- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

An open letter to Turkish President Abdullah Gul:Today you will meet with President Bush. Since no Turkish president has visited Washington in more than a decade, your trip can only be seen as a sign of improving relations between the United States and Turkey. But the timing and the substance of this meeting are already subject to debate. Many Turks do not understand why you’re here.

I wrote last week that “[i]t will be a brief meeting in the morning followed by a quick lunch, as Mr. Bush will leave for a Middle East tour. No state dinner or other pageantry will signal a special relationship.” The Turkish media translated “quick lunch” as “fast food” — which garnered a lot of attention. On both Thursday and Friday last week, Cengiz Candar, a prominent columnist in Turkey,wrote that this had “angered Turkey.” Of course your lunch at the White House will be appropriately august — and in no way did I intend to diminish the significance of your visit.

In an attempt to understand the purpose of your meeting, I ask without agenda for your guidance in interpreting this exchange during last week’s briefing by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to the White House press corps about Mr. Bush’s trip to the Middle East:

Q: Mr. Hadley, who initiated the upcoming meeting between President Bush and Turkish President Gul, do you know if the Cyprus issue and the Balkans issue will be on the agenda?

Mr. Hadley: Obviously the two men will discuss what’s on their minds. There’s a long list of things they can discuss. We’ll see whether those two issues will come up.

Q: It’s a working visit?

Mr. Hadley: Yes, it’s very important business.

Q: Working?

Mr. Hadley: It’s a very important visit, yes.

Q: Is it a working visit, he’s asking if it’s a working visit.

Mr. Hadley: They will have a meeting, and they will have a meal together. That’s an appropriate meeting for the president of a country. It’s what we normally do.

There is no unimportant meeting at the White House, Mr. President, but what exactly are you hoping to accomplish? “Ankara believes that it’s the best timing to give a message to the U.S., as Mr. Bush will leave for a Middle East tour after the meeting,” Mr. Candar wrote last week. We are eager to know that message, and to understand whether a presidential visit to this town was necessary on the verge of Mr. Bush’s Middle East tour.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Turkey is an important player in the region. But it must choose its moment and use its position to prove its influence and bring Turkey much-deserved media coverage.

From Turkey’s perspective, fighting the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK should top the agenda. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to the White House on Nov. 5 to secure Mr. Bush’s support for a cross-border operation and an active exchange of “actionable intelligence.” Realistically, Washington cannot do more to help Turkey fight PKK terrorism in Iraq at this time — but Turkey’s leaders can do much.

After Mr. Erdogan’s visit, some have speculated about whether “amnesty” for PKK terrorists is part of Turkey’s negotiation with the U.S. “Many people in the State Department are pushing for some sort of ‘diplomatic solution’ to the tensions with Iraqi Kurdistan,” says Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “That’s code for pressuring Turkey to extend amnesty to PKK terrorists. … Ankara has granted amnesty before, and it led to more violence. If Turkey makes a single concession in the face of violence, Bush and [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice may call it a success for their legacy, but it will inaugurate a new wave of terrorism.Turkey’s leadership should not trade Turkey’s integrity and security for the price of a photo-op in the Oval Office.”

In an interview on Turkey’s Radio and Television a few days ago, you said Turkey was ready to “unilaterally” carry out a cross-border operation against PKK strongholds in Northern Iraq, with or without U.S. support. That statement may please the Turkish people, but it bears little factual resemblance to the actions of the Justice and Development Party.

This double-speak has pushed anti-Americanism to record highs in Turkey. People blame Washington for everything that goes wrong, and fail to question their elected leaders’ actions. But I wonder why you need the White House’s support to establish your legitimacy. You sought the Bush administration’s support against a possible military coup — and you got it. But if this visit serves only to reinforce your influence, what’s the point?

Finally, you are free to grant interviews to anyone you choose — and you chose to speak only to The Washington Post editorial board while refusing our request during your stay here in the U.S. capital. It would have been a show of good faith, good for you to talk with journalists who don’t necessarily agree completely with your views.

I offer my sincere respects for a productive visit.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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