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Turkey's government is jubilant after Erdogan-Biden meeting, but the lira doesn't agree

Turkish officials are highlighting positive statements by the US president, but markets still frustrated by the S-400 issue
Erdogan and Biden before a bilateral meeting on the margins of a Nato summit in Brussels (Turkish presidency handout)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Pro-government newspapers in Turkey on Tuesday jubilantly declared Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s first face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden an icebreaker victory, yet the Turkish lira weakened and the Istanbul stock exchange dropped.

Both Erdogan and Biden were upbeat about their meeting on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Brussels, and released positive statements about the US and Turkey's future relationship regarding Ankara’s possible role in Afghanistan and other regional issues.

“Our cooperation [with US] will be deepened,” said flagship Sabah newspaper with a giant headline on its front page. Hurriyet, another pro-government newspaper, splashed Erdogan’s remarks: “There aren’t any problems we cannot resolve.”

Senior ruling party officials, too, have been busy circulating the footage and pictures of Erdogan and Biden smiling, presenting the images as evidence of the Turkish president's power on the world stage.

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Translation: "World leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan" 

One senior Turkish official, who was present at the Erdogan and Biden bilateral meeting, said the discussion was surprisingly very positive. “We didn’t expect this,” the official told Middle East Eye.

Another Turkish official said the meeting was a win for Ankara because Biden only released positive statements on the partnership and he didn’t even raise Turkey’s human rights record as he promised to do so in the past.

However, the meeting itself didn’t appear to have produced any concrete results. Erdogan, in a subsequent press conference, reiterated that Turkey’s stance on the main issues had not changed and there was no chance of discarding its recently purchased Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems to lift US sanctions.

Reports in the international media that a deal was underway to resolve the S-400 dispute had created false expectations in the markets. But no breakthrough emerged.

“Indeed, deploying S-400s to joint Turkish-US custody in Incirlik airbase was never in the pipeline,” the second Turkish official added.

'Turkey seems interested to start on a fresh page with the US but has little to offer - except perhaps peacekeeping in Afghanistan'

- Asli Aydintasbas, analyst

“The fact that this summit happened means that both sides were able to get to a new and more stable place in relations, putting aside the two thorny issues in bilateral relations, that is Syria and S-400s,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “This is neither a honeymoon nor a resumption of tensions between Turkey and the US.”

The Turkish lira weakened by 1 percent against the US dollar on Tuesday, dropping to 8.55 from 8.46 the previous day. Istanbul Stock Exchange also posted losses of around 0.85 percent.

“Turkey seems interested to start on a fresh page with the US but has little to offer - except perhaps peacekeeping in Afghanistan," Aydintasbas added.

Washington wants Turkey to continue running the security of Kabul international airport, which is key to the stability of the Afghan capital, as foreign missions, NGOs and aid groups rely on its services. However, Turkey has several demands.

Even though a Nato communique promised to maintain the funding, meeting a Turkish criteria, Ankara is also seeking logistical support, such as the deployment of drones, defensive equipment and troops from other allied countries.

Erdogan said in a televised speech that US support was important for Turkey, were it to continue guarding the airport. “We could take Pakistan and Hungary with us,” he said.

Pressed on the issue, both Biden and Erdogan shied away from confirming that there was an agreement in place for the Turkish military presence in Kabul airport.

“The Afghanistan mission is not a done deal. Turkey wants to see Pakistan on board, thinking this would ensure the Taliban buy-in. Ankara’s offer to provide peacekeeping seems conditional on that, as it doesn’t want to go despite the Taliban,” Aydintasbas said.

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