Pompeo: Turkey important but behavior should better reflect ‘objectives of NATO’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that it would be “unfortunate” for all parties concerned if Turkey were to decide to abandon NATO for a closer alliance with Russia, and that Ankara’s actions should “better reflect” the alliance’s objectives.

“It would be unfortunate for NATO; it’d be unfortunate for the United States, and I think even more unfortunate for the people of Turkey if that were to become the case,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told radio show host Tony Katz, the Washington Examiner reported.

Pompeo was discussing Turkey’s “eastern-looking” foreign policy shift was has become more pronounced in recent years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been growing closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Asked if the time was approaching when the future of Turkey as a NATO ally would be called into question, Pompeo could not answer with certainty.

“I hope not,” Pompeo replied. “We are hopeful that Turkey and President Erdogan will come to understand the U.S. is a better partner than Iran, and the direction that President Erdogan ought to go is to support deeper relationships with the United States and with Europe and with NATO.”

Turkey and Iran have a common objective, which is supporting the Palestinians against Israel at a point in history when other Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia are looking to improve relations with the Jewish state.

“They have been an important NATO partner,” Pompeo said in May. “We need their behavior to reflect the objectives of NATO, and that’s what we’re diligently working to do: to get them to rejoin NATO, in a way, with their actions, consistent with what we’re trying to achieve in NATO. And not take actions that undermine its efforts.”

Analysis: One of the more troublesome developments of late is Turkey’s decision to purchase Russia-made S-400 air defense missiles. That’s a problem because as a member of NATO, Turkish air defense systems have to integrate with those of other alliance members, which could then provide Moscow with valuable insights and intelligence into Europe’s air defense network.

Some analysts believe that Putin is exploiting Turkish angst with NATO for his own benefit.

“So, Putin, looking at this says, ‘We’re going to facilitate that breakup,’” Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said during an interview with the Washington Examiner recently.

That’s very likely the case, though Turkish President Erdogan is no patsy. If he’s moving closer to Russia and away from NATO it’s a conscious policy shift, not something he’s doing unwittingly.

If Putin can peel Turkey away from NATO, the immediate effects would be the loss of a key U.S./NATO airbase at Incirlik, which — since its construction in 1955 — has been a major NATO asset. From that base, the U.S. and NATO warplanes can operate throughout the Middle East. Also in range: The Black Sea and the western reaches of Russia.

Will it happen? It’s certainly possible. Turkey today, especially after a failed coup attempt by elements of the military in July 2016, is far more authoritarian than it is democratic, which immediately puts it at odds with its current NATO allies, all of which are democracies. 

Longer term, though, the loss of Turkey means that NATO will have a new adversary in the neighborhood, and one that is very knowledgeable about how the alliance works — and fights. 



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