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Erdoğan congratulates Biden, sends ‘message of thanks’ to outgoing president in unprecedented move

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden on his victory in the 2020 presidential election and in an unprecedented move sent a message of thanks to the outgoing president, Donald Trump.

Erdoğan’s message of thanks for Trump is unique as he did not send similar messages to former US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama when they left office in 2008 and 2016, respectively.

“I congratulate you on your election success and express my sincere wishes for the peace and prosperity of the people of the United States of America,” Erdoğan said in his message to Biden. He emphasized the importance of bilateral ties in the face of global challenges.

“Today, the challenges we face at the global and regional level require us to further develop and strengthen these relations based on common interests and values,” Erdoğan said in his message to Biden and reiterated Ankara’s “determination to work closely with the US administration” in the coming period.

US-Turkish relations have soured over a spate of issues since 2016, including Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system, differences in policy toward Syrian Kurds, an ongoing legal case that implicates a state bank and high-ranking officials in a sanctions-busting scheme and the detention of US consulate employees and citizens in Turkey.

Nevertheless, further deterioration has been prevented by “backdoor diplomacy” between Erdoğan and Trump, according to observers.

In his message to Trump, Erdoğan expressed his gratitude for the warm ties between the two leaders.

“No matter how the official election results manifest, I thank you for the sincere and determined vision you have put forth for Turkey-U.S. relations to develop on the basis of our mutual interests and values during your presidency in the last four years,” Erdoğan’s message read. “On this occasion, I would like to sincerely thank you once again for your ever warm friendship.”

Erdoğan’s message to Trump is unsurprising since the two leaders’ rapport benefited the Turkish president in many ways.

Erdoğan’s ties with Trump allowed him to flex military muscle in Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus, according to a Reuters analysis published in October, filling some gaps left by a US retreat from the region in recent years.

US-Turkish ties could come under more strain in a Biden administration, according to some analysts, while others claim Turkey is too important a partner for the US to go tough on.

According to Nicholas Danforth, a senior visiting fellow for the German Marshall Fund who spoke to Al-Jazeera, Turkey’s recent test of the S-400s will prompt sanctions under the Biden administration.

“Biden is basically bound to go ahead with CAATSA sanctions. The real question is how aggressively he chooses to implement them and how financial markets react,” Al Jazeera quoted Danforth as saying.

Speaking to Reuters, Soli Özel, a lecturer on international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, noted that Turkey was “not an easily dispensable partner,” claiming that Biden is “probably the one person in the American establishment who knows Turkey best.”

Yet Özel also conceded that the S-400 dispute, as well as the Iran sanctions-busting case against Turkish state lender Halkbank in the United States, could become more significant issues under Biden.

The new administration would also pressure Ankara on topics such as human rights and the rule of law, Özel said, according to Reuters.

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