Fri. Aug 12th, 2022

Trend OverviewEdited by David Adesnik and John Hardie – June 4, 2022

Credit to: Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Welcome back to the Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker. Once a month, we ask FDD’s experts and scholars to assess the administration’s foreign policy. They provide trendlines of very positive, positive, neutral, negative, or very negative for the areas they watch.

Bipartisan majorities in Congress approved a $40 billion assistance package for Ukraine and regional security, while President Joe Biden welcomed Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO.

Biden made his first trip to Asia, where he met with democratic allies but still did not lay out a clear policy toward China. Rather, Biden made an unexpected pledge to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression, which White House staff swiftly retracted. While struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks at home, Beijing won election to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization despite China’s perennial obstruction of pandemic-related investigations. The agency’s member states also rewarded Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with a second five-year term despite his deference to Beijing, challenging Biden’s strategy of reforming multilateral organizations via deeper engagement.

The president’s campaign to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran also stalled, apparently because Tehran continued to demand that Biden lift the designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Meanwhile, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles amid signs of activity at one of its nuclear test sites.

Please check back with us in 30 days to see if the administration has laid out a clear path for dealing with China, Iran, and North Korea while continuing to oppose the Kremlin’s aggression.

China

By Craig Singleton

Previous Trend: Neutral

On his first trip to Asia since assuming office, President Biden sought to reassure allies that the United States remains focused on China even while countering Russian aggression in Europe. Nevertheless, the trip became mired in confusion after Biden said he would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, claiming, “that’s the commitment we made.” The problem: The Taiwan Relations Act, which has guided U.S. policy since 1979, does no such thing. Without warning, Biden appeared to announce a major shift in Washington’s relationship with Taipei, potentially exacerbating tensions with Beijing.

White House officials quickly sought to walk back Biden’s remarks, saying they did not represent a change in U.S. policy toward the self-ruled island. But, sooner or later, Beijing may assess that Biden’s repeated Taiwan gaffes are, in fact, intentional, which could lead to a serious escalation between the United States and China. Before jettisoning the venerable policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan, the Biden administration should be much more confident of its ability to defend the island. Unfortunately, wargaming consistently demonstrates the United States would suffer devastating losses in a war with China.

To alleviate lingering confusion, President Biden should consider delivering a speech outlining his views on U.S.-China relations, something he has avoided to date. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered what his department billed as a major address on the subject, but it proved to be just a placeholder.

Cyber

By RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery and Annie Fixler

Previous Trend: Positive

Despite pushback from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the Biden administration quietly rolled back authorities that enabled the Defense Department to operate quickly and effectively in cyberspace. The changes are believed to require additional consultations with the State Department and other interagency partners and may result in more third-country notifications in advance of operations. The latter, in particular, may harm operational agility and speed.

Meanwhile, cyber defense cooperation with international partners has been moving along aggressively. In May, U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) concluded its first “shared defensive cyber operation” with Lithuania. Since 2018, CYBERCOM has conducted 28 similar operations in 16 countries. Washington, Brussels, London, and other allies also jointly blamed Moscow formally for cyberattacks on commercial satellite communications networks immediately preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco also announced the Justice Department is launching an initiative with international allies to “combat the transnational abuse of virtual currency” as part of its counter-ransomware efforts.

Domestically, after some initial stumbles in its efforts to secure the pipeline sector, the administration is collaborating better with the private sector, according to a key industry group. The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), meanwhile, have excelled in their continuing efforts to provide robust information to critical infrastructure and small businesses regarding specific threats as well as cyber hygiene best practices. The two agencies will also co-chair a new interagency ransomware task force. In addition, CISA is reported to be making progress in securing the government’s own networks.

