Can Rex Tillerson Successfully Manage Negotiations with Turkey?

America stayed out of the growing fight between Turkey and Europe as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The focus of the official state visit stayed on the war against Islamic State, and U.S. support for Kurdish fighters. Kurds represent a sizable minority in Turkey, and Erdogan has voiced concerns that many of the fighters trained by American forces will eventually return and become insurgents fighting for Kurdish independence. Despite a day full of meetings that each lasted longer than first scheduled, little progress was made in settling the differences between the two countries in how to handle the crisis in Syria.

Secretary of State Tillerson attempts to negotiate with Turkish President Erdogan

Turkey Requests Extradition for Opposition Figure

Erdogan has also requested that Tillerson broker an extradition deal for Fethullah Gulen, a religious leader living in the United States. Although Gulen was an ally of Erdogan’s until 2013, the Turkish President accused him of actively pursuing a corruption inquiry which threatened to bring down Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. Turkey declared Gulen a terrorist, and he claimed asylum in America. Erdogan began asking the State Department for an immediate extradition after a failed coup in 2016, which Turkey believed to have been the idea of Gulen.

The official U.S. position has been that the extradition process has to go through the court system. Despite sending thousands of documents to the Justice Department, the Turkish government has yet to provide convincing evidence of Gulen’s complicity in the coup, which led to the deaths of 260 people. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, complained about the pace of the investigation, saying, “We are expecting some concrete steps on [Gulen]… some temporary arrest should be made.”

Erdogan Attempts to Consolidate Power

The United States has expressed concerns regarding Erdogan’s increasing grasp for power. Still, Turkey remains a crucial NATO ally, which limits the amount of force that can be applied. In a little over a month, Turkish citizens will meet to vote on a referendum transferring most of the powers currently held by the Prime Minister to the office of the President. Critics have argued that this would bring Turkey to the edge of a dictatorship. In recent months, Erdogan has already taken steps to weaken the press. Additionally, human rights organizations have flagged the country’s treatment of opposition leaders.

Turkey Attempts to Influence Expats to Approve Referendum

Things came to head last month when Turkish officials began to visit Europe. Several ministers wanted to encourage Turkish citizens abroad to approve the measure granting Erdogan additional powers. Turkish courts banned the diplomats from campaigning overseas. In accordance with these guidelines, both Germany and the Netherlands prevented the ministers from addressing the public.  In one case though, Cavusoglu, flouted this ban. He spoke from the official Turkish residence in Hamburg, technically considered Turkish soil.

European Leaders Shun Turkish Ministry Officials

The stakes for Europe are high. Several right wing parties have built a following by pointing to foreign residents, and saying that they have not adopted European culture. The Netherlands barely avoided having the moderate party lose to the anti-immigrant party.  The establishment was afraid that the campaigning would sway voters to become more militant. With elections scheduled for later this year, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a similar assessment, when upholding the rules governing politicking by foreign government officials. In answer, Erdogan compared the leaders of both the Netherlands and Denmark to Nazis.

Can Tillerson Negotiate with Erdogan?

The meeting with Erdogan was Tillerson’s biggest test yet of his negotiation abilities. The Secretary of State has not held a diplomatic position in the past. He did maintain close ties to many of the world’s leaders in his previous position as CEO of Exxon Mobil. During discussions with Erdogan about the Syrian war, Tillerson will need to promote democracy, while abiding by Trump’s isolationist doctrines.

How Does the Conference Affect Trading?

Rex Tillerson was unable to make significant headway with Erdogan or his ministry officials. It is important to keep Turkey as an ally, given its crucial placement between Europe and Asia. A worsening relationship could result in American goods needing to take more expensive shipping routes,. This could lead to a lower DOW index, given the number of represented businesses who operate in the region.

Additionally, it is clear that the United States is not willing to interfere in European politics. This may be interpreted as weakness, given Tillerson’s lack of experience. This would lead to a fall in the dollar. This is especially true if the more liberal candidates in the French and German elections win.