Wed, Apr 01, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US-Turkey relations tenuous, study says ahead of Obama trip


Turkey, the first Muslim country that US President Barack Obama will visit as commander-in-chief, is a vital, sometimes prickly, ally of the US that will need long and concentrated attention from the Obama administration to stabilize the countries’ relationship, a study released on Monday said.

Shifting regional and global priorities of the US and Turkey’s changing society and domestic politics make continued close relations between the NATO allies impossible to guarantee, says the study, a year-long project of the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) think tank.

Obama arrives in Ankara on Sunday at the end of visits to Britian, France and the Czech Republic for economic, NATO and EU matters. Among appearances being prepared in Turkey is a session with Turkish students.

The CSIS study says Obama’s new administration “has an opportunity, through sustained engagement and close consultation with Turkish officials, to energize this relationship and set it on a sound, long-term footing.”

The interests of both countries are identical on many issues, such as calm in the Middle East, world economic stability and productive relations with Europe. Both countries, especially the US, could and should work to maintain the relationship.

Above all, the study says, both should avoid actions guaranteed to irk the other.

For instance, an “Armenian genocide resolution,” under consideration in the US House of Representatives, contends that Ottoman Turks committed genocide by killing up to 1.5 million Armenians as the Ottoman Empire collapsed almost 100 years ago.

Turkey contends the Armenians were not systematically annihilated, but died in the chaos of civil war and unrest.

“If President Obama takes no action to prevent congressional enactment of the resolution ... endorses the measure, or uses the word genocide himself, the Turkish response will be harsh and trigger a bitter breach in relations,” the report said.

It said the US, “rather than seek to legislate history,” should join other countries in encouraging and supporting diplomatic rapprochement that Turkey and Armenia are trying to accomplish.

Turkey, too, could be problematic.

“Turkish politics may be entering one of its transitional phases of uncertainty,” the report said. “Turkey’s future course will be determined by the struggle between secularist and religious forces and by external variables.”

Two of the most important of those variables, the report said, is the severity of the world financial crisis and Europe’s decision whether to let Turkey become the EU’s only predominantly Muslim member.

Accession to the union would be a boon to Turkey’s traditionally secular governing system. In recent years, its society has shown indications of more religious leanings.

“Quiet but consistent US diplomacy with European governments is the most effective way for Washington to support Turkey’s accession discussions,” it said.

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