Turkey, the EU and Cyprus; Friend-or-foe pendulum swings again

The Washington Times


On the Senate floor almost a month ago, Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, criticized the State Department’s endorsement of congressional travel to northern Cyprus. “[T]he decision by the government of Cyprus not to prosecute those who make illegal landings is a gesture of restraint, designed to promote the freedom of movement among the two communities,” she said. She may or may not have meant that Rep. Edward Whitfield, Kentucky Republican, who visited northern Cyprus in May with a congressional delegation was lucky not to have been arrested.
Mr. Whitfield said he was delivering the message of the president of the United States to the Turkish Cypriots who accepted the U.N.-backed peace plan to reunify the island, and that America will keep its promise and not let them out in the cold.
This is not the first time or the only Turkish priority about which U.S. officials have sent conflicting messages. For example, during the 1974 Cyprus invasion, Congress decided that Turkey violated U.S. law by using American equipment in the action, and placed an arms embargo against Turkey over the persistent objections of the Ford administration. The embargo was lifted after four years with the rise to power of an anti-American religious regime in Iran. Bottom line: The United States needed to use Turkey’s military bases, so the arms embargo was lifted.
The legacy of that decision is a perception by the Turkish people that they are not really accepted as part of the “West,” but rather as a forward military base.
Today, that feeling persists after harsh criticism for not aligning with the United States in the Iraq war, and also after the cowardly attempts by some EU member countries looking for a way out of their promise to open accession talks with Turkey on Oct. 3. French President Jacques Chirac suggests that the EU foreign ministers meeting this Thursday to discuss Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus. The EU’s enlargement chief, Olli Rehn, said, “that would be a new condition.” Mr. Rehn had made clear that Turkey acknowledged a 25-member European Union, including Cyprus, which should be enough to start talks. But the Turks are in a holding pattern.
Yet, Cyprus and Iraq make an alerting connection. The Turkish people are united behind their government’s decisions to invade Cyprus and to stay out of Iraq – both of which involve standing up to the United States.
The two situations may seem like apples and oranges. But, ironically enough, a staunch critic of Turkey at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee like Sen. Joe Biden, Delaware Democrat, now places the blame for difficult relations with Turkey running up to the Iraq war on the shoulders of the current administration, as if Congress has no track record.
This time the swinging pendulum in the friend-or-foe relationship could just be moving back to the wrong side.
Close to the November 2002 general election, the governor of Hatay called then-Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and said American tanks and guns were launching there. “He asked whether I knew about it,” Mr. Ecevit told me. “I was the Prime Minister and I had no idea.” Mr. Ecevit had argued that if the United States engaged in a real dialogue with Turkey, accepting it as an equal partner, then Turks would have done what the United States asked them to do.
“Turkey is not a country to be taken lightly,” he said. “We provide security in this region. They should not have tried to disqualify us.” A four-term prime minister, Mr. Ecevit knows what it is like to stand up to the United States. “Americans tried to persuade me not to do the invasion,” he told me. “But [Assistant Secretary of State] Joseph Sisco was just back from Athens … He came close to my ear and whispered, ‘Mr. Ecevit, I congratulate you on your decision. You did the right thing.’ ” Mr. Ecevit also said that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had objected to everything he wanted, also said Turkey did the right thing to intervene in Cyprus. “After all we built a democracy there.
“Who is harmed by it?” he said.
“Americans are much closer to us to engage in dialogue compared to the Europeans,” Mr. Ecevit said. “They have no complexes and very straight people … Kissinger wanted me to explain the U.S. to the Turkish people.”
Mr. Ecevit, who is now a strong critic of how the Bush administration has handled the Iraq war and its threats to Syria and Iran, said, “Turkey is a country that the U.S. can count on as an ally. That is why we are speaking.” And even if the EU says “no” to Turkey with the Cyprus excuse, he says, Turkey will never give up trying to join.
Let’s – all – complete the mission of democratization in Turkey first. It is time to prove the friendship. Then, Turkey will be the irreversible model to prove that Western democracy can work with Islam.
Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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