MIDDLE EAST BULLETIN: A Publication of Middle East Progress
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
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Today's News

Turkish Opposition Accepts Compromise on Presidential Election
by Reuters

Turkey’s main opposition party on Tuesday agreed to an offer by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to seek a compromise candidate to elect as the next head of state after months of wrangling.

The ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party lost a battle with the secular elite, including opposition parties, generals and senior judges, to have its candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, elected in parliament in May, triggering a political crisis.

Parliament has now postponed the presidential contest until after a parliamentary election on July 22.

Turkey Delays Possible Iraq Operation Until After Elections
by Today's Zaman

The military intervention that Turkey has been considering staging in northern Iraq to root out members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based there seems to have been postponed to a time after the elections, with Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan stating "the possibility of getting parliamentary approval for an operation is not on our agenda right now."

Portugal, Taking EU Reins, Faces Fight on Turkey Membership
by Dan Bilefsky (International Herald Tribune)

Portugal, which took over the six-month presidency of the European Union on Sunday, is heading for battle with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France over issues ranging from Europe’s future economic direction to already fraught talks on admitting Turkey into the bloc.

Sarkozy and Prime Minister Jose Socrates of Portugal, who will take center stage in Europe over the coming months, are both part of a new generation of politicians.

[But] whereas Sarkozy does not believe Turkey belongs in Europe, Socrates believes Ankara can be the EU’s bridge between the West and the Muslim world.

Setting the Record Straight

Middle East Engagement: Driven by Good Strategy Not Ideology

“For the time being, Turkey is still a U.S. ally, known to fulfill its international obligations—from NATO participation to Afghanistan, the War on Terror, and Iraq. Yet these immediate issues notwithstanding, the AKP is moving Turkey in a direction where growing anti-Western public opinion increasingly checks Turkey’s commitment to the West.”
–Soner Cagaptay, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 2007


"There are people who try to explain the more active Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East as a result of the "Islamization" of Turkish foreign policy. I argue just the opposite — that Turkey’s more active involvement in the Middle East has nothing to do with Islamization of Turkish foreign policy, that Turkey is not about to leave the West. [A]ny government whether it had Islamic roots, as the AK Party does, or a secular party would have had to pursue … more or less the same policy and conduct a more active policy towards the Middle East."
–F. Stephen Larrabee, the RAND Corporation, June 26, 2007

Turkey’s Pivotal Role in the Middle East


"Turkey's strength and new assertiveness can complement U.S. strategic interests and should be welcomed"

Ally With a Singular Voice

by Morton Abramowitz, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and Henri J. Barkey, Lehigh University (The Wall Street Journal)

Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey has become a more confident and active international player, and its foreign policy is no longer American-centric, a result of changing geostrategic realities, the blossoming of its economy and a floundering U.S. policy in the region. …

Under Mr. Erdogan, Turkey has established an independent voice in the Middle East, but both countries have tried to minimize or overlook their differences and recognize a common interest. Access the full article>>

Middle East Analysis

A Test for The West In Turkey

by Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia (Washington Post)

This month’s elections in Turkey have been described as a battle for the soul of the nation. But far from being a battle between secularism and Islam, as some would have us believe, this is really a conflict between the forces of freedom and democracy on the one hand and authoritarianism on the other.

Turkey, like Indonesia, is widely regarded as a test case demonstrating harmony between Muslim politics and democracy. It is an expression of peace and development that has riveted Muslim interest and sparked pride internationally. Radicals would be sure to use a coup as evidence of the West’s duplicity in calling for freedom and democracy in the Muslim world while turning a blind eye to authoritarian rule. Moderates would lose ground in a region beset by radicalism that is fueled by the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli crisis. …

Failure to demonstrate unequivocal support for Turkish democracy would be a categorical invitation to extremism, whether Islamic or secularist, to reign free. Sure, those who claim to represent the aspirations of the modern Turkish state may well succeed in toppling the current government, especially when they are buttressed by sheer military force. But this would be a Pyrrhic victory, for the price would be freedom and democracy themselves. Access the full article>>

In Retrospect: The Choice to Send Troops to Lebanon

by Soli Ozel, Professor of International Relations, Istanbul Bilgi University (bitterlemons-international.org)

On September 5, 2006 the Turkish parliament voted 340 to 192, along strictly partisan lines, in favor of sending troops to Lebanon to join the UNIFIL contingent beefed up by UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The Justice and Development Party government defied overwhelming public opposition and risked alienating its own base by taking a distinctly unpopular position. …

