President Joe Biden has spent six months of his term without a new US-Turkish crisis. Amid escalating tensions, strategic disagreements, and many potential flashpoints, even this comparative calm is an achievement. It is the product of both the White House’s new approach to Turkey and Ankara’s eagerness to maintain the appearance of good relations in the face of more pressing problems. Biden has been appropriately calm and consistent in his dealings with Turkey, emphasizing human rights in his rhetoric and seeking to create a new tone for the relationship that would give the United States greater leverage. This coincided with a period of greater consolidation and caution in Turkish foreign policy. For his part, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been on a glamorous international offensive as he faces regional isolation, economic turmoil and his dwindling poll numbers.
Biden and Erdogan’s June 14 meeting in Brussels, on the sidelines of the NATO summit, seemed to confirm the comfortingly dysfunctional features of this new relationship. Neither of the two countries’ outstanding issues were resolved, but the two leaders pulled out, bravely insisting they could.1 The challenge now for Washington is to preserve the benefits of Biden’s current approach as conditions in Turkey and its region inevitably shift in unpredictable ways. Rather than appear eager to improve relations, Washington should simply leave the ball in Ankara’s court. This means staying the course while minimizing Turkey’s ability to disrupt US and European interests. At best, Biden could seek an interim settlement with Erdogan based on perpetuating the status quo in the absence of any further provocations.