Trump’s Win on Turkey Provides an Opening

(The Bloomberg View) -- The return of Andrew Brunson from Turkey is a rare foreign-policy win for U.S. President Donald Trump: Economic sanctions and strong words worked. The line from Turkey, that the American pastor was released as a matter of due process, gives President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cover for his retreat — but it’s a retreat nonetheless.

The move creates an opportunity for both sides. Erdogan has just acknowledged that he needs U.S. support to contend with domestic and regional problems. Equally, American economic and security interests in the Middle East and Central Asia require closer cooperation with Turkey.

Trump tweeted that the pastor’s release “will lead to good, perhaps great, relations.” He should follow up by withdrawing sanctions imposed in August and by easing tariffs on Turkish exports of steel and aluminum.

Having removed one big hurdle to reconciliation, Erdogan must deal with the others. He can start by releasing the NASA scientist Serkan Golge and three local employees of the U.S. mission to Turkey. He should cancel plans to buy Russia’s S-400 missile-defense system, which is incompatible with NATO requirements and with Turkey’s acquisition of F-35 jets. And he should drop his long-standing demand to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric living in exile in the U.S., whom Erdogan blames for the attempted coup in 2016. (Gulen denies involvement, and Turkey cannot expect the U.S. to kick him out without evidence.)

The two leaders should try harder to align American and Turkish aims in Syria. Both want to eliminate Islamic terrorist groups but disagree on the role of Kurdish militias. Erdogan has indulged in needlessly bellicose rhetoric, and the U.S. has reduced its use of the Incirlik air base. Confronting terrorist groups and restraining Iran’s influence in the region are too important to let this disagreement fester.

A lot is resting on better relations between the U.S. and Turkey. The pastor’s return provides an opening.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.