Defense

By Bradley Bowman

Previous Trend: Positive

Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion, the Biden administration has strengthened U.S. military posture in Europe, rallied an international coalition, and provided Ukraine with robust security assistance. On April 28, with existing drawdown authority for Ukraine almost exhausted, the Biden administration requested $33 billion in additional security, economic, and humanitarian aid. The administration then used the next three weeks to push for congressional approval, explaining why the package supports American national security interests. The House (368-57) and Senate (86-11) passed the legislation on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis. President Biden signed it into law on May 21, providing more than $40 billion in emergency funding to support U.S. and Ukrainian forces.

On May 16, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu and her Israeli counterpart, Daniel Gold, convened the first meeting of the U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group, which is designed to strengthen the United States and Israel’s military research and development relationship and ensure their warfighters never confront better-armed adversaries. The meeting focused on artificial intelligence, biotechnology, directed energy, and other technologies as candidates for intensive bilateral cooperation.

Biden traveled to Tokyo to meet with his Australian, Indian, and Japanese counterparts at the Quad Leaders’ Summit on May 24, their second in-person meeting since the Quad’s inception. In a joint statement, the leaders expressed solidarity in support of a “free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient.” Given the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly aggressive behavior, protecting those interests will require the four democracies to follow laudable meetings and statements with tangible, coordinated, and urgent action.

Europe

By John Hardie

Previous Trend: Positive

In a show of support for Ukraine, First Lady Jill Biden visited the country on May 8 after meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia. Washington later officially re-opened its embassy in Kyiv, while the Senate unanimously confirmed Bridget Brink as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, ending a three-year gap in that position. On May 31, President Biden published a New York Times op-ed that announced additional U.S. weapon shipments to Ukraine (covered further in the Russia section) and ruled out pressuring Kyiv to cede territory to end the war — a prospect allegedly raised by France’s president.

On May 23, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosted a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a U.S.-organized forum established last month to increase and coordinate international military assistance for Ukraine. Five additional nations joined the latest meeting, where a number of countries announced new packages of much-needed artillery and other assistance. As Russia’s naval blockade suffocates Ukraine’s economy and fuels a global food crisis, Denmark, with Washington’s encouragement, committed to provide Kyiv with Harpoon anti-ship missile systems. The United States is helping train Ukrainian forces on the Harpoon, per the Pentagon, and reportedly is working on providing Kyiv with the more useful Naval Strike Missile. These systems alone likely will not break Russia’s blockade, however.

Finally, Biden hosted his Finnish and Swedish counterparts at the White House on May 19, underscoring U.S. support for their NATO accession bids. The Pentagon said the United States, Finland, and Sweden are discussing possible “security assurances” to mitigate potential Russian threats ahead of their accession.

Gulf

By Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Previous Trend: Negative

President Biden’s plan to mend ties with Saudi Arabia quickly paid dividends. Shortly after his meetings in Washington with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khaled bin Salman (KBS) tweeted on May 21 that Saudi Arabia and America are “friends” and that his meetings in Washington focused on coordination over “regional and international security and peace.” Saudi pundits interpreted this to mean coordination over “oil prices and their effect on economic and political stability around the world.” Biden had previously tried to convince Riyadh to increase its energy production, hoping to bring down both gasoline prices and inflation for U.S. consumers.

KBS is the brother of and closest aide to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman (MBS). KBS’ visit to Washington and positive comments indicate a shift in Saudi policy weeks after media reported that MBS had refused to take a call from Biden. A similar shift is underway in Washington’s policy toward Saudi Arabia. Reports suggest that the two sides are planning a meeting between Biden and MBS in Riyadh later this month. If so, it will mark a reversal of Biden’s earlier vow to make the Saudi crown prince a pariah. The rapprochement between Biden and MBS comes at a time when U.S. nuclear talks with Iran seem to have hit a dead end, thus freezing a major source of tension between Washington and Riyadh.

