Turkey-U.S. Relations and the Next Administration

This paper is part of a MEI scholar series titled “The Middle East and the 2016 Presidential Elections."


The failed coup attempt in Turkey unleashed new problems for bilateral relations with the United States. The question of the role Fethullah Gulen may have played in the coup attempt has exacerbated already-tense ties between the two NATO allies. Turkey has been disappointed in U.S. behavior in recent years, particularly regarding the Obama administration’s approach to Syria and its cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish militia. Washington on the other hand accuses Turkey of not doing enough to fight ISIS. These problems will remain for the next administration, which will need to find a way to retain this important alliance.

Key Points

  • Syria remains the biggest point of contention between the United States and Turkey, in particular U.S. support for Syrian Kurds
  • Although Turkey would prefer a Clinton White House, relations might not be as smooth as Ankara hopes, with outstanding issues likely to remain
  • The next president will need to deal with the complicated legal process concerning the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, which will likely strain already tense relations between Washington and Ankara and fuel anti-American sentiment in Turkey
  • Disagreements in Iraq are also likely to plague Turkish-U.S. relations moving forward, particularly as more areas under ISIS-occupied areas become liberated
  • There is great potential for improved relations between Turkey and the United States in security and defense cooperation, economy and regional problemsolving if both nations are willing to subordinate other issues to these larger goals

Read the full Policy Focus here.