The first high-level response to break the government silence came from Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who said the ban brings no solution to the problems, which he said are best solved by dealing with root causes.
“Regional issues cannot be solved by closing the doors on people. We expect the Western world to lighten Turkey’s burden,” Yildirim said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Ankara on Jan. 28.
Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey’s deputy prime minister and government spokesman, also reacted to the ban on Jan. 31 saying that the decision is “humiliating and discriminative” and that “no citizen of any country can be categorically a bad person.”
The pro-government media have maintained silence and remained cautious about criticizing Trump’s move, preferring to praise the new US administration.
Yet one thing is clear: NATO ally Turkey, also a member of the US-led coalition against Daesh, has political expectations as it hopes to build good relations with the new US administration after Ankara’s frustration, at times, with the administration of Barack Obama.
Two litmus tests for US ties
Rex Tillerson and James Mattis — the new secretary of state and secretary of defense, respectively — stressed during their congressional hearings the need for improving ties with Turkey.
There are two litmus tests that will determine the trajectory of the new era in Turkey-US ties under the Trump administration.
Turkey reiterates its calls for the extradition of US-based Islamic preacher, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed coup attempt against the Turkish government on July 15, 2016. Gulen denies he was behind it.
The backing of Syrian Kurdish militias by the US, considered by Turkey terrorist groups, is another hot topic for Ankara for the reset in ties with the new administration in Washington.
It is not yet clear whether the new administration will change its policy of supporting the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), in the fight against Daesh.
Ankara is against such groups because of their close ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has launched bloody terror attacks in Turkey and been active for more than three decades.
Media reports about Trump sending heavy weapons to Syrian Kurds in their fight against Daesh, if confirmed officially, are likely to cast a shadow over the flourishing cooperation between Trump and Erdogan.
Turkey’s ‘cautious’ approach
Ahmet Han, international relations professor at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, says that Turkey has begun to act with common sense in its relations with the US due to its various domestic and foreign policy challenges.
“There are some indicators that Turkey is turning its fights into a more cautious and selective engagement policy rather than using its energy in a haphazard way and around topics that are irrelevant to its national interests,” Han told Arab News.
Han noted that as far as both parties cover a certain distance in terms of Gulen’s extradition case, Turkey might act in a more tolerant way in other spheres such as the relationship between the US and Syrian Kurds. “Turkey is cautious and is using a wait-and-see approach for Trump’s presidency,” he added.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli — who heads the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank, in Ankara — said Turkish government circles publicly endorsed Trump even before he was elected. That is because Ankara hopes that, unlike Obama, Trump will act against the Gulen network in the US and stop supporting the PYD in Syria.
“This optimism, which is slowly fading, creates reluctance in Ankara to publicly criticize President Trump,” Unluhisarcikli told Arab News.
However, Unluhisarcikli thinks that the US president’s approach toward Muslims will poison US-Turkey relations, regardless of whether the new administration complies with the Turkish government’s request regarding Gulen and the PYD.
Moreover, he added, Ankara’s silence on Trump’s Muslim ban will not go unnoticed in the Middle East and Europe.