‘Trust us,’ Turkey tells US critics in drone sale controversy

‘Trust us,’ Turkey tells US critics in drone sale controversy

Abdullah Gül and Barack Obama met in Chicago on Monday on the sidelines of a Nato summit, but failed to make any progress on the sale of armed drones. (Photo: Cihan)

May 22, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:40:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

President Abdullah Gül, speaking after talks with US President Barack Obama, has said the US administration is trying to convince Congress to allow the sale of armed drones to Turkey and called on skeptics in Congress to trust and not be “jealous” towards NATO ally Turkey.

“An ally that is so critical should not be treated with jealousy. It should be trusted,” Gül told a press conference including Turkish journalists on Monday in Chicago, where he attended a NATO summit. Some members of the US Congress are believed to oppose the sale because of Turkey's tensions with Israel. Gül had a half-an-hour meeting with Obama earlier on Monday to discuss bilateral and key regional issues on the sidelines of the NATO summit. The two leaders were unable to resolve an impasse over the proposed sale to Turkey, with Obama reportedly telling Gül that even though he was aware of Turkey's need for the drones, the administration cannot sell them to Ankara as long as the sale is blocked by Congress.

“The administration's position is positive. They are trying to convince Congress,” Gül told the press conference. Referring to Turkish plans to buy about 100 F-35 fighter jets from the US, Gül said these planes were more “dangerous” weapons than the drones. “If drones are dangerous weapons, these [F-35s] are even more dangerous. We are buying these fighters and we are participating in the manufacturing process. These things should be told to Congress members.” Turkey already uses US Predator drones, previously used by the US military in Iraq, as a measure against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist group, which launches attacks on Turkey from northern Iraq. Separately, Ankara also seeks to buy MQ-9 Reapers, a larger and more modern version of the Predator, from the US as a further measure in the anti-PKK efforts.

Acquisition of the Reapers is seen as critical in the anti-PKK campaign, especially because the use of Turkey’s Israeli-made drones, Herons, has been restricted since the Israeli technical support for their maintenance has ended amid political tensions between the two countries.

A recent Wall Street Journal article claimed that US Predators provided the first intelligence for a Turkish air strike last year on a group of Kurdish villagers mistakenly thought to be PKK terrorists. Thirty-four villagers were killed in the attack while they were trying to smuggle goods from Iraq into Turkey. Turkish officials denied the claim and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the story was fabricated to create troubles for the Obama administration.

Tension with Israel is believed to have fed mistrust towards Turkey among some members of Congress. While meeting Gül, Obama called for Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, saying recovery in ties between the two key US allies would also help stability in the region. Gül, on the other hand, was not responsive, saying Turkey will normalize its ties with the Jewish state only if it fulfills well-known conditions -- namely an apology for a deadly May 2010 raid on a Turkish ship in the eastern Mediterranean and the lifting of an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended military ties with Israel in protest of Israeli refusal to formally apologize for the May 2010 incident, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish American.

Gül said the issue of relations with Israel came up during the meeting with Obama. “If someone tells us to fix our relations with Israel, we interrupt, even if this is US President Obama. We tell them to tell Israel to fix its relations with us,” he told the press conference.

He said the recent establishment of a new government in Israel, supported by a record-high number of Israeli lawmakers, is a positive development because the Israeli government will at least not be able to present internal political rifts as an excuse for not taking certain foreign policy measures. “We prefer strong governments everywhere in the world,” he said.

Hopes of progress in Iran talks

Responding to other questions, Gül also said there was a positive atmosphere and even hopes for progress ahead of talks between Iran and the major world powers in Baghdad on Wednesday and said Turkey deserved credit for creating this positive mood. “Progress on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, which was once considered to be the biggest [international] issue, has been put on track in İstanbul thanks to Turkey’s insistent efforts,” he said, referring to two rounds of talks between Iran and the world powers that have taken place in İstanbul.

Gül also touched on the crisis in Syria, reiterating that the issue was not a bilateral matter for Turkey and Syria. “Everyone praises Turkey because of the role it plays, but we told them, ‘Wait a minute, this is a matter between Turkey and the international community…’ Everybody should display their commitment more openly and take up a firmer stance,” he said.

Gül to Hollande: What is your problem with us?

In reference to a meeting he had with France’s newly-elected president, François Hollande, on the sidelines of the summit, Gül said he had openly questioned the logic behind France’s lack of enthusiasm to forge closer ties with Turkey, recalling that no French president has visited Turkey in the past 20 years.

“I asked him [Hollande] openly: ‘What is your problem with Turkey? What do we clash on? Is there any source of conflict that requires us to treat each other as enemies?’ There is no such thing. Thus I said it would be appropriate to open a new page in our relations,” he added.

Turkish sources close to the meeting earlier quoted Hollande as saying that “past misunderstandings” should not be allowed to cast a shadow over current relations.

Cyprus warning to UN’s Ban

Gül also revealed that he had told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Turkey might seek alternatives to reunification of the divided Cyprus if the current stalemate in UN-backed efforts to reunite the Turkish and Greek sides of the island persists.

Gül said he has asked the UN secretary-general to assume a more active role. “I said this openly as well: ‘If this policy is bound not to work, you should be prepared [for the possibility] that we, through negotiations, put into action other alternatives’,” Gül said, without elaborating.

The Turkish president also called earlier NATO plans not to invite Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the summit to discuss the alliance’s Afghanistan mission “absurd.” Zardari received a last-minute invitation to the summit reportedly due to Turkey’s efforts.

A Turkish secretary- general of NATO? Why not?

President Abdullah Gül said Turks could undertake more important posts in NATO, given that the Turkish army is the second-biggest army within the alliance after the US.

“Consultations with the Turkish Foreign Ministry on the eve of critical decisions, Turkish generals assuming key posts within NATO -- these have become routine developments lately,” he said at a news conference in Chicago after attending a NATO summit. “So, of course it [a Turkish secretary-general for NATO] is possible. Why not? Turkey could undertake more important responsibilities within NATO, including assuming the post of secretary-general.”

Gül, however, said there have been no talks on a Turkish official becoming a candidate for the top NATO post.

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