By Ilhan Tanir, Washington DCTurkish Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag traveled for almost 24 hours for only a 45-minute meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday.
US Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Flores, answering questions from Washington Hatti, told that there will be no official statements about the meeting, contrary to usual practice. Neither the Turkish nor the U.S. officials made statements following the meeting.
Later, Bekir Bozdag did not hold a press conference in the city either, suggesting the possibility that the US Justice Department accepted Bozdag’s meeting with a condition: no media briefings. US Justice Ministry, officially announcing and emphasizing that there will be ‘no official statements’ about the meeting both before or after, and Minister Bozdağ refraining from any press appearances makes this a very likely scenario.
Why would the U.S. Department of Justice try to keep a formal meeting with a Turkish Minister from the U.S. media? Because what Mr. Bozdag brought to Washington was exactly the kind of thing that the Trump administration is trying to distance themselves these days.
Last time Minister Bozdağ was in Washington to hold meetings with the Attorney General Loretta Lynch on October 27, 2016, both Ms. Lynch and Mr. Bozdag made official statements and Mr. Bozdag later had a press conference at the Turkish Embassy to complain about Preet Bharara, then prosecutor of Reza Zarrab case. He even accused Bharara of ‘organizing an operation against Turkey,’ and claimed that the Zarrab case is entirely political. Similarly, he did not hold back on Obama administration’s unwillingness to extradite the self-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Just the fact that Justice Department scheduled only a 45-minute meeting with the Turkish Minister is a sign by itself. Imagine the U.S. Attorney General visiting Ankara, having a 45-minute meeting with no media statements. It is a mind-boggling departure from the norm. But that’s what happened. No one knows which agenda items they could fit a 45-minute meeting considering that every sentence had to be translated.
The Turkish Justice Ministery insiders later said that the main topic was the temporary arrest and extradition of Fethullah Gulen.
As such, this issue is toxic in Washington right now because they involve Michael Flynn. Flynn’s opinion piece to the Hill Newspaper which was published only a day before the election was about the extradition of Gulen to Turkey; later Mr. Flynn filed paperwork showing that he was paid by a Turkish businessman to lobby for the extradition. The fact that Flynn was spending time to write about some Turkish exiled imam on the Election Day was shocking to many, till it was learnt he was the foreign agent of the Turkish Government.
The Wall Street Journal reported also that Flynn even discussed kidnapping Fethullah Gulen while the former CIA Director James Woolsey in the room last September with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs and President Erdogan’s son in law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak. This was also widely reported on cable news in the US for days.
The second issue, Reza Zarrab case is also toxic because of Mr. Guliani’s involvement. In the recent months, U.S. press has been criticizing Giuliani brutally for his role in the Zarrab case. The feeling I got over the weekend talking to Washington insiders was that everyone in Washington wants to distance themselves from the Zarrab story. Indeed, Bozdağ (or any other official close to him) did not mention the Zarrab case at all this time even though it was well known Zarrab would be one of the leading issues Bozdağ in the town to discuss.
Giuliani, having himself been US Attorney in the SDNY in the past, understands the institutional constraints very well. That’s why he’s trying to go outside normal channels and make a case, to the White House, State Department and/or Treasury Dept., that ‘national security’ requires dismissal.
As one national security expert told me recently: ”Giuliani will try to construct a ‘national security’ rationale for Zarrab’s release. TSK operations in Northern Syria may play a role in that. However, institutional and public opposition to any politically-driven effort to release Zarrab would be intense. From Trump’s point of view, the costs of releasing Zarrab may be far outweigh any benefits.”
In summary, on a Monday when the fired acting A.G. Sally Yates was testifying at the Senate about Russian involvement in the U.S. elections and about General Michael Flynn, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag literally was treated like an afterthought.
4 state officers and zero public diplomacy success in Washington
There are 4 Turkish state officers in Washington since last Friday evening: İbrahim Kalın, presidential press secretary, Hulusi Akar, chief of general staff, Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, and Bekir Bozdağ, Minister of Justice, who joined on Sunday.
These officials have flown thousands of miles over to Washington, but they are reluctant to do any PR work while in the town, or talk to any think-tank.
Being sent on expenses covered by tens of thousands of tax dollars, and staying for 4-5 days in town, why don’t they try to achieve some public diplomacy success in this most powerful capital of the world?
Leave alone the other officers, Mr.Kalın is literally paid to speak, who is the spokesperson of Mr. Erdogan and it is not possible to understand why he doesn’t take the floor in the most powerful capital of the world.
Is it that they cannot find a think-tank to talk to?
Is there no government for them to advocate?
Are they abstaining from the questions to be asked?
Oh, weren’t the AKP members so willing to talk in Washington, only 2-3 years ago!
Preparations for Erdogan
Erdogan’s meeting with Trump in Washington on May 16-17th is already planned. It is just a week ahead but no one know any other details of Erdogan’s programme, like if he will give a speech or such.
Agenda of the meeting includes Raqqa, Gulen and Zarrab, which none of them seemingly possible to come up with good news for Erdogan.
There were rumors about Trump to approve the arming decision for PPU (YPG) or SDF (SDG) even before Erdogan coming town for the meeting and those rumors were proven to be accurate on Tuesday morning, while the Erdogan government’s top officials are still in the town.
So what will Erdogan get out of this meeting next week and how he will sell it at home?
There happens to be no issue to make Erdogan happy in Washington. Then again, early this week, he likened Israel’s politics to the last century’s slavery politics in the States, and this was received with astonishment.
I think Erdogan would like to talk about Zarrab at least and have some photo opt with new president. But I the White House will refuse Erdogan’s demands for the release of Zarrab & Attila; doing otherwise would generate huge pressures for Trump.
Ela Gonca İzmirli and Güliz Türker contributed to this report