Last week, a federal jury in New York convicted a Turkish banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla of playing a role in an elaborate gold-smuggling scheme that involved bribing high-ranking Turkish government officials to help Iran evade American sanctions.
Making the case even more explosive, testimony at Mr. Atilla’s trial alleged that the scheme had the approval of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr. Erdogan, of course, is not pleased. The other day, he again voiced his longstanding claim that the Iran sanctions violation case is just the latest link in a chain of C.I.A.-orchestrated plots against him, including the 2013 protests in Gezi Park and the 2016 attempted coup. Mr. Erdogan has also tied the case — initially brought by the United States attorney at the time, Preet Bharara — to accusations of corruption against his family by Turkey’s main opposition party, saying that both were part of the conspiracy.
Relations between the United States and Turkey are already strained over issues from Washington’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria to Turkey’s arrest of American citizens and State Department employees. This verdict risks pushing them closer to the breaking point. Mr. Atilla’s conviction, which is likely to lead to heavy fines against the state-owned bank where he worked, has already led to a new wave of anti-American invective from high-ranking Turkish officials.
Turkey’s president feels under siege. And with both the United States government and parliamentary opponents accusing him of corruption, he will continue his domestic crackdown and his anti-American rhetoric. This is dangerous. Every newspaper closed or politician arrested, like every new diplomatic spat with the United States or Europe, will further strain Turkey’s social fabric and weaken its economy.
Nicholas Danforth is a senior policy analyst for Bipartistan Policy Center’s national security program.