21 November 2008

2656) "Open Letter To President-Elect Obama : Win Turkey As A Key Partner" Faruk Logoglu

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When you take your oath of office next Jan. 20, not just the American people, but also the whole world will be greeting you with hope and expectation. Your views, choices and decisions will affect the globe well beyond America's borders and have consequences in the lives and well-being of people everywhere.

The international community today longs deeply for justice, security, peace and some semblance of well-being and prosperity. As the leader of the most influential country, you have an unprecedented opportunity to work for a better world. There will be . . .
appeals to you from all corners of the world. Our times require an American President who is aware of the strengths of America, but also cognizant of the limits of its power, a leader who is humble and respectful of the assets of other nations. Your success will depend on how well you choose between those issues, where you take the lead and apply America's full weight and those issues that you leave to others to resolve. To succeed in this historic enterprise, Turkey, an ally for more than fifty years, can be one of your strategic partners in the very critical regions of Eurasia and the Middle East.

With these thoughts, I call on you from Turkey to share my reflections on Turkish-American relations:

Turkey and the United States sustain a key relationship invaluable to both, resting on a foundation of common values and converging national interests. Democracy, the rule of law, human rights, fundamental freedoms and market economy are among the elements that bond the two nations. In spite of the occasional important differences that occur, the two allies and partners generally have similar and often harmonious approaches to and understanding of the resolution of various regional and global issues and conflicts. Our relationship has withstood the vicissitudes of time and has amply proven its strength and durability. Our cooperation has worked mostly to the benefit of our nations. Today humanity faces dire risks and formidable challenges in various fields including terrorism, climate change, food, energy supply and security, weapons of mass destruction, ethnic-sectarian- tribal conflicts, pandemics, natural disasters, poverty, gender related issues and other inequalities. These are matters of common concern to all of us. Turkey is also a pivotal player in the leading major regional conflicts whether in the Caucasus, the Middle East or the Balkans. NATO's evolution, the future of Iraq and Afghanistan, the resurgence of Russia, the Black Sea, the state of Euro-Atlantic affairs are other priority items on our mutual agenda. In short, our agendas, our priorities and our needs overlap. We can help each other and conversely, we can hurt each other if we fail to utilize the assets of our unique relationship. This is why I urge you, Mr. President, to pay attention to the following issues to ensure that our partnership remains strong, constructive and mutually beneficial. I realize that on all these points the Turkish side must take the appropriate reciprocating steps.

1. Our relationship is a special one. It is the only formal alliance of the U.S. with a Muslim country in NATO. Common values, shared ideals and compatible national interests form its solid foundation. They are both democracies.

2. Today our relations are stable and relatively warm. Recovery in the aftermath of the March 1, 2003, vote in the Turkish Parliament was not easy. The halting of the Armenian resolutions in Congress last year and the belated cooperation against PKK terrorists in Iraq provided breathing space. You now have the opportunity to put our ties on a progressive track.

3. Please keep in mind that the unique and greatest asset of Turkey is its democracy and its secularism. The separation of religion from the affairs of the state and the public domain has been the lifeline of Turkish democracy. The perception that Turkey is of interest because it exemplifies "moderate Islam" is therefore misplaced. Any constructive role that Turkey can play in the context of the "clash of civilizations" has nothing to do with its being a moderate Islamic state which it is not or that it typically represents the Islamic world. Turkey's significance lies in its success in having combined democracy and secularism in a predominantly Muslim populated society. If the development and spread of democracy, especially in the Muslim world, is going to be one of your Administration's goals, it is indispensable that you understand the workings of Turkish democracy and adjust your attitudes accordingly. The spread of democracy takes time and patience. A low-key approach generally works better, especially if you calibrate it to the unique features of the country in question. The golden rule regarding Turkey in this respect is to not interfere in Turkey's domestic politics and refrain from any action that could create the impression of such interference.

