- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the eyes of President Bush, for he believes he has made the right decision to invade Iraq, his speech on Thursday did not acknowledge any change in strategy. “The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States,” he said. “A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran.” But Mr. Bush’s ongoing belief in the mission stands at odds with the perception of reality in Iraq on both sides of the Atlantic.

So it was interesting to hear Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, discuss the importance of Turkey to America’s future in the Middle East in a speech at the Atlantic Council just hours before president’s speech. “There is really nothing more important at this point in time… as we Americans, in our government, look out at the world and see Turkey is this critically important country to our interests in the greater Middle East region,” Mr. Burns said.

“One glance at the map demonstrates why it is so important to strengthen the ties between our two countries,” Mr. Burns continued. “Turkey is influential in the Balkans, in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and in the greater Middle East. In this vitally important arc of countries where so much of our foreign policy attention now lies, Turkey is the vital link.” At the event, former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey asked questions that were more telling than Mr. Burns’ official message — proof that the relationship between the two countries has literally reached “a critical juncture,” as Mr. Burns said, and that the former ambassadors are concerned that Turkey may continue to drift away from the U.S. “Why now?” asked Mark Parris, former ambassador to Ankara. “Because so many of the American interests you have described are by no means new.”

Mr. Parris reminded the room about the statement of strategic vision that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul adopted in July 2006. “We — practitioners — know that words ultimately don’t cut it,” Mr. Parris said. “The vision statement of two years ago covered all the same ground. It has largely remained words… If I were a Turkish politician with the U.S. approval ratings at 9 percent or so, I would be looking for good arguments as to why at this point in the relationship Turkey has an interest in re-engaging with an administration which has 16 months in office.”

Because, Mr. Burns replied, the U.S. government is standing up to say Turkey is “our indispensable ally in the Middle East.” Mr. Burns talked about the U.S. support to build the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline, which makes Turkey an energy corridor. “Turkey is a key connector in the energy question — oil and gas from Caucasus and Central Asia to the West,” he said. “We share a common interest in preventing the domination by one country of the oil and gas sources and pipelines for western Europe and for all of our allies who live in that region.” Evidently, he was positioning against Turkey’s emerging alternatives with Russia.

Mr. Burns stressed the need for cooperation on Iraq and Iran. “The U.S. has the most powerful presence in Iraq and we’re the most powerful country focused on Iran today,” he said. “The future of peace and security in the Middle East depends on the right decisions by Turkey, the U.S. and other countries concerning both.” Mr. Burns also noted that the United States is troubled that Turkey recently committed to a memorandum on energy cooperation with Iran. “Now is not the time for business as usual with Iran,” he said. Former Ambassador Marc Grossman responded: “But Turks were waving their hands and asking: Is there anyone who cares about this energy corridor in the U.S.?”

The U.S.-Turkey relationship will not improve until the U.S. takes bold, visible action against the Northern Iraq strongholds of Kurdish separatist terrorists, the PKK. While the U.S. takes immense care not to offend the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, Turks are dying. Turkey has lost more people than any coalition partner in Iraq — on its own land — as a result of the cross-border PKK terrorist attacks. The Pentagon has admitted that the PKK uses American weapons originally given to Iraqi security forces.

The U.S. House is on the path toward passing a resolution declaring the Armenian tragedy at the end of World War I a “genocide.” Turks see the U.S. inaction against PKK terrorism and support for a “genocide” resolution as an affront to their alliance that threatens Turkey’s national security interests. In addition, few Turks believe their country will ever be accepted as a full member of the European Union.

Given the challenging realities in Iraq and in the region, Turks are signaling for the first time that although they have not moved away from a Euro-Atlantic alliance, they are searching for an alternative. Mr. Burns will be visiting Turkey this week. Yet, time will show whether what Mr. Burns promised — that “[w]e must take bold steps to restore the primacy of Turkey as a strategic partner” — will make a difference.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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