US President Joe Biden plans to tell Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a Sunday morning meeting at the Group of 20 summit that the two nations need to find ways to avoid crises in their alliance, which has been tested recently by Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system and its threat to no longer recognize the US envoy.
The two leaders also plan to discuss regional issues involving Syria and Libya, a US senior administration official said Saturday. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss the upcoming conversation between Biden and Erdogan.
Turkey’s role as a NATO ally has come under sharp scrutiny in recent weeks. Erdogan said at an October 23 rally that 10 foreign ambassadors who called for the release of a jailed philanthropist should be declared persona non grata. The envoys, including the US, French and German representatives, had previously issued a statement seeking to resolve the case of Osman Kavala, a businessman and philanthropist held in prison since 2017 without having been convicted of a crime.
Erdogan did not follow through on the threat. But it reflected the rising tensions with the United States.
“I cannot honestly say that there is a healthy process in Turkish-American relations,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as saying in September.
The two leaders didn’t meet for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. Since Biden became president, they have met only in June at a NATO summit where they discussed the possibility of Turkey securing and operating the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. But those plans evaporated as the Taliban swiftly took control of Afghanistan amid the departure of the US military.
The Turkish president has indicated openness to buying a second Russian missile defense system, despite the controversy generated by his 2017 deal to acquire the Russian-made S-400 system.
In a September interview with CBS News, Erdogan said that Turkey hadn’t been given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles. He also said the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.
The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
Erdogan said last week that he expects to discuss compensation with Biden for Ankara’s removal from the program.
There are additional sources of strain for the two countries, including Turkey’s human rights record; US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers terrorists; and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.