4. Our partnership is asymmetrical. Turkey is a regional power; the U.S. is a global power. Turkish perceptions and assessments of issues and events derive from local references and are much more textured with historical and cultural elements and sensitive to local balances and interests. The U.S. operates on a global scale and at a macro level, making it less attentive to local details. Turkey's foreign policy objectives change little over time whereas American priorities shift rapidly. When seeking Turkish cooperation, this asymmetry must be kept in mind. Do not forget that because of this asymmetry, the priorities, the immediacy and timing of demands and expectations of the two sides can differ significantly. The realistic setting and matching of priorities are therefore critical in order to reciprocally reap maximum benefits.

5. The Turkish-American relationship is fragile and sensitive in its public psychology dimension. Like Americans, national honor is inviolable for Turks. Inadvertent statements or incidents implying disrespect for national values and symbols should be avoided if our relationship is not to be sidetracked. Take ownership of your ties with Turkey. Take the initiative and make a statement affirming the importance of our ties. This would do much good and provide an auspicious start.

6. Surveys consistently indicate a very unfavorable opinion of the U.S. in Turkey. This underlines the need to implement a broad public diplomacy strategy to win the hearts of the Turkish public. That should be one of the tasks of your Administration.

7. The efforts of the Armenian and other anti-Turkish lobbies to take our relationship hostage should be rendered harmless. You need to convince the Turkish public that you are being fair and not giving in to the demands of special interest groups, especially when those demands are at least questionable.

8. Two concrete issues regarding Turkey that will be brought to your attention in the early days of your Presidency will be the Armenian resolutions in the Congress and American help in the fight against the PKK that is based in Iraq. They literally constitute the red buttons in the control deck of our relations. Any resolution in Congress supporting Armenian claims would do substantial, if not irreparable, damage to your standing in Turkey and upset the entire chemistry of our relationship.

Moreover, it would not help resolve the problem and reverse the positive trends now in the making between Turkey and Armenia. Instead, you should encourage the recent positive trends between the two neighboring states in the direction of dialogue and conciliation.

9. Similarly, the decision of the Bush administration to work with Turkey against the PKK terrorists operating from their safe havens in Iraq is of critical significance for the Turkish people. You should ensure that the Turkish-American cooperation in that sphere continues without interruption.

10. Proper maintenance of our relationship might also require a refurbishing of the various bilateral consultation mechanisms and joint commissions that are in place. These different bodies have generally fallen short of expectations. The only exception is the mechanisms between the two militaries that have met regularly and performed efficiently. You might ask for a review of the current situation in order to ascertain what steps are necessary to put Turkish-American relations on a sounder footing. A step that should surely be taken would be to widen the spectrum of bilateral official contacts. At present, our contacts are limited to heads of state or government, foreign ministers and to ministers in charge of the treasury and trade. We need to expand the network of our contacts to cover other government departments to help diversify our relationship.

11. There has been an important shift in the fulcrum of our ties because of changes in the international environment in the last several decades. The shift has diminished the relative weight of the military-defense component of our relationship and increased the importance of energy-related issues and of such "soft power" elements as culture, religion and civilization. Maintaining a proper balance and mix among the different components is probably necessary for the optimal performance of our partnership. This should enhance the level of "smart" power accruing from our ties.

12. Energy is an all-important variable in the equation of international relations today. Even as you try to reduce the dependence of your country on foreign oil and gas, you will still need supplies from abroad for a long time to come. Turkey is poised to become a major hub of oil and gas from the Caspian and Central Asian regions as well as from the Middle East, including Iran. Turkey is a safe, reliable, secure and an economically and environmentally acceptable hub for the distribution and transmission of energy supplies. This will counter-balance Russian dominance in this domain and provide alternative outlets to producer nations. The BTC pipeline became a reality because of strong official American support. Now is the time to encourage and motivate both governments and oil companies to build additional oil and gas pipelines terminating in or transiting through Turkey. In short, help and promote Turkey to become an energy hub and corridor on a world scale.

13. One final note about our bilateral relationship concerns economic ties. The political, strategic, defense and cultural components of our relationship are strong and durable. However, the economic dimension requires more effort as the amount of our trade is small and the level of American investments in Turkey is rather low. A substantial economic stake will improve the immunity of our relationship to tensions and crises we may face in other domains. Make the expansion of our economic-commercial-investment ties a priority. Diversification of our ties in the fields of culture, education and science as well as increasing contacts between our civil society organizations are also needed to enhance the overall value of our relationship.

