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TIME FOR CHANGE IN TURKISH-US TIES

Semih İDİZ
21 September 2007 - Turkish Daily News
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Talking at Atlantic Council in Washington recently, Nicholas Burns, the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, signaled the need for a new page in relations with Turkey. Those relations soured seriously due to differences over the US invasion of Iraq, and subsequent developments in Northern Iraq, not the least of which is the fact that the region has become a haven for separatist Kurdish terrorism that targets this country.

l for separatist Kurdish terrorism that targets this country.

  Adding to the negative environment between the two countries was, of course,  an unprecedented peak in anti-American sentiment among Turks, due generally to the overall situation in Iraq, and in particular to increasingly deadly PKK attacks in Turkey.

'Sense of strategic partnership':

  Burns, who was in Ankara earlier this week for high level talks, reminded his audience at the Atlantic Council during his September 13 address that his country and Turkey had “enjoyed a relationship of allied friendship for over half a century.”

  Characterizing this relationship as being one of “enormous complexity, success, and promise” he admitted that the two countries had “weathered a difficult period over the past four years.”

  He went on to say, with reference to the new situation in Turkey after the general elections and the election of President Gül, that “the two countries now had a chance to restore a sense of strategic partnership in US - Turkish relations.”

  Burns' remarks are very much in line with the mood in officials circles in Ankara also where there is a growing awareness of the need to do precisely that, namely “to restore a sense of strategic partnership” with the US.

  Put briefly, both countries appear now to share a common understanding that there is a serious need to open a new page that serves the mutual interest, and is based on a shared vision – something that has been lacking these past four years.

  It is also clear that there is a much better and more realistic understanding in Washington about the complexities of the region and the aggravation caused by what is being termed in the US – let alone other parts of the world – as “the American debacle in Iraq.”

  Nothing highlights this “debacle” more, of course, than the growing line of American officials, including former CIA heads and Governors of the Federal Reserve, who are vying with each other to debunk the Bush administration over this subject.

  But with the UN now poised to get more involved in efforts to stabilize Iraq, and the recent admittance by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to the UN, to the effect that it will be difficult to mark significant development without the cooperation of Iraq's neighbors, it is clear that Washington has started changing tack over this whole issue.

  This inevitably highlights the importance of Turkey for US officials, since the other neighbors of Iraq are considered to be unapproachable in Washington.

  But much more importantly it is a fact that both the US and Turkey have been the closest of allies for over half a century, which indeed makes it a shame that these ties should be allowed to deteriorate further at this stage. This does not mean, however, that there is no potential trouble ahead.

Armenian genocide resolution:

  In fact the “Damocles' Sword” the US Congress is hanging over Ankara's head with its Armenian genocide resolution stands to harm ties with results that will make the sentiment in Turkey after the US invasion of Iraq pale into insignificance.

  Should this resolution pass, and we believe it is a vindictive one rather than one which will genuinely contributes to more understanding between Turks and Armenians, it is clear that no Turkish administration can afford the stigma of dealing with Washington on key strategic issues.

  This was of course explained to Mr. Burns in diplomatic terms while he was in Ankara, and there is no doubt that he has returned to Washington with an even better understanding of the gravity of the threat posed by this resolution.

  Both countries need to look to the future now, and not the past, in order to raise their ties to a new level and “restore a sense of strategic partnership.”

  That being the case it is highly unlikely that trying to get Turks to eat humble pie over sad events that transpired in the past and over a century ago - during which both sides suffered - will contribute to this end.

  There are of course Democrats who have served America as senior diplomats, such as Richard Holbrook and Strobe Talbot, who are well aware of the danger here, and it is hoped that they will be able to reason over this issue with the hotheads in the Democratic Party.

  One seriously hopes, therefore, that the new page in Turkish-US ties that we appear to be on the verge of will be a positive one, and not one that is even worse than what we experienced over these past four years.

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