US praises Turkey's role amid axis shift debates

US praises Turkey's role amid axis shift debates

Ian Kelly

November 27, 2009, Friday/ 16:34:00
Ahead of an upcoming visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Washington, the United States has appeared to dismiss concerns that Turkey's foreign policy orientation is shifting away from the West, saying Ankara stands out as a democratic model for its region.

“We have a very robust and broad relationship with Turkey. Turkey is a valued member of NATO. We see [Turkey] as an important model for the region in terms of its very vital democratic institutions,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told a daily press briefing on Wednesday.

He was responding to a question on whether there has been a change in the way the US perceives its relations with Turkey amid growing accusations by “pro-Israeli forces in Washington” that Ankara is moving away from the West and building alliances with Iran and Syria.

In an editorial published on Nov. 23, The Washington Post said Erdoğan’s image in the West -- a model for how pious Muslims could practice democratic politics -- was rapidly darkening and claimed his “government’s foreign policy has taken a nasty turn: Shrill denunciations of Israel have been accompanied by increasing coziness with the criminal rulers of Iran, Syria and Sudan.”

Kelly said the US had a growing trade relationship with Turkey and added that Washington was “looking forward to the visit of Prime Minister Erdoğan” scheduled for early December. But he added that this does not mean Washington and Ankara don’t have any disagreements. “We have disagreements with all of our allies and we discuss them both privately and publicly and we look forward to discussing the full range of our relations when Prime Minister Erdoğan arrives,” he said, declining to elaborate on the issues of disagreement.

Turkey has mediated peace talks between Syria and Israel, but talks collapsed when Israel launched a deadly offensive in Gaza in late December, killing about 1,400 Palestinians before completing the operation in January. Since then, Erdoğan has severely criticized Israel and excluded Israel from an international military exercise, while relations with Syria and Iran have expanded dramatically. Responding to accusations that it’s departing from the Western camp, President Abdullah Gül has said Turkey was moving in all directions to help peace in the Middle East. Ankara is also involved in efforts to find a peaceful solution to an international dispute on Iran’s nuclear program.

At a separate press conference at the State Department on Wednesday, US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell threw his support behind Turkish mediation between Israel and Syria -- fiercely opposed by the hawkish wing of the Israeli government, which includes Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Mitchell said Syria wanted to conclude indirect talks mediated by Turkey before going on to direct talks, while Israel prefers to start direct talks without preconditions. “We are attempting to find a mechanism on which both can agree, because we think it’s important that they begin the process,” he said.

Asked to comment on Turkish mediation, he said the US welcomes Turkish participation, although this is a decision for the parties involved to make. “I have told the Turkish officials and both the Syrian and Israeli officials we welcome that as one mechanism. We welcome any mechanism that will result in progress,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has had telephone conversations with his Western counterparts, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to discuss the latest developments concerning Iran’s nuclear program. In addition to Clinton, Davutoğlu had talks with the foreign ministers of Germany, Britain and France on Wednesday evening and conveyed to them his impressions from his meetings with top Iranian officials during a visit to Iran last week, the Anatolia news agency reported on Thursday.

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