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February 08, 2013, Friday

The quality of communication between Turkey and the US

An American politician describes the significance of Turkey as its ability to influence a number of issues and areas and says that China aside, Turkey is the most pivotal state in the world.

Even though this does not entirely reflect the American public's view vis-à-vis Turkey, there is no doubt that US President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who served as the secretary of state in his first term, held this framework in their approach towards our country. Turkey's decision to allow the installation of the NATO radar system in Kürecik has played a determinative role in this. This decision has been so influential that previous talk about Turkey's change of axis towards the East has been replaced with talk of a golden era in Turkish-American relations.

According to a Turkish expert in Washington, Obama's appointment of pro-Turkey figures to critical positions is a historic opportunity: “I am not sure if there will be another golden period like this for Turkey. However, it is a matter of controversy as to whether we have been able to use this constructive approach in the field of diplomatic and economic relations.”

At the moment, the US is a global power that is struggling with some serious internal problems and has to pay attention to global issues as well. Unlike some controversial issues, people do not discuss Turkey in Washington all the time. The anti-American stance in Turkey has not changed much despite Obama's election; likewise, unfortunately, the image of Turkey in the American public and media is not so positive. The perception that Turkey is moving towards an authoritarian Islamic rule is gaining wider attention. The attack against the embassy in Ankara, while it was by a marginal leftist organization, is a development that could contribute to the negative perception of Turkey in America.

In respect to the crucial issues on the agenda of foreign policy, Ankara has great expectations from the Obama administration; however, the Washington administration gives priority to domestic policy. According to an American politician who is also familiar with bilateral relations, Obama will stay focused on three major issues over the next six months: budget, immigration and gun control. Only if Obama becomes successful in these three fields will he be able to pay greater attention to foreign policy issues. Even if this happens, the Obama administration's priority in foreign policy is the Asia Pacific rather than the Middle East. There are currently three major issues in the Middle East that hold second place on the foreign policy agenda: Iran, Syria and Egypt. According to many experts, Syria is the most important issue this year. However, this approach does not include direct intervention.

Despite the constructive climate in relations and the frequent contacts at all levels, some emergent signals raise question marks as to the quality of the communication between the two administrations. Ankara was expecting serious measures and steps from the Obama administration in respect to the Syrian issue after the election. However, it appears that Washington is not willing to do so. Of course, the difference in perspectives and approaches has serious humane and strategic consequences.

Another expectation in Ankara in the post-election period was that Obama would take a greater initiative in an attempt to resolve the Palestinian issue and to assume a mediating role in the bilateral rift between Israel and Turkey. The problems observed in relations between Obama and Netanyahu did not reflect the traditional kind of relations between the US and Israel. Obama's attitude during the bombardment in Gaza and during the voting session on Palestine in the UN caused disappointment.

Is not the recent row over American envoy in Ankara Francis Ricciardone's remarks on the Turkish judicial system a clear example, suggesting that there is a problem in communication between the two administrations?

In sum, the climate, the potential and the frequent contacts in the relations are pretty constructive; however, it would be extremely useful to review the quality of the communication between the two administrations as a number of issues, including the Syria, Iraq and Iraq crises, need a solution.

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