Turkey’s leadership in Muslim world irks US, EU & Israel

December 13, 2009 at 9:50 pm (Global Issues, Politics)

By John Terrett

Turkey is warming up its relations with Syria, Palestine, Iran and Pakistan. Israel while still a friend is increasingly being given a cold shoulder. There are clear indications that Istanbul is not longer a Western oriented country. While publicly professing its desire to join the EU, privately the Turks want to build its old alliances with regions its owned and controlled. Turkey is the unofficially accepted successor of the Ottoman Empire. Pakistan as the successor to the Mughal Empire are closer than ever. With Iran being pushed by the West and being stabbed by Bharat (aka India), Tehran is rethinking its policies and trying to make amends with Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan

Amid growing speculation that NATO member Turkey is turning away from the West, the US administration has clearly voiced its appreciation of the role played by Turkey in contributing to the maintenance of global peace.

Photo by AFP

The US considers Turkey a key ally in the war in Afghanistan. But a meeting between the two countries’ leaders comes at a time when Ankara has been reaching out to countries that Washington considers adversaries.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, had talks at the White House on Monday with Barack Obama, the US president. The US considers Turkey a key ally in the war in Afghanistan.

But the meeting comes at a time when Turkey has been reaching out to countries which Washington considers adversaries like Iran, Syria and Sudan. Nonetheless when the two met in the Oval Office, President Obama talked up Turkey’s role on the international stage. He said:

“Given Turkey’s history as a secular democratic state that respects the rule of law but is also a majority Muslim nation, it plays a critical role I think in helping to shape mutual understanding and stability and peace not only in its neighbourhood but around the world.”

But Turkey is also getting increasingly close with Iran.

It has just signed gas and other business deals with Tehran worth millions of dollars.

It’s threatening to abstain in any future UN vote to punish Iran for building a secret uranium enrichment plant, and Ankara has offered a nuclear storage deal separate from one on offer from the Security Council that involves Russia and France.

Some in Washington wonder if Turkey’s freezing out of European Union membership has made it less willing to act as a mediator in the Middle East.

Bulent Aliriza from the Turkey Project at the Washington think tank the Center for Strategic International Studies told al Jazeera:

“Turkey’s been trying very much to facilitate a settlement between the United States and Iran but its difficult given the fact that, you know, the nuclear talks have not moved very far.

Erdogan was in Tehran at the end of October. In fact, he wanted to come immediately afterwards to convey a message from the Iranians. My understanding was that he wanted to give a special message from the Iranians this time. So it remains to be seen whether Turkey can play a role in that process.”

Back at the White House, Turkey’s prime minister stressed that Turkey IS dedicated to Middle East peace, and that it supports the US role in the region.

“We stand ready, as Turkey, to do whatever we can do with respect to relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and Syria, because I do believe that, first and foremost, the United States, too, has important responsibility in trying to achieve global peace.”

The thing is, Turkey is known for nurturing diplomatic relations with the East and the West.

Ankara recently mended its broken ties with Israel but it’s the recent warmth of its relationship with Iran and Syria that has some in the Obama administration wondering if the U.S. will be able to count on Turkey as an ally in the future in the wider Middle East peace process.

Turkey’s just taken over the rotating command of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It’s the only Muslim nation taking part but – despite White House pressure to increase its role – Turkey has refused to commit more than the 1,750 troops which is says focus is on training Afghan forces and development rather than on combat as the US wants. Can the US count on Turkey?


1 Comment

  1. Ben said,

    In mid-1975, the Turkish government announced that all U.S. bases in Turkey would close and transfer control to the Turkish military. This action was in response to an arms embargo the U.S. Congress imposed on Turkey for using U.S.-supplied equipment during the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. Only Incirlik AB and İzmir Air Base remained open due to their NATO missions, but all other non-NATO activities at these locations ceased.

    If relations with the U.S. are turning sour as this report suggests, we should expect Incirlik AB and İzmir Air Base to be closed and control transferred to Turkey.

    Either way, these developments don’t bode well for Israel and may have played a roll in the recent urgent request for 4 Massive Ordinance Penetrators capable of being carried only by the USAF’s B-2 stealth bomber.


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