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Turkey's Leader And Supporters Give Trump Benefit Of The Doubt — For Now

Nov 19, 2016
Originally published on November 19, 2016 8:01 am

Donald Trump's election win has focused attention on his business interests around the world and how they might affect his foreign policy. One such place is Turkey, an important NATO ally neighboring the hot spots of Syria, Iraq and Iran. By far the most prominent reminders of the U.S. president-elect in Turkey are Istanbul's own Trump Towers.

They rise above the Bosporus Strait on the city's European side, twin glass and steel edifices bearing the familiar Trump brand. In this case, it's Trump in name only – the Turkish owners paid for the right to use the name Trump Towers for buildings containing offices above a shopping mall.

The mall is a familiar mix of international brands that might be found in any number of countries. Outside the Burger King stand in the food court, students fresh from their English-language studies at a nearby university attack piles of french fries and consider America and its incoming president.

Fatih Balci, 23, says he's learning English because he wants to travel.

"Yeah, I would like to go to United States," he says.

But he reverts to Turkish to explain why he's looking forward to a Trump administration. "I believe it might be a new beginning for Turkey-American relationships. Probably they're gonna send back Fetullah Gulen," he says, referring to the U.S.-based cleric Turkey accuses of being behind a failed coup attempt in July.

Seeing Gulen back in Turkey to face treason charges — which Gulen denies — is at the top of Turkey's wish list for the next U.S. administration. Turks are hopeful that retired Lt. General Mike Flynn will support Turkey's views in his new role as Trump's national security adviser.

On Nov. 8, The Hill published an op-ed by Flynn saying the U.S. "should not provide [Gulen] safe haven." Questions have been raised about whether Flynn's consulting firm was hired to lobby Washington on Turkey's behalf.

But what about Trump's controversial campaign pledge to halt Muslim immigration? Balci isn't worried – he calls it political rhetoric calculated to appeal to Islamophobia among some Westerners.

Late last year, things looked different. Trump's comments on Muslims seemed likely to trigger a Turkish backlash. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he'd been wrong to attend the opening of the Trump Towers in 2012, and warned that Trump's comments were a sign that Islamophobia was spreading to America.

Erdogan said Trump had "no tolerance for Muslims in America," and called for his name to be removed from the Istanbul towers.

For whatever reason, the name was not removed. And now Turkey's leaders are sounding positive about Trump's win. Author and columnist Mustafa Akyol says they suddenly seemed to forget the anti-Muslim rhetoric and began focusing on another aspect of Donald Trump – his stated reluctance to pressure other leaders about things like their human rights record.

"So it's a kind of live-and-let-live world – nobody should criticize us, we do what we do in Turkey," says Akyol. "I see the sympathy in Turkey for Donald Trump as naivete. A country like Turkey should have reservations about a presidency by Donald Trump, which might cause big problems for Muslims in the United States."

Akyol says Trump could also cause Turkey problems next door, in Syria, if he follows through on his desire to cooperate with Russia and the Syrian regime on fighting Islamic State, as opposed to pressing for President Bashar Assad to step down, as Turkey has demanded.

But for now, young Turks will continue to hang out at the Trump Towers mall and talk about their plans for coming to America.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The election of Mr. Trump has focused attention on his business interests around the world - how they might affect his foreign policy. One of those places is Turkey, an important NATO ally that neighbors Syria, Iraq and Iran. NPR's Peter Kenyon went to see the most prominent reminder of the president-elect in Turkey, Trump Towers Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: They rise above the Bosphorus waterway on the city's European side - twin glass-and-steel edifices bearing the familiar Trump Towers brand. In this case, it's Trump in name only. The Turkish owners paid for the right to put Trump's name on the buildings, which contain offices above and a shopping mall below. It's a familiar mix of international brands that might be found in any number of developed and developing countries.

Outside the Burger King stand in the food court, a table of students fresh from their English-language studies attack piles of french fries and consider America and its incoming president. Twenty-three-year-old Fatih Balci says he's learning English because he wants to travel.

FATIH BALCI: Yeah, I would like to go to the United States.

KENYON: He reverts to Turkish to explain why he's looking forward to a Trump administration.

BALCI: (Through interpreter) I believe it might be a new beginning for Turkey-American relationships. Probably, they're going to send back Fethullah Gulen. But I don't believe that the Middle East policies will change.

KENYON: Sending back Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric who denies Turkey's charge that he was behind a failed coup this summer, tops Turkey's wish list. Turks are hopeful that a key advisor, retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, will back Turkey's views in his new role as Trump's national security adviser. Just before the election, Flynn wrote an op-ed piece calling for Gulen's extradition.

Questions have been raised about whether Flynn's consulting firm was hired to lobby Washington on Turkey's behalf. But what about Trump's controversial campaign pledge to halt Muslim immigration? Balci isn't worried. He calls it political rhetoric calculated to appeal to the Islamophobia among some Westerners.

In fact, late last year, it seemed Trump's comments on Muslims might trigger a Turkish backlash. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he'd been wrong to attend the opening of the towers in 2012 and angrily called for the Trump name to be taken down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Speaking Turkish).

KENYON: Erdogan said Islamophobia was spreading to the U.S. And without naming Trump, he said there were candidates with no tolerance for Muslims in America. He said the Trump brand has no place on a Turkish building and should be removed from the Istanbul towers. For whatever reason, the name was not removed.

And now Turkey's leaders are sounding positive about Trump's win. Author and columnist Mustafa Akyol says they suddenly seemed to forget the anti-Muslim rhetoric and began focusing on another aspect of Donald Trump, his stated reluctance to pressure other leaders about things like their human-rights record.

MUSTAFA AKYOL: So it's a kind of live-and-let-live world. Nobody should, you know, criticize us. We do what we do in Turkey. I see the sympathy in Turkey for Donald Trump as naivete. A country like Turkey should have reservations about a presidency by Donald Trump, which might create big problems for Muslims in the United States.

KENYON: Akyol says Trump could also cause Turkey problems next door in Syria if he follows through on his desire to cooperate with Russia and the Syrian regime on fighting Islamic State, as opposed to pressing for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, as Turkey has advocated. But for now, young Turks will continue to hang at the Trump-Towers mall and talk about their plans for coming to America. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.