipient www.alicinar.com

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