Indo-Pacific

By Craig Singleton

Previous Trend: Negative

Beijing was irked by images of Quad leaders standing side-by-side during President Biden’s trip to Tokyo, with Chinese diplomats lashing out at the United States, Japan, India, and Australia for “disrupting regional peace and stability.” Although the four countries’ leaders tiptoed around sensitive issues, such as India’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the region’s leading democracies appear increasingly united in containing China’s Indo-Pacific ambitions. But the region’s democracies do not maintain a monopoly on partnerships, and China is aggressively engaging in its own regional deal-making. Case in point: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent trip to eight Pacific Island countries to discuss enhanced security and trade initiatives. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has made little headway in negotiating an extension to the Compact of Free Association, a Cold War-era agreement between the United States and the Pacific Island nations of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands, set to expire in 2023 and 2024.

Complicating the U.S. regional reset are lingering doubts about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) unveiled by the Biden administration last month. While not a formal trade pact, IPEF is intended to facilitate conversations about economic resilience and the digital economy. Regrettably, it will not lower tariffs or include other market access provisions, largely because of Biden’s self-imposed moratorium on any new trade deals. Taiwan’s exclusion from IPEF also drew bipartisan fire from Congress; however, both Congress and the Biden administration deserve blame for failing to advance bilateral free trade talks with Taipei to help reduce the island’s economic reliance on China.

International Organizations

By Richard Goldberg

Previous Trend: Neutral

The Biden administration failed to achieve reforms at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO). Most notably, the administration failed to strip Russia of its voting rights and Executive Board seat despite Moscow’s sustained attacks on healthcare sites in Ukraine. In addition, the Biden team acquiesced to the unopposed re-election of Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus despite his role in helping China cover-up the outbreak and origins of COVID-19. The administration also approved Tedros’ new WHO budgetary scheme, which will weaken U.S. influence within the agency by dramatically increasing its reliance on assessed rather than voluntary contributions.

Despite pledging to use its influence to secure observer status for Taiwan at the Assembly, the administration failed to overcome pressure from Beijing. Meanwhile, China emerged from the Assembly with its own seat on the WHO Executive Board. Finally, the administration proved unable to remove the Assembly’s standing agenda item castigating Israel — the only country subject to a dedicated WHO agenda item. Congress should now consider conditioning U.S. financial contributions to the WHO on the key reforms the administration failed to achieve.

Separately, China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on North Korea over its recent ballistic missile launches. And the Biden administration has yet to clarify if it will remain a member of the UN Human Rights Council if a Commission of Inquiry into Israel issues a report in June labeling Israel an apartheid state.

Iran

By Behnam Ben Taleblu and Richard Goldberg

Previous Trend: Very Negative

The Biden administration reportedly is unwilling to grant Tehran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list, leading to an impasse in nuclear talks. The administration, however, has yet to confirm this report. Nor has it explained why it already offered to lift terrorism sanctions imposed on the IRGC’s top financiers.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said the United States has no alternative but to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Yet he simultaneously warned that the chances of resurrecting the deal are “at best, tenuous,” and offered no plan B. Malley indicated the administration would submit any agreement for review by Congress prior to lifting sanctions on Iran, though he appeared to choose his words carefully to preserve future options.

The White House, meanwhile, hosted high-profile visits by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prince Khalid bin Salman, a key advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for conversations likely focused on Iran. Separately, the Treasury Department sanctioned a multi-jurisdiction money laundering and oil smuggling network tied to Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force. The move is rare for the Biden administration, which has not enforced oil sanctions on Iran, likely for fear of disrupting nuclear negotiations.

Finally, beyond one tweet, the Biden administration has not voiced support for Iranian demonstrators who have been protesting since early May in opposition to the Islamic Republic and the Raisi government’s slashing of food subsidies.

Israel

By David May

Previous Trend: Neutral

The administration “vehemently” condemned the “heinous” May 5 terrorist attack that left three Israelis dead in the town of Elad. The assailants hailed from the Jenin governorate in the West Bank, where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 amid Israeli-Palestinian clashes. It is still not known who shot her.