14. Turkey has recently intensified its efforts toward the resolution of the many conflicts in its region. Its unique capabilities; history, culture, knowledge and body language; are among the factors which enable Turkey to play a useful and facilitating role in the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans. However, Turkey’s activity and efforts alone will not be enough to bring these complicated conflicts to resolution. We need to connect Turkish energies to the capacities of the United States and the European Union. Such synergizing should enhance the overall effectiveness of the Euro-Atlantic community.

15. One conflict, which ought to be your top priority, is the Arab-Israeli dispute. This is an area where Turkey and the United States could act effectively together. Turkey’s engagement with Syria is important and makes Syria a willing partner in the Middle East peace process. It also makes Syria less dependent on Iran. On the other hand, a critical pitfall to avoid in the Middle East is the division of the countries in the region along a sectarian axis. Pitting Sunnis against the Shiites is the ultimate recipe for disaster.

16. Turkey is a NATO member. It seeks membership in the EU. Past administrations have supported Turkey's quest for EU accession. The American support has been very helpful and should be continued. The Euro-Atlantic community would be stronger with Turkey in the EU and enhance its effectiveness in coping with the different regional and transnational challenges we are facing.

17. There is currently a window of opportunity for the settlement of the long-standing problem of Cyprus. Negotiations are in progress between the Turkish Cyprots and the Greek Cypriots. The US has always taken a keen interest in the problem and been in a position to make a concrete contribution to its resolution. Many feel this may be the last chance for a long time to come to find a just solution that will protect the interests of the two sides in the Island as well as the interests of Turkey as a guarantor power. If you take action in favor of a negotiated settlement, the chances of success in Cyprus will improve vastly. Another reason why you should not ignore this issue is the potential it carries for an armed conflict between Turkey and the Greek Cypriots (and possibly Greece) over oil exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

18. A related challenge is the set of Aegean disputes between Turkey and Greece. This is a relatively quiet front at present despite occasional incidents that occur in the sea and in the air.

Nonetheless, experience tells us that any small incident in the Aegean could rapidly escalate into a major confrontation between the two NATO allies. The US has tried to help before. Your Administration might find itself in the midst of an explosive situation in the Aegean. It would therefore be prudent for you to familiarize yourself with this file.

19. On Iraq, understand that no policy, American or otherwise, can succeed without the support of its neighbors. Turkey will continue to join its efforts with you if you respect and help protect Iraq's territorial integrity and national unity. The Kirkuk issue is still Iraq's Gordian knot and must be resolved in a manner consistent with the nation's unity and territorial integrity and the interests of all the Iraqis (Arabs, Kurds, Turcomans and all the other ethnic and religious minorities).

20. The US ought not to oppose Turkey's engagement of Iran because connecting Iran to the West helps Iran's reintegration into the international community and creates stakes for Iran to maintain a responsible stance in regional and world affairs. It is also important to realize that there is no substitute for direct dialogue between the US and Iran. You should challenge Iran to engage first.

Russian resurgence is substantially altering global politics. The Caucasus region is experiencing new strains. Some fear the beginning of a new Cold War. We are facing a new, rather unpredictable situation. One consequence of all this has been the introduction of the Black Sea and the related matter of the Montreux Convention to the international agenda. This is an area where you must act with caution and sophistication. The Montreux Convention has proven its worth and it works. You must closely coordinate your aims and actions with Turkey and not push Turkey into a corner in this respect.

22. Turkey's relations with Russia are substantial in terms of trade, investments, tourism and in the field of energy. Our national interest dictates that we maintain positive relations with Russia. As you deal with Russia, keeping Turkey's special position in mind would be helpful.

23. Finally, Mr. President, I would urge you to visit my country at your earliest opportunity. This should win you much sympathy here and energize our bilateral relations.

I believe Turkey is a pivotal power in its geopolitical space, a strategic partner of the US and a key member of the Euro-Atlantic community. A statesman once said, "America is a nation that seeks its golden age in the future". The same is true for Turkey. Let us therefore join our visions and make the world a better, safer place.

Faruk Logoglu is former Ambassador of Turkey to the U.S.

TUSIAD Private View Autumn Edition


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