Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today heads off to Washington for a two-day visit that will find him and President Barack Obama covering several contentious issues, many of them ones where Turkey and the United States currently don't see eye-to-eye. Turkish-American relations have clearly rebounded from their low point of a few years ago, when the two countries were at odds on a number of fronts, particularly regarding Iran's controversial nuclear program and how to deal with it, but Erdogan's visit will also serve as a test for the two countries' ability to bridge their current disagreements.
Writing in Today's Zaman, columnist Abdullah Bozkurt has a good rundown of what is a fairly extensive list of thorny topics that the two leaders will need to address in their meeting. At the top of the list, of course, is the question of Syria and how to hasten the departure of the Assad regime. As Bozkurt puts it, one thing Obama and Erdogan will have to work through is the Turkish PM's "disappointment" over Washington's reluctance to get more deeply involved -- that is, militarily involved -- in removing Assad.
Another tricky issue that is likely to come up is Ankara's warming relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq and its efforts to strike oil and gas deals with the KRG that bypass the central government in Baghdad. Although Washington, obviously, isn't opposed to the idea of Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq improving their once hostile relations, there are concerns that Turkey's actions could lead to increased tensions within Iraq and threaten the country's fragile unity.
Also sure to be on the agenda is the question of Erdogan's proposed upcoming trip to Gaza, which the PM has promised will happen after he visits Washington. With relations between Turkey and Israel slowly getting back on track -- in large part thanks to Obama's efforts -- after two years in which the two countries' ties took a nosedive, Washington is clearly concerned that an overtly ideological visit by Erdogan to Hamas-led Gaza would cause more harm than good.
At the end of the day, as Henri Barkey points out in a smart analysis on the Al-Monitor website, Obama will not be able to offer Erdogan much of what he wants, especially when it comes to Syria, where the US is now making a renewed push for some kind of diplomatic solution. As Bozkurt puts it in Today's Zaman:
The bottom-line is that the visit will be marked as a success to the extent Obama and Erdoğan can find ways to match up to the label of “being a strategic partner” on a number of outstanding issues. In the past, even during difficult and bad times, Turkey and the US had always found a way to keep this crucial alliance above turbulent waters. This time they have more reasons to do the same.