Tensions now between the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and the administration of United States President Donald Trump in Washington are escalating, and both nations have taken measures to impose travel restrictions on each other’s respective citizens. It is a situation that has gradually worsened in recent months, and the diplomatic counter-measures are just the latest manoeuvres in a situation that has strained cordial relations that normally exist between Turkey and the US.
On Sunday, Washington said that it was suspending the processing of non-immigrant visas for Turkish citizens and cryptically referred to “recent events” for its decision. In response, Ankara shut down visa processing for US citizens both online and at its diplomatic missions in America. Effectively, Turkey has shut its borders to US passport holders, who can now only obtain visas for Turkey at Ankara’s embassies and consulates in third-party nations.
The deterioration in relations has escalated since the advent of the Trump administration to the White House, and it has been critical of the measures that Erdogan’s government has taken against those who organised an attempted coup against his leadership in July 2016. Previously, however, there had been a difference of opinion over the long and bitter war raged in Syria against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, and about the role and importance of the Kurdish forces who were fighting in Iraq against Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and other terrorist forces. Ever since the attempted coup, Ergodan has pointed the finger at the movement led by Pennsylvania-based Turkish exile, Fethullah Gulen. Ankara has for long sought his extradition to answer charges of sedition and undermining the government of Turkey.
Under former US president Barack Obama, relations declined, with Turkey pushing the then US commander-in-chief to deploy US boots on the ground in Syria — a step too far for an administration weary of involvement in another Middle East conflict that lacked an obvious endgame and an outlook for a more durable success. It did, however, provide arms to the Kurds, a move that angered Ankara.
What is worrying now, however, is that both Turkey and the US are members of Nato. As such, it is essential that both continue to work together to ensure stability in a region where strained relations can lead to cracks in a united front. Right now, given the mixed messages, it is difficult to formulate cohesive policies. Historically, however, both Washington and Ankara have been warm friends — and that’s best remembered for now.