- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ALARM BELLS RINGING

In February, Turkey privately expressed opposition to increased sanctions on Iran but acknowledged that the entire Middle East is worried about the theocratic regime developing nuclear weapons.

“Alarm bells are ringing, even in Damascus,” Feridun Sinirliolgu, Turkey’s undersecretary at the Foreign Ministry, told William Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs.

His reference to Syria, Iran’s closest ally in the region, stood out among the candid remarks in classified State Department cables released this week by the website WikiLeaks. Embassy Row is trolling through the trove of diplomatic dispatches, starting with “Embassy Ankara,” in the capital of Turkey, a key U.S. ally and NATO member.

The Feb. 25 report from James F. Jeffrey, U.S. ambassador in Turkey through July, summarized a Feb. 18 meeting between Mr. Burns and Mr. Sinirliolgu that touched on Iran, Iraq, Israel, the European Union and Cyprus.

After listening to Mr. Sinirliolgu’s opposition to a military attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites and to increased sanctions, Mr. Burns reminded him of the benefits of international penalties against the “increasingly pervasive economic power of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Mr. Burns said Turkey’s interests “would suffer if Israel were to act militarily … or if Egypt and Saudi Arabia were to seek nuclear arsenals of their own.” Mr. Jeffrey recounted how a “visibly disheartened Sinirliolgu” conceded Mr. Burns’ points.

On Iraq, Mr. Sinirliolgu “registered” the Turkish government’s “increasing dissatisfaction with [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Malaki and fear that he is tending ‘to get out of control,’ ” the cable quoted the Turkish official as saying.

“He is preoccupied with his political survival,” Mr. Sinirliolgu added.

Mr. Sinirliolgu said Turkey is continuing “bilateral cooperation” with Israel, despite public complaints about Israel’s positions on talks with Palestinians.

Turkey is acquiring Israeli military equipment, notable Heron UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones],” Mr. Jeffrey said in his cable.

Mr. Sinirliolgu complained about “politically motivated objections” from some European nations to Turkey’s membership in the European Union, especially Austria, Cyprus and France. He cited “ethnic prejudice” in Austria.

“He reserved special criticism for [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy,” Mr. Jeffrey said of Mr. Sinirliolgu. “He contended French opposition to Turkey’s membership is ‘deepening the cultural divide’ between Christian Europe and the Muslim world.”

The ambassador quoted Mr. Sinirliolgu as warning, “A wider world is watching this.”

BENEVOLENT AUTOCRAT

Is the prime minister of Turkey a democratic reformist or a “benevolent patriarch” imposing “strict autocratic rules” with a “hidden agenda” to bring the secular republic under Islamic law?

U.S. diplomats in Ankara have spent years trying to answer that question, as revealed in secret cables to the State Department disclosed by WikiLeaks.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “is a perfectionist workaholic who sincerely cares for the well-being of those around him,” said a 2007 U.S. Embassy cable, reporting on a conversation between Kelly Degnan, the acting political counselor at the time, and a “top-level prime ministry insider.”

The cable said the “overall description” from the Turkish source “sounds more like a benevolent patriarch who runs his domain according to strict autocratic rules.”

A 2004 cable a year after Mr. Erdogan became prime minister describes the former “semi-pro soccer player’s swagger,” as he was accompanied by a “phalanx of sycophantic advisers” at a meeting of the European Union.

The cable from Eric Edelman, U.S. ambassador in Turkey from 2003 to 2005, referred to Mr. Erdogan’s “hunger for power,” his “sharp, authoritarian style and deep distrust of others.”

It added that a former spiritual adviser to Mr. Erdogan said the prime minister “believes in God, but doesn’t trust Him.”

The cable also warned that some of his supporters believe that “Turkey’s role is to spread Islam in Europe and ‘to take back Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683.’ “

Christians drove Muslims out of Spain, which the Moors called al-Andalus, in 1492, and an army of Austrians, Germans and Poles defeated the Ottoman Turks in Vienna nearly 200 years later.

- Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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