Feb 04 2019

Turkish deputy foreign minister to speak at Washington U.S.-Turkey relations conference

Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sedat Önal, is set to join the 37th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. as a key note speaker in April.

The conference, organised by the top U.S.-Turkish business group, the American-Turkish Council (ATC), and its Turkish counterpart, will be held between April 14 and April 16 after a year of delays.

The ATC announced its second delay in six months last October, days before the event was scheduled to take place. Participants were informed of the delay by email shortly after Ankara’s release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor whose two-year detention on terror charges had seriously strained relations between the countries.

The announcement also came amid a diplomatic crisis sparked by the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Riyadh later admitted Khashoggi had been murdered while in the consulate. The Daily Beast revealed that the ATC chairman, retired U.S. general James L. Jones, also held a contract with the Saudi government to overhaul its military.

The last ATC conference, held in April 2017, proved controversial due to the involvement of Ekim Alptekin, the president of the Turkish government-controlled Turkish-American Business Council.

Alptekin was discovered to have paid Michael Flynn, a retired U.S. general who went on to become U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, over $500,000 to lobby the United States for the extradition of Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, the leader of a religious movement Ankara blames for plotting a coup attempt in 2016.

Turkey’s relations with the United States have been under serious strain since the last conference, due in large part to the U.S. support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria deemed a terrorist threat by the Turkish government.

Since his appointment as Deputy Foreign Minister last August, Önal has been involved in high-level talks with U.S. diplomats over the detention of Brunson and the situation in northern Syria.