- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey’s moves to increase economic ties with the Persian Gulf countries are seen by diplomats as yet another indication of Ankara’s waning enthusiasm for the European Union.

Some Turkish analysts feel that in view of the slow pace of accession talks with the European Union, Turkey’s interests would be better served by improved relations with the Arab countries of the Middle East, an area for centuries ruled by Ottoman sultans.

At the same time, diplomats in Ankara and Athens discern a low ebb in Turkey’s relations with the United States, attributed to Turkish opposition to U.S. policies in Iraq and Washington’s unconditional support for Israel during the war against Hezbollah guerrillas. “U.S.-Turkish alliance is crumbling,” Kathimerini, a conservative Greek daily, headlined recently.

Turkish officials say relations with Washington are merely in a state of “temporary chill,” and point to a “shared vision document” signed by the two countries last month. The United States has always considered Turkey to be a major link between the West and the Muslim world and an example of coexistence between Islam and secularism.

At this time, however, Turkey’s political and economic attention is centering on the Arab world, particularly after a three-day visit last week by Saudi King Abdullah and the announcement by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of plans to double trade with the Saudi kingdom.

Mr. Erdogan said Saudi Arabia is “one of the priority countries with which we aim to increase our cooperation.” He said the bilateral trade should grow to $7 billion within three years. Abdullah echoed this view, calling for a joint economic effort that would benefit both countries.

The visit by the monarch of an arch-conservative Muslim state to Muslim but secular Turkey was regarded as a major development, particularly as Mr. Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party has strong Islamic roots.

Opposition politicians often have accused Mr. Erdogan of turning his back on secular values.

The Saudi king visited after intensified Turkish efforts to woo the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, awash with petrodollars after the rise of the price of oil. Earlier this year Mr. Erdogan traveled to several Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Indonesia, and was the first Turkish leader to address a meeting of the 22-state Arab League.

An increasing number of Turkish analysts feel that the prime minister’s pro-Europe policies have not received adequate acknowledgment from the European Union, which is pressing Turkey for more sweeping reforms and has threatened to break off accession talks unless Turkey recognizes the authority of the Greek Cypriot government.

Turkey maintains about 30,000 troops in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The Erdogan government feels the problem of Cyprus should not be linked to its application for EU membership.

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