Zarrab’s oil-for-gold case further strains US-Turkish relations

Erdogan’s strategy is to turn national sentiment against the US, even as he tries to obscure the reality and implications of the Zarrab case.


2017/11/26 Issue: 133 Page: 7


The Arab Weekly
Yavuz Baydar



Until about a year ago, only a few Turkey observers were aware of the explosive nature of an oil-for-gold case in a far-off US federal court in New York. Very few paid attention to what was really at play and its possible ramifications for Turkish-Ameri­can relations.

Now, everyone is taking notice of the trial of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab’s trial is due to start but his whereabouts are a mystery, leading to speculation he has cut a deal and agreed to become a US government witness. What effect might any of this have on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and on the country’s relationship with the United States?

There is almost no analysis worth the name, simply because the chain of events is so unprec­edented and many of Turkey’s most acute political commenta­tors have appeared unaware of the seismic change in the country’s approach to the world.

They remain oblivious to the global disorder caused by Turkish foreign policy and to the fact that Turkish diplomacy has become hostage to a new form of feudal­ism.

It has brought forth institution­alised disrespect or, at the very least, disregard for the rule of law, judicial independence and Turkey’s traditional alliances. The new order, which includes trans­actional partnerships, appears to allow for the intimidation and imprisonment of dissidents, both domestic and foreign, and the swap of political or other foreign-national prisoners.

Much of this has to do with the culture of impunity now creep­ing into Turkey and many other democracies. This is the context of the Zarrab case, which is due to begin December 4 in New York.

The magnitude and impact of this case for the Turkish govern­ment is hard to overstate.

Zarrab, a gold trader, is charged with running a complex scheme to evade US sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme. He is accused of selling gold to the Islamic Republic in return for oil. Another top suspect, bank manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla, is accused of helping to launder the proceeds through the state-owned Halkbank. Seven other suspects now in US custody are also charged with involvement in the plot. They include Turkey’s former economy minister, Zafer Caglayan.

The case has further strained relations between Turkey and the United States. Ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party circles, backed by a loud chorus of pro-government Turkish media, accuse Washington of trying to dislodge Erdogan. It would be, they say, “a second coup” after the failed one in July 2016.

Indeed the politics of the Zarrab case appears to be taking centre stage, at least in Turkey. The rage that grips Ankara has already been apparent in Turkish ministers’ tense visits to Washington. The Zarrab case apparently topped the agenda of most meetings.

There was also a bloody brawl outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington when Erdogan’s secu­rity detail allegedly beat peaceful Kurdish protesters. More recently, there have been the arrests of Turkish staff members of US mis­sions in Turkey.

All of these constitute an escala­tion, one that disrupts the calm basis of Turkish-American part­nership, which has lasted more than 70 years.

Unsurprisingly, the US Congress is shocked and angry and its reac­tion is mirrored by legislators in Ankara.

And yet, Erdogan’s ruling AKP continues to play on anti-Ameri­canism.

Erdogan’s strategy is to turn national sentiment against the US, even as he tries to obscure the reality and implications of the Zarrab case.

Among the Turkish govern­ment’s potential concerns about the case is that Zarrab’s testimony might point a finger at high-level officials involved in sanctions-busting. There is some suggestion the finger-pointing could reach as far as Erdogan.

It is all gossip, until it’s not.


Yavuz Baydar is a journalist based in Istanbul. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) and a news analyst, he won the European Press Prize in 2014. He has been reporting on Turkey and journalism issues since 1980.


As Printed
MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

Designers

Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved