2 March 2013
JTW interview with Mehmet Yegin, USAK Center for American Studies
John Kerry has set an intense itinerary for his first overseas trip. What do you think, why Europe and Turkey?
First of all, there were great concerns on the side of European allies of the U.S. Especially; debates about American Pacific Century, "rebalancing" created an ambiguity at the European countries regarding to the future of Trans-Atlantic relations. Kerry`s visit to Europe including Turkey indicated the given importance to these allies. The U.S. may start to focus on Asia-Pacific and seek a restart with Russian Federation; yet, sharing the similar values is an important aspect of alliances. Thus, the U.S. wants to keep the support of its l allies from the Cold War.
What do you think what might have been the prominent issues that were discussed in the meetings?
Of course the primary issue is Syria. It is well acknowledged that the U.S. didn`t have any intention to militarily involve in Syria before the presidential elections. Obama administration is giving similar signals after the elections as feel. This is very much because of the trauma caused by Iraq War, which may be called as "Iraq Syndrome" like the effects of Vietnam Syndrome. Thus, it is quite hard for Obama administration to convince American people for another military involvement. Besides, Obama administration is not eager to do that as well. Obama wants to be remembered as the president who ended wars and "brought the American troops back home". In short the U.S. may involve in Syria in cooperation with Turkey in different ways of assistance. Still, I think that it will not include a direct intervention or any military involvement.
What about Iraq?
Iraq is another contentious topic since the tension between Erbil and Baghdad is rising day by day. Turkey does not favor such tension and has concerns about the developments as well. Yet, it is not a good idea to bring Turkey-KRG relations down in order to reach balanced relations with the two. Besides, there is not only Turkish firms that are in oil business with the KRG.
Here, Maliki`s statements about Turkey declaring it as an enemy state and burning Turkish flags in protests, further complicates the issue. The U.S. should press Maliki to step back in order to foster a healthy relation between Ankara and Baghdad. Turkey acts as a pragmatic actor on foreign policy issues and aim good relations with its neighbors. So, I believe that if Maliki act in a moderate way, Turkey will not insist on keeping the relations at odds.
What is your assessment on Iran-Turkey-the U.S. trilateral relations?
I think, here Turkish perspective is not in conflict with the U.S. policy about Iran nuclear crisis. Obama administration wants to prevent a nuclear Iran in a peaceful way through negotiations. The U.S. may use the language of sanctions in order to bring Iran on the table but as in the case of Syria it is also not probable that this persuasion move will not include military force.
Turkey favors a nuke free Middle East and does not support the idea of a military intervention as well. Yet, it abides by the UN sanctions and supports a peaceful solution. Thus, I do not think there will be a huge disagreement on Iran between the two countries.
Of course the statements on Zionism further complicated the issue but I do not think this will not create a huge crisis between Turkey and the U.S. There is compartmentalisation of issues in Turkey-U.S. bilateral relations. It is natural that the two countries may not agree on certain issues but it doesn`t prevent their cooperation on some other issues like Arab spring as well.
Turkey has three demands from Israel: 1) Apology 2) Compensation 3) Lift of the Gaza blockade. Without fulfillment of these prerequisites, I don`t think there will be a normalization process between Turkey and Israel. Yet, the current situation is not in favor of both countries. Acknowledging this the two countries should meet at least at a minimum level of agreement that changes the current vicious circle.
In order to reach that Israel should act to lift the barriers. And after meeting the three demands, the countries may reach a level of understanding opening the path for further betterment of bilateral relations. Of course this will not happen so fast but it will be the beginning.
By Hale Yavuz