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Ambassador Tan's Article On Turkish-us Strategic Partnership , 14.01.2011

Turkish-US strategic partnership

 

NAMIK TAN

During the long decades of the Cold War, Turkey was primarily known for its military-strategic contribution to NATO in the defense of freedom. Now, we are increasingly known for our regional ties, economic dynamism and secular democracy and Turkish diplomacy has become an active force in projecting peace and stability in a wider geography spanning the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Asia.

However, conflicts and disputes in our immediate and further neighborhood and beyond are far from resolved. Indeed, the Iranian nuclear issue remains elusive; Iraq is yet to be secured from sources of instability; efforts to ameliorate the Arab-Israeli conflict have not produced the desired outcome; Turkish-Israeli relations are passing through difficult times; the Caucasus continues to witness ongoing conflicts; efforts to ensure stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina face challenges; despite positive developments, international efforts in Afghanistan still confront difficulties; and in Cyprus the ongoing isolation of the Turkish Cypriots continues despite attempts to achieve a lasting settlement. Turkey plays an important and frequently central role on each of these issues, all of which remain high on the United States’ foreign policy agenda.

It is in this wider context that the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. is one of the most important dimensions of our foreign policy. Turkish-U.S. relations have been characterized for decades by close cooperation, solidarity and strong bonds of friendship. They are based on common values of democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and free markets. We have acted together in various conflicts ranging from Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo to Afghanistan. We stand together in the fight against terrorism.

The positive change in the nature of our bilateral relationship was crowned by the visit of President Obama in April 2009. During his first bilateral overseas trip to Turkey, President Obama chose to use the term “model partnership” in describing Turkish-U.S. relations.

This vision requires deepening and widening bilateral relations in fields other than military and strategic initiatives, notably in economic, commercial and cultural spheres. Indeed, the depth of our relations in economic and commercial fields is not yet reflecting the nature of model partnership.

To address this gap, in line with the vision of model partnership, Turkey and the U.S. took a crucial step establishing the “Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation,” or FSECC, in December, 2009. The first meeting of the FSECC was recently held in Washington, D.C., with the participation of four Cabinet-level dignitaries from the two countries. This essential forum will bridge the gap between our private sectors and policy makers, allowing them to address mutual issues and opportunities.

It is unfortunate that two recent incidents have complicated these efforts to elevate our relationship to the level of a model partnership. The Turkish “no vote” on sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council on June 9, 2010, and the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid convoy on May 31, 2010, triggered a surge of commentaries in the United States suggesting a shift of axis in Turkish foreign policy and questioning Turkey’s allegiance to the Western world.

Beneath these criticisms lies the Cold War mentality of seeing the world in opposing and exclusive terms. If there was a shift of axis, how could one explain the presence of our troops in Afghanistan? Turkey’s Western vocation is a consistent and an irreversible process. We view our goal of European Union accession as the main pillar of our commitment to democracy, freedom and free markets and our place in NATO as the backbone of our national security as well as that of regional and global security.

Our relations with the United States and the European Union complement our presence in Eurasia and the Middle East and are not mutually exclusive. The intensification of our relations with Syria and Russia does not indicate a shift of axis. Similarly, Turkey’s leadership roles in the United Nations Security Council, the Group of 20 Nations, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Council of Europe, the Southeast European Cooperation Process or the OECD are also complementary. This is a clear example of the strength of Turkish diplomacy and the ability of Turkey to establish meaningful relations with different cultures and geographies.

Turkey is not immune from the consequences of conflicts in her region. The war in Iraq, the conflict in Palestine, disputes in Lebanon, hostilities between Russia and Georgia, the situation in Bosnia, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the Iranian nuclear issue have all had a direct or indirect impact on Turkey. It has been severely affected by the wars in Iraq, and our economy was disrupted by the dispute between Russia and Georgia. Most likely, the Turkish economy will be hit worse than any other country by further sanctions against Iran. Therefore, we cannot observe events as an idle bystander. It is with this understanding that Turkey makes serious efforts to reconcile disputing parties in our region and beyond.

Viewing this multi-faceted active foreign policy as a shift of axis is not only inaccurate but also does an injustice to our sincere efforts to achieve peace and stability, to engage in more trade, to increase interdependency and to solve conflicts through peaceful means.

Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy is inclusive and not based on religion or ideology. We have accomplished positive changes in our relations with all 12 of our direct and indirect neighbors, only four of which are Muslim-majority countries.

The Israeli raid against the Gaza humanitarian aid convoy in May and subsequent developments fed the negative caricature of a supposed change in Turkey’s foreign policy direction. Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel and the second of all nations to do so after the United States. Our cooperation has continued uninterrupted for more than six decades. The relationship between the Turks and the Jews took root long before that, extending through five centuries. Turkish-Israeli relations have long been a positive factor in a world where we witness violent conflicts based on religion and faith.

Despite all the anger and resentment among the Turkish public in the wake of the Gaza aid convoy attack, Turkey was ready to address this profound crisis with Israel in a manner befitting two friends. We held the view that, as a friend, Israel should accept her wrongdoing, apologize to the Turkish people for the killings and compensate the losses incurred by the families of the victims and those who were injured. This is still where we stand.

The second issue that gave rise to criticisms of Turkish foreign policy is related to Iran’s nuclear program. Turkey is against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s development of a nuclear arsenal would gravely threaten peace, security and stability in our region by triggering a nuclear arms race.

Having said that, I must also emphasize that Iran, as any other country that is party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Therefore, in order to achieve our goals with respect to Iran, engagement is the only path to follow. This position does not undermine that of the U.S. On the contrary, we are encouraging Iran to be more transparent about its nuclear plans and to address the concerns of the international community.

To be sure, the Tehran Declaration of May 17 does not solve all the problems. However, we believe it offers an important opportunity for the peaceful resolution of the problem. It is with this understanding that we voted against new sanctions at the U.N. Security Council resolution in June. We still believe that diplomacy offers effective avenues to address this issue without further heightening the tension in the region.

Our effort to portray a more accurate picture of Turkey in the United States and broaden bilateral relationship is one of the most important aspects of our partnership. The narrow-minded efforts of certain single-agenda ethnic lobbies are all too evident. In particular, the ill-conceived efforts of segments of the Armenian diaspora do not serve the higher and long-term interests of the United States or even of Armenia. We must work together to prevent them from harming U.S.-Turkish relations.

Turkish-U.S. relations have withstood the test of time. We overcame one of the biggest challenges to the relationship in 2003 when the Turkish Parliament voted against allowing the U.S. military to enter Iraq through Turkey. In a relatively short period of time Turkey and the U.S. revitalized their strategic partnership, in large part because of its strong foundation. Methodological differences on certain issues do not undermine our shared principles.

Our determination to further enhance the strategic partnership between our countries that will lead us to a brighter future remains unshaken. Turkey and the United States complement each other. We cannot and should not accept failure, as failure is not an option.

*This piece is an abbreviated version of an article that originally appeared in Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ), available at www.turkishpolicy.com.