While questions surrounding Abu Akleh’s death caused tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, the White House expressed confidence in Israel’s ability to investigate the matter and refused to “prejudge an investigation.” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price condemned the incident, called for a “thorough investigation,” and acknowledged Israel’s “wherewithal” to conduct its own inquiry. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Greenfield-Thomas encouraged “both sides to participate” in an investigation, advice the Palestinians refused.

In mid-May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss the Iranian nuclear portfolio. On May 24, Politico reported that President Biden had refused Tehran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, in line with a promise Biden reportedly made to his Israeli counterpart. This was broadly welcomed in Jerusalem.

On June 2, The Jerusalem Post reported the United States had successfully mediated negotiations between Riyadh and Cairo over Red Sea islands whose transfer to Saudi Arabia required Israeli buy-in. The agreement, which grants Israel rights to fly over Saudi airspace, could be a precursor for Israeli-Saudi normalization, which has been held up by Biden’s initial pledge to make the Saudi crown prince a pariah.

Korea

By David Maxwell

Previous Trend: Neutral

On May 20 to 22, President Biden visited South Korea for a summit with his newly inaugurated counterpart, Yoon Seok-yul. The two leaders agreed to reinvigorate combined military training and succeeded in strengthening the alliance after five years of declining military readiness and friction between Biden’s and Yoon’s predecessors. The Biden-Yoon summit was an important step in implementing the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy while remaining focused on the full range of threats from Pyongyang, particular extended deterrence of North Korean military threats to its southern neighbor. The summit’s joint statement outlined important economic, technology, cyber, and security initiatives as well as alliance cooperation beyond the Korean Peninsula. South Korea committed to investments in semiconductor, battery, and biopharmaceutical production in the United States.

As Biden wrapped up a trip to Japan following his summit with Yoon, Russian and Chinese aircraft penetrated South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone, likely to show their displeasure with the summits, underscoring that Seoul and the ROK-U.S. alliance face complex threats from “all sides.”

On May 23, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles. China and Russia blocked UN Security Council resolutions condemning the launches. There are continued reports of activity around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and there is speculation that the North may resume nuclear weapons testing. In an interview following the summit, President Yoon stated unequivocally that there will be no more appeasement of Pyongyang. This indicates that the Biden and Yoon administrations are in synch on how to approach the threat from North Korea.

Latin America

By Carrie Filipetti and Emanuele Ottolenghi

Previous Trend: Neutral

The Biden administration is trying to salvage the June Summit of the Americas after MexicoBolivia, and Argentina announced their intention to boycott it unless the Cuban, Nicaragua, and Venezuelan regimes are invited. The administration’s efforts to find “ways to incorporate” these dictatorships is the wrong approach. The summit agenda is also of concern: There is no mention of expanding trade, despite the region’s unprecedented economic challenges. The summit’s failure would further signal Washington’s waning influence at precisely the moment China is expanding its own.

Cooperation with Mexico suffered another blow when Mexican officials kicked out aircraft from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The cartels’ grip was also on display in Colombia, where Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci was gunned down while honeymooning.

Colombia is heading into a mid-June runoff between two anti-establishment candidates after no one secured a majority in the May 29 presidential election. Leftist former guerilla Gustavo Petro will face off against independent populist Rodolfo Hernandez.

In light of the surging numbers of Cubans at the U.S. border, the Biden administration announced a package of reforms, including authorizing Americans to travel to the island in previously unauthorized ways, which sadly will only push money into the hands of regime officials.

Senate leaders expressed frustration over what appears to be the Biden administration’s unilateral concession of sanctions relief to the Maduro regime. Despite the State Department’s insistence that the regime is ready to negotiate with the Venezuelan opposition over a return to free and fair elections, there is no date set for talks.

