- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Who’s losing Turkey?

With Iranian nukes, Iraqi chaos, Kurdish separatism, vast pipeline projects, a stalled European Union application, Cyprus and the global rise of militant Islam, Turkish officials should have plenty to talk about.

But a delegation of top Turkish lawmakers in Washington this week devoted an hourlong interview with our correspondent David R. Sands to an entirely separate topic: a pending U.S. congressional resolution condemning the treatment of Armenians nearly a century ago by the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”

“It is already a difficult time, but I can safely predict there would be very serious effects [to U.S.-Turkish relations] if this resolution passes,” warned Mehmet Dulger, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party and chairman of the Grand National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee.

Onur Oymen, a former top Foreign Ministry official now serving as an opposition lawmaker, noted that favorable attitudes in Turkey toward the United States have plummeted to single digits since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

“The political situation for good relations with the United States is really close to untenable,” he said. “If there is another blow, such as this resolution, it will be so much more difficult to recuperate.”

In a long-running, bitter diplomatic war, Armenians have pressed countries to condemn as genocide the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the former Ottoman-Turkish Empire in 1915. Rival studies put the death toll at anywhere from 200,000 to 1.8 million, and basic events and documents from the time are still bitterly contested.

The Democratic takeover of the U.S. Congress has given hopes to Armenian-American groups that a new, nonbinding genocide resolution could pass this session, despite sharp opposition from the Bush administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is on record in support of the motion.

Erol Aslan Cebeci, a lawmaker with the governing Justice and Development Party, noted that Turkey faces a presidential vote next month and new parliamentary elections in November. He said Turkish politicians will be forced by voter outrage to respond “disproportionately” to a U.S. resolution, even if the reaction harms both countries’ long-term interests.

“Let’s be frank: If Senegal or Bolivia were doing this, we could live with it,” Mr. Cebeci said. “But this is supposedly our best and most important ally. If, God forbid, this passes, the next big debate you will be having in Washington is, ‘Who lost Turkey?’ ”

Debt relief

The Iraqi ambassador passed on some good news to the Associated Press this week. Saudi Arabia is going to write off about 80 percent of the $15 billion in debt dating to money the kingdom loaned Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Ambassador Samir Shakir al-Sumaidaie also told reporter Barry Schweid that other Arab countries are expected to follow the Saudis’ lead.

President Bush, who wrote off all U.S. loans to Iraq, has been urging other countries to help Iraq’s struggling government with massive debt relief.

Bad for business

The U.S. ambassador in Rome yesterday criticized Italy as bad for business, after AT&T withdrew from talks about acquiring Telecom Italia.

“The letter of withdrawal of AT&T expresses clearly the fear of investing in a market whose rules are unpredictable,” Ambassador Ronald Spogli wrote in the Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

The American telecommunications giant cited concerns about Italian government protectionism when it withdrew from negotiations to acquire the Italian firm.

Mr. Spogli added that “one of the first reactions [of the Italian government] is frequently to make national interest prevail” over foreign investment deals.

Meanwhile, the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry yesterday announced that President Bush will visit Rome on June 9.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

washingtontimes.com.

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