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What's behind Europe’s outreach to Erdogan?

Europe’s acceptance of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an interlocutor is driven by Turkey’s continuing strategic importance rather than any reflection on its president.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron pose after a news conference at the Syria summit in Istanbul, Turkey, October 27 2018.   Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS - RC18F59FDC40

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his abrasive manners and undiplomatic approach to international affairs, is not an easy leader for the West to deal with. Love him or not, however, the West is showing once again that it can’t afford to ignore him. Because of this, Erdogan has enhanced his international image over the past few months, going from being a potential pariah in Western eyes to being viewed as an interlocutor who is by turns a regional game-changer, a potential peacemaker and even a champion of international justice.

Many analysts argue that it is Turkey’s importance, rather than Erdogan as a leader, that is driving the current dynamics. They note that European leaders continue to criticize him over his record on democracy and human rights, even to his face when hosting him on official visits. These same European leaders are also trying, however, to ensure that such criticism does not escalate into fresh crises with Ankara at a time when they need Turkey’s cooperation on such vital issues as illegal immigration from the Middle East and the fight against Islamic terrorism.

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