In his defense of the government’s policy in the parliament, Foreign Minister Gul also intimated that broader strategic considerations guided government thinking. "In short," he stated, "the Lebanese crisis fully exposed Turkey’s strategic position where East and West meet and clearly highlighted the Mediterranean dimension of our identity…

Therein lies the true significance of the Turkish decision. The Lebanon war can only be appreciated in the broader context of regional balance of power, where it is related to the American-Iranian struggle to shape the region and define Iran’s role in it. …

This choice also reflects Turkey’s newfound commonality of interests with the established Arab states. Concerned with the growing influence of Shi’ite Iran, the Sunni Arab states are determined to contain Tehran’s hegemonic aspirations. … In these efforts to contain Iran, Turkey is considered an important ally. It is as part of this quest to forge alliances to balance Iran and to limit the effects of the Shi’ite ascendance that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia recently visited Turkey, the first visit of its kind in 40 years…

In these efforts Turkey, which enjoys good and open relations with all the parties to a multitude of very messy problems, can obviously play an important and constructive role. This appears to be both the calculation and the aspiration of the government. Access the full article>>

Heard on the Street

Turkish Government: We Are Uniquely Situated to Mediate

Kerim Uras, Deputy Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations, spoke at the UN on June 7:

“[T]he Palestinians and Israel must be assisted through bilateral, regional and international mechanisms in order to generate a change in their respective thinking and policies towards one another. Indeed, a constructive approach to initiate final status negotiations will alter the current psychology on the ground and eventually bring about the desired change. We must renew our efforts toward this aim and re-invigorate the peace process in order to achieve the desired results. In this context, Turkey believes that the Arab Peace Initiative, consolidated at the Arab League Summit held this year, represents a fresh opportunity and a suitable framework to revitalize meaningful negotiations. The initiative merits the support of the international community and the planned activities envisioned through this endeavor must be followed-up…

“As Turkey enjoys the confidence of both Palestinians and Israelis, it is uniquely situated to complement and to facilitate efforts for a just, final and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian question. Turkey will continue its assistance to the Palestinian people in every capacity possible, with the hope that long-desired peace, security, prosperity and well-being of all peoples in the region could be achieved.”

Background Basics

Key Bilateral Relations

Turkey-U.S.: Turkey and the U.S. have a deep strategic relationship, sustained during the Cold War by Turkey’s position at the southern edge of the NATO bloc. The war in Iraq and consequent increasing autonomy for the Kurds in the north have strained ties. The U.S. criticized Turkish refusal to allow American troops to deploy through its territory in March 2003, while Turkish officials continue to condemn U.S. reluctance to fight Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Turkey-Israel: These two countries’ traditionally strong ties grew stronger in the early 1990s with both facing similar regional threats particularly from Iran, Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s evolving relations with Israel’s neighbors have put pressure on this relationship, but have also allowed Ankara to develop its unique role as a mediator between Israel and the Muslim world.

Turkey-Palestinians: Turkey recognized the existence of a Palestinian state in 1988; it was the first country with diplomatic relations with Israel to do so. Since Hamas’ January 2006 election to power, the Turkish government has advocated engagement with the movement and maintained close links with its exiled leader Khaled Meshal.

Turkey-Iraq: Turkey has consistently opposed the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The Republic of Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, was supported by the Turkish government, as a result of their shared resistance to Kurdish independence movements. Since the beginning of the Iraq War, Turkish political and military officials have repeatedly expressed desires for cross-border operations to combat PKK militants.

Turkey-Iran: Ankara and Tehran have been at odds since the Iranian Revolution, with Iran actively supporting the PKK. Following U.S. military action in Iraq, mutual concerns over the future of Kurdish minority groups and the signing of an energy-sharing agreement have started to strengthen some political and economic ties.

Turkey-Syria: The relationship has been traditionally characterized by ongoing tension, with the two countries reaching the brink of war in 1998. However, Bashar Assad’s accession in 2001, the Syrian ban on the PKK, the shared fear of the establishment of a Kurdish state in Iraq and its influence on their respective Kurdish minorities all enabled a fresh diplomatic start and brought the two closer.

Turkey-Europe: Turkey was offered a prospect of accession into the European Union only in 2002, more than four decades after its application for association with the European Economic Community in July 1959. However, despite its 55-year membership in NATO, and the continuous efforts to transform the country into a modern democracy, major EU members led by France oppose Turkey’s accession into the Union.

Middle East Progress appreciates the support and cooperation of Americans for Peace Now, Geneva Initiative, Israel Policy Forum, and New Israel Fund.