Turkey-US relations likely to be tested soon
Throughout the last decade foreign policy has always been a key part of Turkey's agenda; however only since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first came to power in November 2002 has foreign policy become highly visible in the discussion
Ali Babacan, appointed as new foreign minister in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Cabinet after his predecessor Abdullah Gül became the new resident of the presidential Çankaya Palace, on Friday took office at his new post. In a brief speech he delivered as he was welcomed by Foreign Ministry staff, Babacan highlighted the proactive foreign policy stance assumed by Ankara, without elaborating on the fact that this stance has been assumed only in recent years and undertake Party rule.
On the same day, via a Prime Ministry circular published in the Official Gazette, it became clear that Babacan will continue wearing his former hat as Turkey's chief EU negotiator in addition to his post as the foreign minister. In the same circular, the Secretariat-General for EU Affairs (ABGS) which was thus far working as an attachment to the Prime Ministry was subordinated to the Foreign Ministry.
President Gül's inaugural speech to Parliament on Tuesday once again outlined that the EU membership goal has been embraced by Turkey's leadership as a core piece of the Turkish Republic's state policy. Thus it is obvious that both Gül, who will surely be an active president in terms of foreign policy, and his successor Babacan will focus much time on the EU issue.
Nonetheless, Turkey's foreign policy does not consist solely of the EU issue. Looking at events of the last few months, it becomes apparent that Turkey is still losing people in the fight between its security forces and the PKK. Meanwhile US military officials considering Iraq strategy options appear to be focusing on reducing the US combat role in 2008 while increasing training of Iraqi forces. Despite the fact that the military has not yet developed a plan for substantial withdrawal of forces next year, officials are laying the groundwork for possible overtures to Turkey and Jordan to use their territory for moving some troops and equipment out of Iraq. Meanwhile, Turkey, which aims at becoming the fourth energy artery for the EU, seems determined to deepen its bilateral cooperation with neighboring Iran in the energy field, despite strong objections from the US.
In Washington, congressional democrats are pushing for two separate resolutions. One involves urging the administration to recognize the World War I-era Armenian killings as genocide. Turkey has warned that passage of the resolutions in the US Congress would seriously harm relations with Washington and impair cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Returning to the Iraq issue, Iraqi Kurds are pushing for a referendum on the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk before the end of this year, while Ankara believes that the planned referendum should not take place without reaching a consensus among the ethnic groups of Kirkuk -- namely Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.
Given all of these circumstances, retired Ambassador Özden Sanberk, a former Foreign Ministry undersecretary, believes that Ankara will have to focus on "urgent matters," drawing attention to the fact that not all parameters could be set by Ankara concerning the issue of the PKK presence in northern Iraq since this situation is one of the consequences of the ongoing US-led invasion.
"Considering that and keeping in mind that the Kirkuk issue, which can easily be likened to a 'time bomb', as well as the tension between Turkey's NATO ally the US and Iran, I believe that the number one priority for the government will have to be relations with Washington. Because the US is both a reason for the problems and a part of the resolution to these problems," Sanberk said in a telephone interview with Today's Zaman on Friday.
"For Turkey to be able to concentrate on its EU membership goal, it first has to minimize threats against its own security. Thus all foreign policy needs to gravitate around these security concerns. While outlining its policy accordingly, Ankara will also have to thoroughly analyze the global and regional trends," the prominent diplomat added, referring to the rising popularity of the concept of "nation-state" in a world where international bodies are becoming less influential.
Agreeing in general with what Sanberk asserts, prominent Milliyet columnist and foreign policy expert Semih İdiz says bilateral relations between Ankara and Washington are likely to enter a period of tension, terming future relations between the two capitals "electrified." He added, "Instead of waiting and seeing what will happen next in Iraq, Turkey will have to assume a proactive stance by getting directly involved in easing the political turmoil in Iraq."
İdiz concluded: "Having its relations with the US 'electrified', Ankara will be more and more eager to grab hold of the EU anchor. My personal concern is whether Babacan's 24 hours will be sufficient for dealing with all of these issues. The question over whether it is a good idea to have Babacan wearing two hats is hanging heavily in my thoughts."
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