- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s White House visit today marks a watershed in U.S.-Turkey relations, which have dramatically improved since Washington began providing Ankara with intelligence on a Kurdish terrorist movement.

“Turkish-American relations have not been as good as this since the end of the Cold War,” the Turkish government’s chief foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on Turkish television late last week.

For years, the relationship had been strained over Turkey’s refusal to permit U.S. forces to invade Iraq from its territory in 2003, and the perception that Washington was unwilling to act against the Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatists.

That changed after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in early November, when the United States began providing high-level intelligence support for Turkish raids against PKK bases in northern Iraq.

Since then, there has been a rapid decline in Turkish anti-Americanism and increased official optimism on both sides. However, some officials warn the gains remain fragile.

“Yes, November 5 was an important step,” said Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington. “But the new cooperation has to be continuous, or things will be back to square one.”

One potential area for future cooperation between the two countries is Pakistan, where scheduled February elections offer fragile hopes for an emergence from the turmoil created by the Dec. 27 assassination of prime minister hopeful Benazir Bhutto.

“Turkey has a lot of credit in both Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Hikmet Cetin, a former NATO senior representative in Afghanistan. “It has more space for maneuver than the U.S. in both countries, and it should do more.”

With 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, Turkey is the only Muslim state among 18 nations contributing to peacekeeping efforts there.

Pakistan’s founders modeled themselves on Turkish founder Kemal Ataturk. Most Turkish 30-somethings can still sing bits of the Pakistani songs they were made to learn by heart when Pakistani dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq visited Turkey in the 1980s.

More recently, Turkey played a behind-the-scenes role in a historic 2005 meeting between the Pakistani and Israeli foreign ministers. In April, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was in Ankara to forge an agreement with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai to increase cooperation against terrorists.

Mr. Gul repaid the compliment to his Turkish-educated, Turkish-speaking counterpart when he traveled to Pakistan on Dec. 3 for talks with that country’s political leaders.

“Turkey has very close political and military relations with Pakistan, and a lot of influence on Musharraf,” said Zeyno Baran, a Turkey analyst at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

“As a Muslim country, Turkey has a natural insight that Westerners sometimes lack,” she said. “Simply translating what is happening on the ground [in Pakistan] to a Western perspective would be a great help.”

George Perkovich, a Pakistan analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed that members of the Bush administration would probably be grateful for some Turkish ideas.

Since Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination, he said, senior members of the Bush administration have “absolved themselves of Pakistan. They don’t know what they want to do.

“If somebody from Turkey came along and said, ‘We’ve got an idea of how to push things forward,’ I think the president would say, ‘Gee, tell me.’ ”

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