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Turkey aims for better U.S. ties

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Turkey is attempting to mend ties with the United States that were strained badly over the war in Iraq, and is willing to let U.S. planes operate from its Incirlik Air Base for some missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomats say.

As part of the effort, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping for an invitation to a meeting with President Bush after his planned trip to Israel in May, according to reports in Turkey.

Last year, Turkey refused a U.S. request to deploy at Incirlik two squadrons of fighter aircraft from German bases.

Diplomats think Mr. Erdogan and particularly his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are anxious to improve relations with Washington, feeling that prolonged alienation would be harmful.

"Erdogan has realized that he must find a way of cohabiting with the United States in this part of the world if he wants to protect Turkey's interests," political analyst Burak Bekdil said.

Turkey recently indicated a possible concession on the use by U.S. aircraft of the air base in southern Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Washington soured after the Turkish parliament refused to allow the use of Turkey's territory for military deployment against Iraq. Subsequently, Turkey became a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Iraq.

In recent talks with diplomats, Mr. Erdogan has stressed objectives in the area that are shared by Turkey and Washington, particularly concerning opposition to Iran's ambitions to become a nuclear power.

In March, Murat Mercan, deputy chairman of the governing AKP, traveled to Washington with Mr. Erdogan's message of support for U.S. policies in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The Turkish government's latest feelers come against a background of an intense nationalist campaign in the media, with strong anti-American overtones, which caused concern for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

The intensity of the campaign prompted an alarmed comment by Mehmet Ali Birand, one of the best-known Turkish political commentators, who wrote in Ankara's Turkish Daily News:

"Turkey's extreme nationalists use every opportunity to further their message. ... I am scared because nationalism in Turkey is something that can be turned into a very aggressive sentiment."