Saturday, September 15, 2007

U.S. urges Turkey to take key policy steps

Saturday, September 15, 2007
Turkish Daily News

WASHINGTON - Turkish Daily News

The United States, while praising Turkey's newly-elected civilian leaders as friends of America, has called on Ankara to take a series of critical political steps, including refraining from energy deals with Iran, opening its border with Armenia, lifting obstacles before freedom of speech and reopening a Greek Orthodox religious school.

"We very much welcome (Abdullah) Gül's election" as president, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nick Burns, said late Thursday in a speech on U.S.-Turkish relations at the Atlantic Council, a think tank.

He said Washington was looking forward to working with Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan both of whom he said were "good allies of the United States."

Following months of friction with the military over secularism, Erdoğan's ruling party, whose roots lie in political Islam, won a landslide victory in general elections on July 22. About a month later Gül, Erdoğan's former foreign minister, was elected president by the new Parliament.

Burns' policy speech, in which he focused on the prospects and challenges awaiting the U.S.-Turkish relationship, came ahead of high-level talks. He will travel to Ankara early next week, and Erdoğan is expected to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush in the United States within the next two weeks.

Burns highlighted Turkey's role as a bridge between the West and the chaotic Middle East, qualifying the NATO nation as the most successful example of secular democracy in Muslim-populated countries. He said Gül's election showed the maturity of Turkey's democracy.

Then he presented the Turks with a list of U.S. requests.

Turkey's "to-do list"

He made it clear that the United States was much annoyed by Turkey's move this summer to sign a memorandum of understanding on natural gas cooperation with Iran. Washington accuses Tehran of seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and urges its allies to impose stronger sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

"Now is not the time for business as usual with Iran," Burns said. Earlier, U.S. officials warned that Turkey might be subject to U.S. sanctions if its planned natural gas cooperation with Iran progressed.

He said the U.S. administration was against the passage of an Armenian genocide resolution pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, but urged Turkey to move toward reconciliation with Armenia.

"We call on Turkey to normalize its relations and open its border with Armenia," Burns said. Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia and accuses it of occupying part of neighboring Azerbaijan's territory in the Caucasus.

On the domestic policy front, Burns urged Ankara to abolish Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which limits freedom of speech, according to critics.

He also said Turkey should reopen the Greek Orthodox theological school of Halki in Istanbul to boost religious freedom.

Nothing new on PKK front

However, on the critical matter of the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose militants attack Turkish targets from bases in neighboring northern Iraq, Burns did not have much to offer.

"I'm confident that we'll see progress," he said, without elaborating what could be done against the PKK on the ground.

U.S. and Turkish officials have said the Iraq issue, including the PKK problem, was the largest obstacle before U.S.-Turkish relations.

On Cyprus, Burns urged United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to launch a fresh effort for the Mediterranean island's reunification. He reiterated Washington's backing for Turkey's future membership to the European Union.

Four former U.S. ambassadors to Ankara, Morton Abramowitz, Marc Grossman, Marc Parris and Robert Pearson, Turkey's ambassador to Washington, Nabi Şensoy, and Armenia's ambassador to Washington, Tatoul Markarian, were among dignitaries in Burns's audience.

Some analysts suggested that Burns's speech had little new to offer Turkey. One former U.S. diplomat said Burns had voiced several demands, but in most cases "there's no beef with Turkey."

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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