What is Turkey’s end game?

NATO leaders will convene in a historic meeting in Madrid next week amid three lingering questions: Will Finland and Sweden get official invitations from the Transatlantic alliance? Will US President Joe Biden and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meet on the sidelines of the summit? And what is Ankara’s end game?

The international community has set its sights on whether Turkey will give a nod to officially invite Finland and Sweden to the alliance for the launch of formal accession talks — a prerequisite for the start of the seven-step official accession process to the North Atlantic alliance. The start of accession talks would not necessarily mean Ankara’s giving up on a series of demands it has aired in return for support of the Nordic nations’ memberships, with diplomats stressing that Turkey’s concerns could still be addressed during the internal deliberations that will take place once the invitations are issued.

As intense diplomacy led by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with Ankara, Stockholm and Helsinki, as well as Western capitals’ lobbying with Turkey, continues, Amberin Zaman has the scoop on Ankara’s objections bearing some fruit. The alliance is considering devoting one of its sessions during the forthcoming Madrid summit to Turkey’s security concerns. The session will focus on “’challenges’ to NATO’s southern flank — meaning Turkey — and the fight against terrorism,” Zaman reported.

The session will allow Turkey to voice its longstanding complaints about “what it says is a lack of NATO solidarity over the threats it faces, including from a US-backed armed Kurdish group in Syria that Ankara says is closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is waging an armed campaign for Kurdish autonomy inside Turkey and is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union,” Zaman wrote.

Yet the move has failed to reverse Ankara’s uncompromised position at least on the public level, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying his country’s stance on the Nordic nations’ membership bids remains “rock solid.”

“We have no concessions to make when it comes to the security of our nation. Our position on Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership bids is rock solid,” he said today.

Ibrahim Kalin, presidential spokesperson and a senior presidential aide, also reiterated that “no progress could be made before concrete steps were taken” in a phone call with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan yesterday.

Another key question that remains unclear is what Ankara’s endgame is in its “maximalist” demands. These demands include that both Nordic countries revoke their restrictions on military sales to Turkey and halt their support for the Syrian Kurdish groups that Ankara equates with the PKK. Syrian Kurdish groups remain the major allies of the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State.

Sources speaking to Amberin Zaman earlier this week said Ankara’s requests also include “activities of the so-called Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, which Turkey accuses of seeking to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016, to be proscribed.”

In addition to its demands from Stockholm and Helsinki, Ankara is likely seeking to secure some concessions from its NATO allies along the process. These possibly include the relinquishing of the arms embargoes slapped on the country by the United States and some other Western capitals. Since a diplomatic negotiation is a process of compromise, the essential question is what Ankara is ready to settle for.

For the NATO summit to be held June 29-30, the “optimum scenario” is that Erdogan “will give a positive signal that the accession talks can be launched and that an accession protocol can then be signed at a later date,” Zaman wrote.

Another lingering question is whether the Madrid summit would witness a face-to-face meeting between Erdogan and Biden. As Cengiz Candar reported, Erdogan “will likely be seeking a meeting with President Joe Biden, who has given him the cold shoulder until now. Amid rumors of possible early elections, Erdogan needs an image of a strong and successful international statesman for his domestic audience.”

Ankara’s efforts to drag the Biden administration into the negotiations over Finland’s and Sweden’s memberships in a bid to utilize the fray to mend deteriorated ties with Washington seem to have failed so far. “​​Washington has thus far refused to step into the fray, saying it’s up to Sweden and Finland to resolve their differences with Ankara. However, should Erdogan persist in his obduracy, the Biden administration will likely ditch efforts to secure congressional approval for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey,” Zaman wrote.

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