Friday, February 27, 2009

U.S. Top Diplomat Likely to Visit Turkey Next Month

Hurriyet Daily News

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Turkey next month, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

After the meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Middle Envoy George Mitchell in Ankara, sources told the Anatolian Agency that Clinton also has plans to visit Turkey in March.

Clinton will visit countries in the region after attending an international conference hosted by Egypt for the Gaza reconstruction on March 2.

Although the date of the top U.S. diplomat is yet to be determined, Clinton is expected to visit Turkey on March 7, sources told

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

First Lady of Mexico thanks the Turkish Coalition of America for Charitable Donations to the Mexican Red Cross

Washington, DC – At the launch for the Mexican Red Cross's 2009 fundraising drive today First Lady Margarita Zavala Calderón thanked the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) and its President, Lincoln McCurdy for the donation of ambulances to serve the people of Tabasco, Mexico. The ceremony, held at the President's residence, was symbolic of the close ties between Mexico, Turkey and the United States. The President of the Mexican Red Cross also thanked TCA at the ceremony which was attended by the wives of Mexican cabinet members, as well as over 100 others.

“Bringing together Turkish Americans, Hispanic Americans and the citizens of Mexico builds bridges and friendships that will last long into the future,” said Lincoln McCurdy, President of TCA. “While it is true that shared adversity was the catalyst for this donation, the result has been a shared understanding and a desire to work together in the future.”

Mexico endured one of its worst national disasters in November of 2007 when the state of Tabasco was hit by a hurricane, causing massive flooding and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes and schools, as well as the state’s crops. The flooding left over a million people homeless, an estimated one-third of the victims were children. In hopes of a more immediate recovery in future cases of need, two ambulances have been donated to the Mexican Red Cross by TCA as a gesture of friendship.

Turkish Americans know firsthand the critical role international assistance plays in saving lives and rebuilding after witnessing the kindness of the international community when Turkey was struck by major earthquakes in August of 1999. Nations across the globe, the United States and the American people in particular, showed great support and sympathy to Turkey during its most dire days.

Mexico and its people also contributed life saving aid and rescue resources which helped alleviate the suffering of those impacted by this earthquake. This gift from Turkish Americans to the people of Tabasco, Mexico is a way of showing solidarity to victims of natural disasters.

“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute is proud to support the efforts of the TCA to generate friendships and mutual understanding with the people of Mexico and Hispanic Americans,” said William Gil, Vice President of Programs for the CHCI. “Programs like this are essential to bringing together cultures, peoples and nations throughout the world.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) is one of the leading Hispanic non-profit and non-partisan 501(c) (3) organizations in the US. As the premier national Hispanic educational organization, CHCI seeks to accomplish its mission by offering educational and leadership development programs, services and activities that promote the growth of participants as effective professionals and strong leaders. In the spirit of building coalitions, CHCI seeks to establish partnerships with other Hispanic and non-Hispanic organizations.

TCA dedicated the two ambulances to Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-27th/TX) and Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-16th/TX). The dedication was designed to recognize the efforts by Congressman Ortiz and Congressman Reyes, who are deans of the Hispanic Caucus and members of the Turkish Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, to bring together the people of Mexico, Turkey and the United States.

Friday, February 20, 2009

U.S. Supports Greater Regional Role For Turkey

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
By Abbas Djavadi

U.S. President Barack Obama recently called his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul along with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to affirm the new U.S. administration's support for Turkey's "leading role" in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus.

Indeed, Iraq and Afghanistan are the two areas where Turkey could help the United States and the West, as it did in the past during the Korean crisis in the 1950s and the conflict in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As the United States prepares to withdraw from Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan, Turkey could play a welcome role by stepping in to contribute to Iraq's further stabilization.

After a relatively long period of hesitation, over the past few months Ankara has started to improve relations with the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which is led by President Mas'ud Barzani. Turkey's biggest concern has long been that the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, just across the Turkish border, would encourage the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has found a safe haven in northern Iraq from which to launch terrorist attacks inside Turkey.

Tens of thousands of civilians, Turkish troops, and PKK rebels have been killed in the last three decades in what Ankara calls a terrorist campaign by the PKK to dismember Turkey and declare an independent Kurdistan. Successive Turkish governments have maintained that the Kurdish government in northern Iraq has failed to make good on its commitment to crack down on the PKK. Barzani, for his part, believes that Turkey should seek a political solution to the problem with its Kurdish minority through reforms, instead of relying on military force.

