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Erdogan warns Trump that US-Turkey alliance is at risk

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20, 2016. (Dennis van Tine/Abaca Press/TNS)

The president of Turkey has warned the United States that the nation’s decades-long alliance at risk after rising political tensions between the two nations erupted and helped stoke a financial crisis.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, writing in The New York Times, cited Turkey’s cooperation with the U.S. dating back to the Korean War as evidence of a long-standing partnership between the NATO allies. But, he wrote, more recent disputes over a failed 2016 coup, the conflict in Syria and sanctions imposed against top Turkish officials and the country’s steel industry were straining that alliance to its breaking point.

“Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives,” Erdogan wrote. “Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.”

Turkey’s economy was already taking a beating –– with the lira plunging as Erdogan urged his citizens in a nationally-televised speech to sell their gold and dollar holdings to help prop up the currency –– when President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced on Twitter that he was doubling tariffs on steel and aluminum from Turkey.

“Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” Trump said in a move that accelerated a market rout in Turkey that spread across emerging markets. The lira plunged as much as 17 percent on Friday alone, bringing its loss for the year to 42 percent. Beyond investor fears about measures the U.S. could take, the sell-off represented a vote of no confidence in a new system of government that this year handed Erdogan unrivaled authority, essentially paralyzing the bureaucracy in Ankara.

While Trump’s announcement added fuel to the crisis, many investors say the $900 billion economy was already headed toward a cliff.

Even before the latest tensions, Erdogan had been courting Russia, signing an agreement to buy a missile defense system.

That raised alarms in Western capitals and the U.S. Congress that Turkey was becoming a less reliable partner in NATO despite hosting the U.S. and other allies at its Incirlik air base for the fight against Islamic State.

Erdogan has also expanded his outreach to Iran and China.

In his New York Times article, Erdogan cited a series of well-known grievances he said were poisoning relations with the U.S. He said the U.S. has dragged its feet on Turkey’s request to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric and former ally living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan blames for the 2016 coup. The U.S. Justice Department has said it’s reviewing documents Turkey has provided as evidence that Gulen should be deported, but no legal action has been taken.

Erdogan also cited U.S. support for Kurdish militias in the Syrian war. Ankara views those groups as linked to Turkish Kurds it says are terrorists. The U.S. says they aren’t linked.

Erdogan was angered by Washington’s decision this week to sanction two top officials it says have been involved in detaining an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, since 2016. The U.S. says Turkey has no evidence to keep detaining Brunson, an evangelical whose case has been championed by Vice President Mike Pence.

The Trump administration has said it believes Erdogan reneged on an agreement to free Brunson, who is next due to appear in a Turkish court on Oct. 12. A call earlier this year between Trump and Erdogan broke down over the issue of detainees.


© 2018 Bloomberg News

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