Lebanon

By Tony Badran

Previous Trend: Very Negative

The Biden administration is still pushing ahead with its plan to provide members of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with a monthly cash stipend. However, following criticism that it was abusing the intended authorities of the Foreign Military Financing account, the administration will draw the necessary $67 million in funding from the Peacekeeping Operations account. Underscoring continued U.S. support for the LAF, Central Command chief General Erik Kurilla signed a military cooperation agreement with the Lebanese government during his visit to Beirut on May 20.

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, who accompanied Kurilla, urged Lebanese President Michel Aoun to resume maritime-border demarcation talks with Israel. The ambassador pressed the government to leave the door open to mediation by U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein, even as the Lebanese, including Hezbollah, made it clear they would reject Hochstein’s offer. In keeping with the U.S. ambassador’s coaching, Aoun expressed hope that Hochstein would resume his efforts.

With Lebanon’s parliamentary election over, the Biden administration called on Lebanon to swiftly form a new government. However, Washington and Beirut are proceeding with unfinished projects in anticipation of a protracted leadership vacuum. In its last Cabinet session, Lebanon’s outgoing government authorized its energy minister to sign a long-awaited gas import contract with Egypt. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has enlisted Lebanese intelligence chief Abbas Ibrahim, a Hezbollah ally, to help secure the release of Americans held in Syria and Iran. Ibrahim also revealed that an official response to Hochstein’s offer was “almost complete.”

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

By Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker

Previous Trend: Negative

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of all World Health Organization (WHO) member states, did not adopt the Biden administration’s recommended amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR). The WHO implements the IHR, which were last amended in 2005 in response to China’s obstruction of efforts to contain the outbreak of SARS. The Biden administration’s proposals, while sensible in isolation, would have increased the power of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has done nothing to curb Beijing’s influence. Regardless, the Biden administration welcomed Tedros’ election to a second five-year term. The WHO is also negotiating a new pandemic treaty that will be considered at the 2024 WHA. The treaty should have to pass a simple test: If it existed in January 2020, would it have prevented China from hiding the COVID-19 pandemic?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Tehran has not been forthcoming in providing information about undeclared nuclear activities. The IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, brokered a deal with the Islamic Republic in March that set forth a timetable to resolve the issue. Grossi will formally report to the IAEA’s Board of Governors during the week of June 6, at which time member states should censure Iran’s obstruction.

North Korea may conduct an underground nuclear test at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which would be Pyongyang’s first such test since 2017 and its seventh overall. North Korea has also conducted more missile tests this year than in 2020 and 2021 combined. The Biden administration has responded to Pyongyang’s provocations with inadequate and infrequent sanctions.

Russia

By John Hardie

Previous Trend: Positive

The Biden administration issued additional Russia sanctions on May 8, coinciding with a virtual meeting between President Biden and his G7 and Ukrainian counterparts. Notably, Treasury, in coordination with London, barred Russia-based persons from using U.S. accounting, trust and corporate formation, or management consulting services, which Russian persons “use to build wealth … and evade sanctions.” Germany, France, Italy, and Japan joined their fellow G7 members in committing to eschew Russian oil, and EU leaders reached a similar agreement on May 30. Washington pushed India to curtail Russian oil imports but so far has not established a sanctions regime targeting such purchases. Separately, on May 24, Treasury officially announced it would not renew a sanctions exemption for Russian bond payments, making Moscow likely to default.

On May 9, Biden signed a bill designed to facilitate U.S. military assistance to Ukraine and Eastern European countries, then on May 21 signed a $40 billion Ukraine aid bill. The administration announced three additional military aid packages collectively worth $950 million, including an initial tranche of four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) equipped with guided rockets. The White House had initially dragged its feet on Kyiv’s repeated requests for the system, reportedly worried it could escalate the conflict, but ultimately decided simply to withhold the M142’s longest-range munitions, while Ukraine committed not to use the HIMARS against Russian territory. The administration reportedly will also approve a British transfer of U.S.-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to Ukraine and plans to sell Kyiv four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones.

