U.S. reliance on Syrian Kurdish fighters in the campaign against ISIS has strained ties between the United States and its ally Turkey, which considers the Syrian PYD militia to be an affiliate of the PKK, itself long viewed as a terrorist organization by the Ankara government. Turkey's May 1 airstrike on Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq is the latest evidence that the two allies are working at cross purposes in this conflict. And while President Trump personally congratulated Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the outcome of the April 16 constitutional referendum, many now question how the emboldened Turkish president may steer relations with the United States and other NATO allies.
Erdogan's May 16 visit to Washington provided signs of how the two countries will address these issues. On the heels of the Trump-Erdogan meeting, the director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies, Gönül Tol, hosted Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Jonathan Cohen (U.S. Department of State) and scholars Nicholas Danforth (Bipartisan Policy Center), Naz Durakoglu (Atlantic Council), and Alan Makovsky (Center for American Progress) for a discussion of the main drivers in U.S.-Turkish cooperation in the Middle East.
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Jonathan Cohen has been the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State covering Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey since August 2016. He previously served in Baghdad as deputy chief of mission (DCM), 2014-2016, and in Paris as Acting DCM (2013-2014) and as minister counselor for political affairs (2011-2013). A Foreign Service Officer since 1986, his previous assignments include: Nicosia as DCM, Rome as counselor for political-military affairs, Ankara as political advisor to Operation Northern Watch and Iraq specialist, Irbil and Baghdad, Stockholm, Vienna OSCE, Jerusalem, Bangkok, and Washington.
Senior Policy Analyst, Bipartisan Policy Center
Nicholas Danforth is a senior policy analyst for The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) national security program. Prior to joining BPC in January 2016, he worked on Middle East policy issues for Concepts and Strategies and the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Danforth received his M.A. from the School of Oriental and African Studies and his B.A. from Yale. He completed his Ph.D. in history at Georgetown University in 2015 and has written widely about Turkey, U.S. foreign policy, and the Middle East for publications including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, and Foreign Affairs.
Senior Fellow, The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab
Naz Durakoglu recently joined the Atlantic Council as senior fellow and strategist at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, specializing in Turkey, Russia, and information defense. She served in the Obama Administration as senior adviser to the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs at the US Department of State. In this position, she oversaw strategic messaging on Europe and Eurasia, led the Bureau’s legislative efforts, and helped craft and implement US policy on Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Cyprus, NATO, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Western Europe, visa waiver reform, and disinformation issues. For her work, she was awarded the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award.
Previously, Naz worked on Capitol Hill as the staff director for both the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. During her time on Capitol Hill, she worked on several bills that were signed into law, including sanctions legislation in response to Iran’s nuclear program as well as to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine; she initiated a series of hearings examining US-Turkey relations; coordinated a working group between policymakers and social media companies to help stem online terrorist recruitment; and founded a bipartisan congressional caucus on transatlantic trade and investment.
Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Alan Makovsky is a senior fellow on the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. From 2001 to 2013, he served as a senior professional staff member on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, where he covered the Middle East, Turkey, and other related issues. At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Makovsky wrote widely on various Middle Eastern and Turkish topics from 1994 to 2001. He also founded and directed WINEP’s Turkey Research Program. At the U.S. Department of State, where he worked from 1983 to 1994, Makovsky variously covered southern European affairs and Middle Eastern affairs for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He also served as the political advisor to Operation Provide Comfort in 1992 and as the special advisor to the special Middle East coordinator from 1993 to 1994.
Gönül Tol, moderator
Founding Director, Center for Turkish Studies, Middle East Institute
Gönül Tol is the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies and authors a weekly column for the liberal Turkish daily Radikal. She previously worked at the U.S. Representative Office of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSIAD) and has lectured as an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University. She writes extensively on Turkey-U.S. relations, Turkish domestic politics, Turkish foreign policy, and the Kurdish issue. She is a frequent media commentator on Islamist movements in Western Europe and Turkish politics. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Florida International University, where she was a graduate fellow at the Middle East Studies Center.