Many experts believe that if the ongoing gradual improvement in political stability in Iraq is reversed and ethnic-sectarian conflicts flare up anew, the Kurds in the north might declare independence. That would have serious implications not only for Iraq itself, but also for neighboring Turkey and the whole Middle East. Kurdish regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has also warned of turmoil in Iraq if U.S. troops are withdrawn before all problems between Baghdad and the Kurds are resolved.

Force For Stability

This is the last thing the Obama administration needs. By seeking to improve relations with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq and become increasingly involved in Iraq's economic development, Turkey could help Washington to ensure that the situation in Iraq continues to normalize and stabilize as the U.S. troop withdrawal proceeds. Turkish leaders have said repeatedly that they are ready to do so, provided both the Iraqi Kurdish administration and the United States demonstrate a clearer commitment to cracking down on the PKK presence on Iraqi soil.

Furthermore, Turkey could play a major role in removing thousands of tons of U.S. equipment and supplies from Iraq in the next year or two. Ankara has provided the United States access to the Habur Gate in southeastern Turkey for transporting construction materials, food, fuel, and other nonmilitary items into Iraq. The United States would need Turkey's help in using the same route to withdraw its troops smoothly.

In 2002, Turkey was among the first countries to participate in a multinational peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. Seven years later, the new administration in Washington is intensifying its efforts to fight Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. As a first step, on February 17 President Obama ordered the dispatch of an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The United States is also pressuring other NATO members to share the burden of the Afghan mission.

In this context, Turkey is best placed to provide both training and equipment for the Afghan National Army and police force, as well as to participate in the economic development that is essential to neutralizing terrorist and insurgent groups' efforts to destabilize the country.

And now, following Kyrgyzstan's announcement of the closure of the U.S. air base at Manas near Bishkek, the base at Incirlik in Turkey could become a major hub for the United States as it sets about building up its presence in Afghanistan.

Turkey's Fine Line

Recently, Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) party has shifted Turkey's foreign policy away from its previous primarily Western and NATO orientation to a more centrist one focused on improving relations with Muslim countries in the Middle East, as well as the Caucasus and Russia. While this may have led to some disappointment in the West, it is appreciated in Arab countries, and in Moscow and Tehran. It has also strengthened Ankara's potential for playing a major role in the region.

Last year, Turkey mediated indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria. But while Erdogan's fiery exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres on January 29 in Davos about the Israeli offensive in Gaza won him votes in Turkey and sympathy on the "Arab Street," it strained the traditionally good relations between Turkey and Israel. It also led many Israelis to question how unbiased Turkey is as a possible mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Since the recent parliamentary elections in Israel that are expected to produce a new, rightist coalition, hopes for an Israeli-Syrian peace deal have diminished. Both Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party rule out meaningful talks with the Palestinians in which Turkey might be of assistance.

Obama has reportedly told Prime Minister Erdogan that Washington also supports Turkey's efforts to improve relations with neighboring Armenia. Turkish press reports add that, asked about Ankara's concerns relating to possible U.S. recognition of the Armenian killings in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as "genocide," Obama said that he "understands Turkey's sensitivities." To be sure, this is not likely to become a serious obstacle to improved U.S.-Turkish relations as long as more pressing issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan need to be dealt with.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Turkey Steps up Talks with Armenia as April Looms

Turkish Weekly

Increased and open diplomatic traffic between Turkey and Armenia has signaled that there are more efforts under way for normalizing relations between the two countries, particularly considering the fact that April 24, the day the White House traditionally issues a statement on "Armenian Remembrance Day" is approaching and, maybe even more importantly, the Armenian diaspora has already started pressuring American politicians to bring a "genocide resolution" to the floor of the US Congress.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's meetings with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, are no longer held in secret. The two have met six times on separate occasions since the soccer match held between the national teams of the two countries on Sept. 6, 2008, in Armenia.

After that historical event came Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian's visit to Ä°stanbul to attend a ministerial gathering of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) on Nov. 24. Babacan and Nalbandian later met unofficially in Helsinki, Zurich and, most recently, Munich.

"If Turkey and Armenia increase their meetings, it will be difficult for third parties to interfere with the process," said Sedat Laciner, head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO/USAK), referring to the possibility of US recognition of the Armenian "genocide" allegations due to campaign promises made by President Barack Obama to Armenian-American voters.

