Turkey and the United States have shared good relations since the 19th century, but more recently, ties between both nations have significantly strengthened as they transform into critical allies in the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State.
The relationship between Turkey and the USA dates back to 1831, when the United States established diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire dissolved, and in its place arose the modern Turkish Republic, with which the United States re-established relations in 1927.
Mutual ties between the two nations were formalised with the Economic and Technical Cooperation agreement, signed in July 1947, implementing the Truman Doctrine and its policy “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures”.
Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1952, and continues to be an important security partner for the United States. As Turkey borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, it is also a key partner for U.S. policy in the region.
The relationship between the two countries is based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and is focused on areas such as regional security and stability, as well as economic cooperation. The United States stands in solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism – making their cooperation in counterterrorism another key element of their strategic partnership.
United against ISIS
On 21 January 2016, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Turkey for a two-day visit in order to intensify dialogue between the two allies on how to best continue their joint fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). While in Turkey, Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about the need to further boost efforts to destroy ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
Biden spoke of a “shared mission for the extermination” of ISIS and said that the plans between the U.S. and Turkey to fight the jihadist group have gotten more contoured and more coordinated, adding that both nations were prepared for a military solution in Syria against the Islamic State.
Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, the commander of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command and the Combined Force Air Component, is scheduled to visit both Ankara and the southeastern city of Diyarbakır in early February 2016 to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Air Forces Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal.
Brown’s visit to Diyarbakir, home of one of the largest Turkish airbases in the region, will provide both countries with the opportunity to discuss the efficient use of the base in the future – which is not yet actively used in the anti-ISIS aerial campaign, but has been kept prepared for search and rescue and other secondary operations.
Sources indicate that more representatives will visit in due course for further coordination of the fight against ISIS, particularly in regards to the joint operation to clear the Marea-Jarabulus in northern Syria, where a line of ISIS terrorists have intensified their attacks.
Turkey and the U.S. have also been speaking more solidly about how to seal the 100-kilometre strip of the Turkish-Syrian border in order to stop ISIS from using the border section as a supply line for support. In line with the discussions, the U.S. will provide technical and infrastructural assistance to Turkey in order to better monitor and protect its border.
In addition to this, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is expected to arrive in Turkey during late February for a three-day visit, to discuss how this assistance could be provided and implanted on the border.
The United States has gone further in showing the strength and support in its alliance with Turkey by addressing accusations made by Greece and Israel of Turkey’s involvement in ISIS oil smuggling.
In late January 2016, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused Turkey of sponsoring terrorism by buying oil from ISIS, while Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said that Turkey was a major conduit for terrorist oil and money flows to and from Syria – hampering international efforts to effectively fight the Islamic State threat.
In response to this during a press briefing, the U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Mark Toner, said “We disagree with that assessment” and that “We have not seen any inclinations of that”. Toner explained that Washington believes that such involvement would not make economic sense, while the U.S. Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook, added that there was no evidence to the allegations that “high-level Turkish government” was involved in ISIS oil smuggling.
In other separate comments made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, it was said that Washington also recognises that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – a banned organization in Turkey that has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state since 1984 for the cultural and political rights and self-determination for the regions Kurds – is as much of a threat to Ankara as ISIS, stating, “It is a terror group plain and simple and what they continue to do is absolutely outrageous”.