Friday, August 27, 2010
The Turkish diplomatic delegation’s “routine” meetings with U.S. officials were concluded Tuesday evening. Within only two days, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and his team of high-level diplomats had more than a dozen meetings in which they were able to sit and talk with officials from the U.S. Treasury, Department of Defense, State Department, the White House and various groups of influential Washington players.
Turkish diplomatic sources familiar with the meetings appeared to be satisfied with the course of the meetings. The officials were aware of the “negative” climate especially in the U.S. Congress against Turkey, mainly because of Turkey’s Iran and Israel policies, in which the president’s nominee for ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, is currently blocked.
The same diplomatic sources also explained Turkey’s assumed role over the Iranian conundrum and stated that Turkey sees itself as a facilitator between the U.S. and Iran. “Turkey is not taking sides and not defending anyone,” the diplomatic official said. Instead, “Turkey tries to bring the sides together” and “facilitate or help to facilitate the nuclear negotiations between parties,” and Turkey will not be an active negotiating player as part of the Vienna group or P5+1, the same sources added.
A delegation from the U.S. Treasury Department visited Ankara last week “to ask Turkey not to trade with Iran,” the officials confirmed, and to better organize with Ankara the sanctions regime against Iran. However, Turkey made its stance clear to the U.S. delegation in Ankara and during the meetings in Washington that it does not see itself as bound by the additional sanctions packages that have passed in the U.S. Congress or in others.
The diplomatic sources also confirmed that the perception that Turkey is drifting away from the West seems to be the biggest worry about Turkey in the U.S. Congress, which is currently in its August recess.
When I contacted the U.S. State Department and wanted to hear their description and observations of the meetings, a U.S. State Department official also gave an upbeat description and wrote to me that “positive and constructive meetings” were held with the Turkish counterparts in which “a wide range of issues of mutual interest were discussed.” The official closed by stating: “Turkey is a strategic partner and ally of the United States. We cooperate closely on a wide range of issues including regional stability, Afghanistan, Iraq, energy security, economic growth and combating terrorism.” The engines of the relationship from both countries, the diplomatic actors, therefore, concluded that they had beneficial and useful encounters.
Sinirlioğlu’s meeting with various Jewish groups in Washington also went well, according to sources who participated in the meeting, which according to one participant ended with “smiles and good wishes.”
According to Turkish diplomatic sources familiar with the content of this meeting, the Turkish side conveyed the message to these organizations that Turkey still sees Israel as “a friend,” and the current issues between the countries as “disagreements between friends.” “Nobody tried to convert one another, even if there were disagreements during the meeting” said one witness. The Turkish delegation also wanted meeting attendees to know Turkey still believes that the current problems with Israel arise because of the current Israeli government’s policies.
Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander PR Group and a businessman in New York who deals with the effects and results of the strained relations between the two countries in various capacities, stated the opposite: “The source of the tension in the U.S. Congress toward Turkey is because of the Justice and Development Party [AKP’s] policies” argued Friedlander. He predicted that the Turkey-Israel relationship will continue to deteriorate and the anti-Turkey climate in Congress will strengthen, “as long as the AKP pursues its current hostility against Israel.”
One of the leaders of the growing Turkish-American community contacted me following my column last week and stated that they have had an extremely difficult time engaging with the Congressional members and their staff for some time, primarily regarding Turkey’s dealings with Iran and Israel. The leader, who quite often visits and meets with Congressional representatives, stated that some of the members of Congress’ Turkey Caucus might leave the group in the near future. “We are tired of facing the same questions over Turkey’s axis,” said the official. “[It’s] not only Armenian genocide resolutions, but there is an increased lobbying effort in the House for new resolutions that call on Turkish soldiers in northern Cyprus to leave the island.”
Mr. Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America, or TCA, wrote in response to the question of whether their organization is having the same difficulties while dealing with Congress. "TCA is working every day with the Turkish-American community to ensure that members of Congress and their staff understand the importance of the U.S.-Turkey relationship in the context of its more than 60-year duration as well as our nations' bilateral cooperation on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and many other troubled spots in the world.” McCurdy said, “TCA has led five U.S. government delegations to Turkey so far in 2010 to help correct inaccuracies and misunderstandings regarding the U.S.-Turkey relationship.” McCurdy concluded by saying, “TCA is mindful of recent challenges, but is confident that all parties will work together in the spirit of peace and mutual cooperation."
I had a chance to interview George Friedman, CEO and founder of Stratfor, a global strategic company, following a conference on Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., and asked whether Turkey’s seemingly siding with Iran would hurt its standing and balancing act in the region. Friedman plainly said he does not believe that Turkey is siding with Iran, but “wants to be a mediator between the U.S. and Iran, just like it tried between Syria and Israel in the recent past.” Friedman said one cannot mediate “if one is not willing to sit down closer to, at least to one side.”
Stratfor recently published a study paper on Turkey, titled “Turkey’s Power Struggle,” in which the Gülen movement’s activities are examined intensively, from its recruiting practices to how to maintain lifelong ties with its followers in different Turkish institutions and its own fight for “jockeying for power in Turkey.”
Friedman further argued that he believes Turkey will reach its synthesis at the end of this power struggle and a new social contract will be written in which the Islamists and seculars compromise. “Because,” Friedman reasoned, “as an outsider, I don’t see stark differences between them. Especially in foreign affairs, they sound very similar.” And both will understand that neither can be eliminated in Turkey.
The spirit of diplomacy thrived in Washington this week at a rather difficult time, forging the relationship without resorting to arguments and conflicts through mostly staying on matters of bilateral interests to both parties.
If a new contract were to be written in Turkey, as Friedman foresees, at the end of today’s internal fight, this spirit is needed the most.