Laciner added that Turkey was working toward a solution to its problems with Armenia and that this is why it is trying to prevent efforts in the United States that may block this process of reconciliation.

"The ultimate goals are the starting of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border with Armenia," he told Sunday's Zaman.

It is not so important whether or not US President Barack Obama utters the word "genocide" in his statement on April 24 -- the day when Armenians commemorate the killings of Anatolian Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, which Armenians claim constituted genocide. Rather, it is the climate that will be created afterward that may be concerning, Laciner said, adding, "Dialogue between Armenia and Turkey could break off.

"There is also worry of a possible explosion of nationalist sentiment in Turkey, as predicted by Today's Zaman columnist Omer Taspinar, if a House resolution is adopted.

Taspınar wrote in a Jan. 26 article that "In case the Armenian genocide recognition resolution goes forward and Congress votes in favor of it before March 29, things will go from bad to worse," considering the political calendar in Turkey, where local elections will be held on March 29.

President Obama issued several statements during his election campaign reiterating his intention to recognize the alleged Armenian genocide. But some argue that running for office and running the government are different things. Ä°lter Türkmen, a retired Turkish ambassador and former foreign minister, said the Obama administration would be hesitant to scratch old wounds in the history of Turks and Armenians.

"The United States supports the improvement of relations between Turkey and Armenia," he said.

However, the matter has gotten more complicated as observers note a mounting sense of frustration in the US Congress related to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, particularly following his walkout at the recent Davos summit after an angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel's deadly operation in Gaza last month. "The level of resentment is particularly high among the pro-Israel lobby. Some argue that Turkey has lost all its key supporters in Washington and that the Armenian lobby has now a unique window of opportunity to push its agenda," wrote Taspinar, who is based in Washington.

Supporting this idea, former Turkish Ambassador to the US Faruk Logoglu told Sunday's Zaman that the Jewish lobby in the United States was one of Turkey's biggest trump cards. Still, he said, Turkey should not be anxiously looking to make gestures prior to April 24. Instead, it should spread its efforts to normalize relations with Armenia over a period of time.

"We should get Washington's backing first and then move forward with the issue," he said, adding that, in the meantime, not only Ankara, but also Yerevan should communicate to the US administration that normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia carries high importance for both sides and that dialogue is continuing toward a solution.

Logoglu also said it is important for Ankara that Azerbaijan's consent has been obtained and that Russia has been informed about the process.

After all, Turkey closed its border with Armenia because of its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. In a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, Turkey also severed its diplomatic ties with Yerevan.

Before his landmark meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan in Davos late last month, Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan had talks with Azerbaijani President Ä°lham Aliyev. Indeed, Aliyev had held talks with Sarksyan earlier in Davos concerning the two-decade-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people from both Armenia and Azerbaijan. "We will never leave Azerbaijan alone concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. That is to say that our issues are in a way connected with Azerbaijan," Erdogan said at Davos.

"Efforts may soon yield positive results"

Suat Kiniklioglu, member of Parliament and deputy chairman of external affairs for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), told Sunday's Zaman he is hopeful that a statement by the Turkish side most likely at the beginning of April may pave the way for further rapprochement with Armenia.

"I am not directly involved in the negotiations, but I hear that there are only minor issues left to be settled between the sides. Both Turkey and Armenia are serious in that regard," he said.

Asked if Armenia can be expected to take a step toward the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, he said, "It is possible because Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to negotiate over the issue."

Although last week Yerevan rejected a news report suggesting that Armenia and Azerbaijan had reached a preliminary agreement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Turkey's support, there are signs that a solution may emerge soon.

Nalbandian has announced many times that negotiations over the resolution of the conflict are being held in the context of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States.

Goran Lennmarker, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly special representative on Nagorno-Karabakh, arrived in Baku on Feb. 12. The Trend news agency reported that the purpose of his visit was to get familiarized with the current situation of the negotiation process so a report could be drafted prior to the winter session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on Feb. 19 and 20 in Vienna.

Lenmarker also said he has additional information regarding the transfer of six regions to Azerbaijan and the establishment of a temporary government in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Turkish Parliament is expected to go to the United States again in March. Kınıklıoğlu said they will further explain to US officials that the Armenian diaspora "does not care about the problems of Armenia" and are even "disturbed" about the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. In that context, the Turkish Coalition of America recently sent a letter to President Obama drawing his attention to the work of more than 30 scholars who have refrained from applying the genocide label to the events of 1915 or whose work exposes parts of the traditional "

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obama seeks warmer Turkey-Iraq relations

Press TV

US President Barack Obama has thrown his weight behind the growing Turkey-Iraq relations, the White House has confirmed in a statement.

