“Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers that our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy”, Turkish President Recep Erdogan wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times. The friendship between Turkey and the United States, while not always easy, is now at its lowest ebb. Ankara and Washington are engaged in a fierce diplomatic spat over the former’s detention of an American pastor named Andrew Brunson. Donald Trump has responded with punitive sanctions that caused a steep decline in the Turkish Lira. However, the strains in their relations predate the present controversy. At the heart of the problem lies a diverging set of priorities and interests. Policy differences between the two countries are most evident in Syria. The United States has committed its support to the Kurdish group, YPG- providing it with arms and ammunition. Washington sees a potent ally in the group purportedly in the fight against ISIS. However, Turkey views the YPG as an offshoot of Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) — a designated terrorist group based in Turkey and Iraq. “Washington used 5,000 trucks and 2,000 cargo planes to deliver weapons to the PYD/YPG in recent years”, noted Erdogan. Ankara shudders at the very prospect of a strong and independent Kurdish territory for three reasons: firstly, they could be used as a launchpad for attacks inside Turkey. Secondly, the stronghold could provide an impetus to Kurdish separatism, and thirdly it cuts off Ankara’s land-based access to the Arab world. In fact, the Turkish military has carried out a cross-border campaign against the Kurds, much to the annoyance of the US. To the chagrin of Washington, Turkey is also warming up to Russia. Ankara is not only working with Moscow for a favourable resolution of the conflict in Syria but also expanding bilateral defence and economic relations. One of the hallmarks of Trump’s foreign policy has been to promote American arms exports. However, Turkey and Russia have recently concluded an agreement whereby Russia will supply Turkey with S-400 missiles, indicating Erdogan’s preference for Russian defence equipment over American Patriots. Moreover, Turkey is also planning to transport Russian gas to Europe through the Turk-Stream pipeline project. These are manifestations of a strong relationship building up between Moscow and Ankara. Erdogan and Trump have differed on Iran as well. While Donald Trump is intensifying hostility towards Iran through renewed sanctions, Turkey is exploring possibilities to evade them to sustain its bilateral relationship with Tehran. The two countries enjoy strong economic ties and also share a common interest in subduing Kurdish independence movements. Besides, Iran is an ally of Russia while Turkey seeks closer ties with Moscow. To the chagrin of Washington, Turkey is also warming up to Russia. Ankara is not only working with Moscow for a favorable resolution of the conflict in Syria but also expanding bilateral defense and economic relations Israel is another bone of contention between Ankara and Washington. As Israel’s brutality and human rights violations in Palestine intensified, so did the tone and tenor of Erdogan’s rhetoric against Israel. In order to claim a leadership role for Turkey in the Islamic world, Erdogan has increasingly criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its refusal to reach a peaceful settlement. Moreover, Turkey is also perturbed by Israel’s support for Kurdish independence in Iraq. Donald Trump, however, is adamantly firm in his support of Israel’s policies in the Middle East. The failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, also dented Turkey’s relationship with the US. American response to the coup can at best be regarded as ambivalent and tight-lipped, thereby, lending credence to the view that the US wants to see Erdogan out. Turkish officials suspect American involvement in the coup. “The United States reaction was far from satisfactory”, said Erdogan. Pastor Brunson himself is charged with abetting the group that carried out the coup attempt. Washington’s refusal to extradite Fate Ullah Gulen, while demanding the release of their pastor, has made matters worse. Turkey’s breakout from American ‘friendship’ to join the rival camp of Russia and Iran would be a major setback for the United States. The country has immense significance as a launchpad for NATO operations in Middle East and Black Sea. The Incirlik air base, established at a distance of only 110 km from the Syrian border, is not only used for NATO’s air operations in Syria but is also thought to contain America’s nuclear warheads. Moreover, Turkey has the second largest standing army in NATO and the most potent military force in the region. The United States needs Turkey as a viable buffer to guard its interests in the Middle East against Russia. The Europeans also need a friendly and stable Turkey to prevent regional instability from reaching their doorsteps. The United States is doing all it can to force changes in Turkey’s foreign policy in order to bring it in line with Washington’s strategic interests. Sanctions and tariffs have already caused a steep decline of the Turkish Lira. Some economists have also forecast a recession in the country. Moreover, Turkey’s NATO membership is being questioned. It can safely be assumed that Ankara’s capacity to sustain American pressure and its ability to follow an independent foreign policy will determine the future course of events. The writer is an independent researcher in public policy and international relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, September 6th 2018.