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Trump's Personal Relationship with Erdogan and Its Significance

Αssociated Press

File- President Donald Trump shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Until now, it was generally said, as a kind of political small talk, that Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, and Donald Trump have an unprecedentedly close personal relationship for two presidents. A relationship that is not directly related to the exercise of their country's foreign policy duties, but to their personal affairs.

This is how things appeared given the fact that Erdogan's telephone contacts with Trump were capable of drastically changing American policy, even on a major foreign policy issue.

For example, the overturning of U.S. policy in Syria – and the betrayal of the Kurds – when Trump gave Erdogan the ‘green light’ to invade that country.

But now, we have new information confirming the nature of their personal relationship: former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote a book - which has not yet been released to the public - but one which The New York Times has managed to obtain excerpts from. These excerpts refer to the “favors” Trump made for the Presidents of Turkey and China for personal reasons.

The question is, why did Trump do favors for Erdogan?

According to Bolton, it was not for the sake of U.S. national security issues, but for personal reasons. And the question for us is whether the favors will extend to how matters pertaining to the turbulent Greek-Turkish relations are handled.

What are these personal matters that bind them?

A revelation regarding his relationship with Turkey was made by Trump himself in a speech in 2015, when he stated: “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers – two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two. And I’ve gotten to know Turkey very well. They’re amazing people, they’re incredible people. They have a strong leader.”

We do not know for sure whether there are any other personal matters that bind them. But what we do know is that in a very recent case, which seems to concern Erdogan himself (or members of his family), Trump did everything he could to help.

In short: Turkish gold dealer Reza Zarrab was arrested by U.S. authorities in New York on charges that he played a decisive role in an operation of the Turkish state-owned Halkbank to divert $10 billion in gold and cash to Iran. In a series of phone calls, Erdogan asked Trump to release the gold trader.

The practical consideration, according to former Turkish government officials, was that if he were not released, Zarrab would involve members of the Erdogan family - or the even Turkish President himself - in the case.

Of course, presidential involvement in the affairs of judicial officials, especially regarding foreign nationals, is extremely unusual - and possibly illegal.

Hence the rumbles.

For us, the issue of possible personal relations between the two Presidents assumes more weighty significance due to Turkey’s provocations.

To be more specific: in the event of a 'clash' (whether planned or not) between Greece and Turkey, will the American President, as a result of his personal relations with Erdogan, be able to play the role of an objective Global Leader – like Clinton did in the case of Imia?

Or, is Erdogan making the moves he is making in Greece because he believes Trump cannot – even if he wanted to – take on that role because of the dimensions - the breadth and depth - of their personal relationship?