What does a Biden presidency mean for Turkey?

Biden's relationship with Turkey

The whole world has been watched in a week like no other, as Joseph Biden Jr has taken the top spot following a presidential race where he ousted Donald Trump.

Trump's relationship with Turkey was, on the whole, fairly positive. A Biden presidency might look quite different, with significant ramifications for Turkey, observers say.

Turkey under Trump

Under Trump, the US withdrew from a number of important international treaties, which the US president said undermined American interests. However, despite this, Trump's relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained positive, with the US and Turkey co-operating in military operations in Syria.

Under Trump, the US Congress passed legislation that would sanction Turkey for its controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, although Trump had so far resisted this, despite opposition from Congress. Some believe this is due to Trump's own interests in Turkey - something the President seemingly confirmed.

“I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul," he told a journalist.

Erdogan and Trump 

Turkey under Biden

One of Biden's first moves will undoubtedly be to restore Washington's commitment to the alliances damaged under Trump. First on the list will be NATO, whose cohesion was shaken by Trump's questioning of the 70-year-old organisation's relevance.

To mend the alliance, Biden will have to work with Turkey.

“I expect Biden will reach out to Erdogan because the priority is going to be to resuscitate NATO and you know you can’t do that without Turkey,” said Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Some observers are concerned that Biden will interfere in Turkish politics, following his remark to the New York Times about working with Erdogan's opposition oust the Turkish president, who he called an "autocrat".

However, while the new president is expected to take a tougher stance on Turkey, some of his priorities could bring him into alignment with Ankara, analysts say. And with Turkey's lira in the doldrums, it's likely that Ankara will want to play ball with the US - at least, while sanctions are still on the cards.

No corruption, but some influence

Former Pentagon official Michael Rubin said a Biden administration would not have the “overt corruption” experienced during Trump’s term as president. 

However, Rubin does think Erdogan might be able to exert some influence over Biden. “A Biden administration will be more mindful of Congress unless Erdogan is able to get Biden alone in a room or on the phone to solicit commitments in the way that he did with Obama and Trump,” he said.

“Biden wouldn't have the power to extradite someone like Gulen or interfere in the Halkbank case and, unlike Trump, he's smart enough to know that,” Rubin explained. “But Biden could just as easily be convinced in a one-on-one setting to waive or water down sanctions.”


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