Biden still hasn't called Turkey's president and that might be a good thing

President Biden has been spending quite a bit of time on the phone during his first months in office. He’s taken congratulatory calls from a number of our allies, as well as making time to talk to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. But one person still hasn’t made it onto Biden’s speed dial settings. That would be the Tyrant of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While I would normally be willing to write off such an oversight to the general category of “Joe forgot,” it’s hard to escape the sense that this was deliberate. Ankara has taken note of the silence coming from Washington and has been pressing for a bit of diplomatic love. Jen Psaki was asked about it this week and had little to say beyond reassuring reporters that Biden would be calling Erdogan “at some point,” while noting that there are many world leaders that Joe Biden still hasn’t found time to talk with. (Associated Press)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down his anti-Western and anti-US rhetoric in an apparent effort to reset the rocky relationship with his NATO allies, but so far he’s been met by silence from U.S. President Joe Biden.

Nearly two months into his presidency, Biden still hasn’t called Erdogan, which some in Turkey see as a worrying sign. By contrast, former President Donald Trump and Erdogan spoke just days after the 2016 election.

Ties between Ankara and Washington — which once considered each other as strategic partners — have steadily deteriorated in recent years over differences on Syria, Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and more recently on Turkish naval interventions in the eastern Mediterranean, which U.S. officials have described as destabilizing.

I’m going to give Biden the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this was an intentional decision. That might be in keeping with previous comments he’s made, such as referring to Erdogan as “an autocrat” during a previous interview with the New York Times. In that same interview, he said that he supported the efforts of the opposition party to oust Erdogan from power. This angered the Turkish ruler and recent reports indicate that Erodan is “not too thrilled” with the current state of relations.

Assuming that’s the case, then I will offer a tip of my hat to Joe Biden. Turkey is bracing for a major change in diplomatic relations right now (as they should be) after four years of fairly cozy ties with Donald Trump. Frankly, Trump was far too cozy with the Tyrant of Turkey as far as I’m concerned. Erdogan has been thumbing his nose at the United States and our NATO allies for years now and getting away with it because of Turkey’s critical location in the geopolitical landscape.

At the same time, Erdogan has become awfully friendly with Russia and Iran, as well as China. It’s been clear for a while now that Turkey is no longer a reliable ally and has been warming up to our global adversaries. More recently, however, trouble has cropped up in Turkey’s relationship with Russia, caused by disputes involving the Armenians. That situation briefly turned into what basically looked like a proxy war between Russia and Turkey. Perhaps the souring of that relationship is what’s spurring Erdogan to want to refresh his nation’s ties to the United States.

If Joe Biden plays his cards correctly, this could work in our favor. He could indicate that a restoration of our previous solid relationship is on the table, but only if Erodan is willing to make some concessions. Biden should be in a position to call for Erdogan to begin releasing all political prisoners (hostages, actually) immediately, starting with any remaining American citizens and those from all NATO countries. The President could further call on Turkey to stand down from their constant attacks on the Kurds in Syria. And finally, he should make the cancellation of Turkey’s deal to purchase Russian missile systems and jets a prerequisite to normalized relations.

Erdogan’s ego is probably too large to quickly acquiesce to that entire list of demands, but if Biden can manage to get Turkey to show progress on those issues, it would be a diplomatic coup. And I would happily salute Joe Biden if he manages the feat.