Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may receive a warm welcome from Donald Trump when he arrives in Washington on Wednesday, but his reception elsewhere is likely to be extremely frosty.
US-Turkey relations are perhaps at their lowest in the last 40 years and reached a new crisis point following Ankaras decision to invade the Kurdish areas of Syria last month. Just this week, a new crisis erupted after Turkey tried to deport an American citizen believed to be a member of the Islamic State to Greece, leaving him in a legal and physically no-man's-land between the two countries.
It is also widely feared that the journey could once again be characterized by violence. Erdoğan's previous state visit in 2017 fell famously after phone calls captured the president and watched quietly as members of his security detail attacked unarmed protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence and put 11 people in hospital.
Despite recent US moves against Turkey – including criminal charges against one of Turkey's largest banks for its part in a system to avoid sanctions against Iran, and the congressional vote for a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide – the report between the two countries leaders have passed.
the strength of Erdoğan and Trump's personal relationship are considered by many to be the only reason that relations have not yet completely collapsed. Instinctively, Trump is closer to Erdoğan in Syria than to much of his administration. The Turkish president will try to convince Trump to go with his gut and ignore the advice of his own officials.
Ankara has described this week's meetings as "critical" to shaping future ties with the United States, and Turkish decision makers seem willing to bet that Trump was the only decision maker in Washington that really matters.
An official at the White House said Trump was determined to take the long view of Turkish relations and will look for areas with commanders.
"The Alliance has seen both our countries through very dark times. We will not throw it away easily if there is a way forward, "said a senior administrative official .
Here's what's at stake:
the administration's main goal this week is to get Turkey to join a permanent arms deal in Syria.The offensive on October 9 triggered the bipartisan uprising in the US over the attack on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US ground partner for five years long struggle to defeat Isis.
Erdoğan is trying to convince Trump to finally break US ties with SDF and leave northeastern Syria to Turkey and Russia, believing he had won the argument in the infamous October 6 phone call when the US president seemed to provide green light for the Turkish invasion, and since then the Pentagon and the Department of Foreign Affairs have pushed back and convinced Trump to leave a remaining force in eastern Syria, with the obvious mission of "securing the oil" but which is also intended to maintain the SDF partnership.
"There is no intention for our cooperation to cease, a senior administrative official said before the meeting.
The Turkish president will try to push a wedge between the president and his own officials on Syria. He has done so before but it has revealed that Trump has little support in his own party for his position, and Congress passed a sanction package last month to punish Turkey for its Syria operation, while key members of the Senate, including Trump ally Lindsey Graham, have pledged to promote it if Ankara goes ahead
Human rights violations committed by Turkish-backed militia in northeastern Syria are a major issue for the administration, and they will approach congressional sanctions, anger evangelical Christians and push a wedge between The United States and its Kurdish allies.
Senior administration officials have said that t the issue will be addressed with Erdogan. Ankara has accused the Syrian militias of the abuses, but a senior US official said ahead of the presidential visit: "What we are talking about is our interlocutor on these things Turkey because Turkey has supported these people, and Turkey took the initiative to cross the border. "
Russia, jet aircraft and missile defense systems
This summer, Ankara propelled forward with the first deliveries of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, an unprecedented move by a NATO ally.
Turkey says it was forced to buy sophisticated Russian equipment in 2017 after the United States refused to provide the alternative defense system for patriot missiles.
The United States then kicked Turkish pilots from the F-35 fighter aircraft worried that if Turkey integrates the S-400 into its defenses, sensitive data on the F-35, a new generation multiplayer stealth fighter, could reach Moscow.
"This is one of the very tough problems that the president will try to address," a senior US administration official said on Tuesday.
Despite the threat of sanctions, which could significantly weaken Turkey's already fragile economy, Ankara – which is forging closer ties with Russia – has so far refused to bow to the Washington press, calling it a matter of national sovereignty.
No sanctions have materialized yet, but last week at White House National Security Advisor Robert O. Brien reiterated that the threat was real. "If Turkey doesn't get rid of the S-400, I mean, there will probably be sanctions. … Turkey will feel the impact of these sanctions, "he told CBS News.
The Halkbank scandal
Halkbank, one of Turkey's largest state banks, was finally accused last month of violating US sanctions against Iran over the transfer of approximately $ 20 billion in gold and financing through a complex web of shell companies and shame transactions involving high-ranking Turkish officials, was discovered in 2013.
The indictment met with deep anger over Turkey and helped strain relations between NATO allies Erdoğan labeled the charges "an illegal, ugly step" to punish Turkey during its recent operation in Syria.
Fetullah G ü len and Turkish prisoners
Turkey has long been frustrated of US refusal to extradite cleric Fetullah Gülen, who Ankara claims is responsible for a failed coup attempt 2016 against Erd but they have not produced enough evidence to convince US courts.
While Washington has largely remained silent on increasingly authoritarian measures undertaken in Turkey's crackdown, the political opposition and freedom of speech have dug the heels into prison and prosecution of Turkish US consular staff accused of spying and links to Gülen.
The Congress and Senate have been anxious to distance themselves from the White House's policy towards Turkey, although the sanctions escaped against Turkish ministries and senior government officials in response to Ankara Syria's offensive were generally considered not as harsh as expected and lifted soon after Erdoğan agreed to pause the fighting after meeting Pence and Pompeo.
But if Turkey refuses to move away from Russia's S-400s, more punitive measures are possible. The memory of crushing US sanctions and increased duties on Turkish steel and aluminum in 2018 related to the internment of US pastor Andrew Brunson who sent the Turkish lira to free fall is still fresh.