Sunni Jihadism

By Bill Roggio

Previous Trend: Negative

President Biden signed off on an order to redeploy up to 450 U.S. troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa. Their mission is to train and assist Somali and African Union forces and to hunt down a dozen important al-Shabaab leaders and operatives, including those who plot operations outside of the country. A senior U.S. official said the mission is designed to reduce “the threat to a level that is tolerable,” a clear indication al-Shabaab has become considerably more dangerous since President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces at the end of his term. Biden’s order is unlikely to affect the security situation in Somalia except on the margins. Al-Shabaab controls a considerable amount of territory in southern and central Somalia, and the security situation was deteriorating a year ago even with 700 U.S. troops in country. Meanwhile, African Union forces are transitioning to a training mission and are expected to begin withdrawing the bulk of their personnel next year.

The Department of Defense’s latest Inspector General Report on Afghanistan labels the Islamic State-Khorasan Province as the greatest threat emanating from the country, even though the Taliban controls Afghanistan and shelters al-Qaeda and a bevy of other global and regional terror groups. The United States has launched zero strikes against terrorists in Afghanistan despite standing up the $19.5 billion Over-the-Horizon Counterterrorism Headquarters in Doha last summer.

Syria

By David Adesnik

Previous Trend: Negative

Six weeks remain until the expiration of UN Security Council Resolution 2585, which enables cross-border humanitarian operations that bring aid from Turkey directly into northwestern Syria. Cross-border shipments bypass Damascus, preventing obstruction and expropriation by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Russia has often threatened to veto cross-border aid, even though millions of displaced Syrians depend on it for survival. Last year, after President Biden raised the issue with President Vladimir Putin at their Geneva summit, Russia agreed to extend the aid temporarily. This year, amid deep antagonism between the United States and Russia, Putin may have no interest in an agreement. Biden’s envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, insisted at a May 20 Security Council meeting that it is in Russia’s interest to prevent a humanitarian crisis. What remains unclear is if the administration is employing any form of leverage to pressure Moscow or has contingency plans to deliver aid in the absence of Security Council approval. Still, Putin may compromise rather than instigate a crisis on Turkey’s doorstep, since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one of the rare NATO leaders with whom he has cultivated warm relations.

On May 12, the Treasury Department issued Syria General License 22 and related guidance, which suspend most economic sanctions on Syrian districts outside the Assad regime’s control. The move encourages self-reliance by Washington’s local partners, yet Treasury will have to remain vigilant, since Damascus continues to operate networks and control enclaves in districts designated as independent of regime control.

Turkey

By Sinan Ciddi

Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration’s attempt to establish a working relationship with Turkey hit a series of roadblocks in May. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated his objection to Finland’s and Sweden’s bids for membership in NATO. Erdogan’s public rationale for blocking their accession relates to Sweden’s alleged support for PKK terrorists in Turkey and to the leading role both Sweden and Finland took in establishing a European arms embargo on Turkey in 2019 following Erdogan’s military incursions into Syria. The real reason behind Erdogan’s veto threat is to compel the United States to speed up the sale of F-16 fighters, lift congressional sanctions imposed against Turkey, and likely secure a White House meeting between President Biden and Erdogan. The State Department pushed back against Ankara’s position by stating that while the United States hopes to overcome Turkish objections to NATO enlargement, this is not ultimately a “bilateral issue.”

Following the administration’s unwillingness to entertain Turkey’s demands, Erdogan announced on May 23 that the Turkish Armed Forces would soon initiate a military operation “to establish a safe zone 30 kilometers deep in Northern Syria.” This was a further attempt by Erdogan to compel the United States to give into Turkish demands, but the State Department quickly condemned the proposal. Regardless, Erdogan may not follow through on his threat to veto the Nordic accession, since he seems content in throwing up roadblocks to test Washington’s readiness to grant him concessions in several areas of interest.

The analyses above do not necessarily represent the institutional views of FDD.

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