Turkish President Erdogan keeps getting ignored by Biden, and looks desperate to get his attention

Erdogan biden
A composite image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Joe Biden. Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Turkish President Erdoğan appears desperate to get Biden’s attention, officials tell Insider.
  • He has replaced top officials unsavory to the US and offered negotiations on the F-35 program.
  • Turkey’s state bank faces money-laundering accusations in New York, which could explain Erdoğan’s motives.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in recent weeks made a series of moves appearing to appease the US in a desperate bid to get President Joe Biden’s attention – which he isn’t getting, diplomats and officials told Insider.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week that Biden would call Erdoğan “at some point,” but gave no specifics.

Since Biden won the election, Erdoğan has replaced a series of top officials unsavory to the US and offered negotiations to break an arms-deal impasse.

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Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara, Turkey, in 2016. Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Days after the 2020 election, when it was apparent that Biden had won, Erdoğan replaced two top officials widely considered by the US and EU as loyalists with close ties to corruption and economic mismanagement. They are Murat Uysal, who was on November 7 fired as Turkey’s central bank governor, and Berat Albayrak, the finance and treasury minister who resigned on November 9. Albayrak is also Erdoğan’s son-in-law.

In February, Turkey also offered negotiations to break the impasse over the F-35 program, in which the US under former President Donald Trump ended Turkey’s role in manufacturing the warplane after Erdoğan refused to cancel the purchase of Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missiles.

But Biden ignored Turkey’s offer proposal, with the Pentagon saying his administration would continue the policy of shutting Turkey out of the weapons program.

F-35 Lakenheath
An F-35 Lightning II from the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, lands at RAF Lakenheath, England, in April 2017. US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel

One European diplomat said Erdoğan’s moves show a realization that Biden would not turn a blind eye to his actions, as Trump did.

“It’s so predictable,” said a EU diplomat based in Ankara, who could not be named for security reasons, but whose identity is known to Insider.

“Trump treated all these guys … Erdoğan, Putin, Bibi … like peers, and they all began to believe that they somehow were,” the source added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, two fellow strongmen.

Why Erdoğan wants to be on Biden’s good side

Several officials interviewed by Insider pointed to the impending trial of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, which is due to take place this month in the Southern District of New York, as Law.com reported last year.

Halkbank is accused of allowing Iran to launder tens of billions of dollars in cash, gold, and oil via Turkey to avoid US sanctions, while under the protection of Erdoğan’s close allies.

A former executive of the bank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, resigned this week as the chair of the Istanbul Stock Exchange – a position that had infuriated US officials as Atilla had in 2018 been convicted in New York for his role at the bank and sentenced to 28 months in prison.

Erdoğan had previously decried the investigations as politically motivated.

Halkbank’s impending trial – which risks a potential fine in the tens of billions of dollars, and Turkey’s access to international money-transfer systems threatened – shows just how much Erdoğan needs to make peace with the new administration.

Referring to Turkey’s Halkbank scandal, the EU diplomat said: “The Turks think Trump doesn’t really care, because of course he didn’t. But Biden cares and Biden knows who has the real power in the relationship and now Erdoğan is waiting by the phone hoping for a call almost two months into things.”

“Erdoğan should have used the sympathetic Trump administration to resolve and end this situation, but he was arrogant and decided he could ignore it altogether,” the source added.

“Now he needs to deal with Biden on several issues, but the one where Turkey is most obviously at fault remains on the table and about to be resolved in a public courtroom. Biden might not call him until after the trial, unless there’s some sort of crisis.”