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President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels on July 11. Photo: Sean Gallup via Getty Images

Last month, President Trump hailed Turkey's release of American pastor Andrew Brunson as a “tremendous” step toward better relations between the two countries. The administration is betting that, after the crisis that rocked U.S.-Turkey relations over the summer, bilateral ties will normalize.

Reality check: With the exception of a brief moment after Trump was elected, the U.S.-Turkey relationship has been rife with tension, and the two countries’ interests still do not align. The U.S. and Turkey are divided over Syria, Ankara’s ties to Moscow, the fate of Fethullah Gulen — the alleged mastermind of the failed 2016 coup attempt — and the detention of Americans in Turkey.

Background: Turkey sits at the geographic center of some of the United States’ most pressing foreign-policy concerns, including the Syrian civil war, Iran sanctions, Russian aggression in Europe and Eastern Mediterranean stability. But Turkey opposes the U.S. on these issues: Turkish leadership wants to change the regional order that facilitates the exercise of American power in Ankara’s neighborhood and has taken steps to undermine American policy.

What to watch:

  • The last time international sanctions were imposed on Iran, Ankara helped Tehran evade them, and Turkish-Iranian trade initially increased. Even though the Trump administration granted Turkey a waiver to continue to buy oil from Iran, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been vocal in his opposition to U.S. policy. Given Turkey’s track record, it’s possible that Turkey will once again help Iran work around sanctions
  • As Brunson was being released, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar confirmed that Turkey would purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which could provide Moscow with information about how the U.S.-made F-35 jet operates. (Turkey has to rely on Russian software, spare parts and technicians to maintain the system, giving them access to Turkey’s F-35 fleet.) There has been speculation inside the Beltway that Turkey will walk away from the deal if U.S.-Turkey relations improve. That seems unlikely, but Erdogan is capable of sudden policy swings.

The big picture: The Brunson case indicates that applying public pressure on Erdogan works. The Trump administration could have much to gain by maintaining such pressure, since, in addition to the above issues, Turkey continues to unjustly imprison other Americans and jails more journalists than any other country in the world.

Steven A. Cook is a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Go deeper: Read Steven Cook’s full report at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Go deeper

COVID cases fall by 20%

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The number of new COVID-19 cases continues to plummet all across the U.S.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging roughly 70,000 new cases per day, a 20% drop over the past two weeks.

2 hours ago - World

Taiwan leader confirms U.S. troops on island training forces

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei earlier this month. Photo: I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen told CNN Thursday that a small number of American troops are on the island for training purposes and she has "faith" the U.S. would defend the democracy against a Chinese military attack.

Why it matters: This is the first time a Taiwanese leader has publicly acknowledged the presence of U.S. troops on the self-governing island since the last U.S. garrison left in 1979, when Washington switched formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.