Obama pledged his support while speaking with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the phone on Monday.

According to the White House, several other issues, including the importance of cooperation in Middle East peace efforts, and the US review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy were also discussed during the telephone conversations.

"In both calls, the leaders discussed a number of current issues, including US support for the growing Turkish-Iraqi relationship, the importance of cooperation in Middle East peace efforts, and the US review on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy," the White House said.

Obama further emphasized the importance of US-Turkish relations.

"The president emphasized his desire to strengthen US-Turkish relations and to work together effectively in NATO," the statement added.

Obama's decision came as US-Turkey ties face challenges stemming from the security situation in Iraq.

Turkey has been pressuring the US government to launch massive strikes against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) rebels in the northern mountainous region of Iraq.

The Bush administration had disagreed on the issue, saying that such attacks would threaten the relative stability of the region.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984, conducting attacks in the countryside from bases in northern Iraq. The violence has killed tens of thousands of people.

The Kurdish insurgents have escalated attacks since Turkey began raiding their bases in northern Iraq earlier this year. The militant group is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community, including the US and the EU.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Russia, Turkey hail flourishing neighbourhood ties

Agence France-Presse

MOSCOW (AFP) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday he welcomed diplomatic moves by historical rival Turkey in the two countries' Caucasus and Black Sea neighbourhood.

As Medvedev evoked a role for NATO member Turkey in ex-Soviet nations that abut both Russia and Turkey, a Russian official said Moscow and Ankara were close to making lucrative new energy deals.

"Our countries naturally want to strengthen security in the Caucasus region and to ensure proper security in the Black Sea. In this, we're fully in solidarity," Medvedev said during a visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Medvedev struck a defiant note on "outside powers" in the region, clearly referring to US support for Tbilisi in a war last summer between Georgia and Russia.

"The August crisis showed the importance of coordination by all countries of the region... and showed we can deal with such problems ourselves, without the involvement of outside powers," Medvedev said.

Russia remains fiercely protective of its role in the Caucasus nations that broke from Moscow in 1991 -- Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan -- and Medvedev in August described Moscow as the "guarantor" of the region's security.

Moscow's sense of entitlement has historically put Turkey and Russia at loggerheads.
But as Gul visited on Friday both countries emphasised cooperation, not least in Russian help with energy supplies to Turkey.

Medvedev said he welcomed an initiative put forward by Turkey during last year's Georgia war known as the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform.

The latter is part of a push by Turkey that includes improving relations with Armenia poisoned by differences over Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians.

Gul told Medvedev on Friday: "Russia and Turkey are neighbouring countries, which are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence."

Later at a meeting with former president Vladimir Putin, now the country's prime minister, Putin applauded the emergence of Russia as Turkey's number one trade partner.

Gul responded: "The author of those relations is you. You have done a great service in this."

On the sidelines of the talks in Moscow the two countries were working on new energy deals expected to increase Russia's role in Turkey, including a plan for Moscow to build a nuclear power station in Turkey.

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said the two sides were nearing agreement on Russia winning the nuclear contract.

A consortium led by Russia's Atomstroixport partnership was the sole bidder in a tender launched in September to build a 4,800 megawatt nuclear power plant at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast.

"We expect our proposal will be forwarded by the tendering commission to the Turkish government in the near future," Shmatko told reporters.

"According to different estimates, such a project could be worth 18-20 billion dollars (14-15.5 billion euros)," he added.

Shmatko also said Russia and Turkey were discussing a long-term contract worth 60 billion dollars over a period of 15 years to supply Russian electricity to Turkey.

"The volume of supplies of electricity from Russia to Turkey could reach 60 billion dollars over 15 years," he said.

In practice Russian-Turkish energy cooperation has fallen short of Moscow's expectations.

The Blue Stream gas pipeline that supplies Russian gas to Turkey is now operating at well below the capacity envisaged by its planners, as Turkey eyes other energy sources such as Iraq and Central Asia.

Russia is Turkey's biggest trading partner and bilateral trade was worth 37.8 billion dollars last year.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Egypt, Turkey call for Palestinian reconciliation


ISTANBUL (AFP) — The leaders of Egypt and Turkey said Wednesday that reconciliation between the two main Palestinian groups was crucial to establish a lasting truce in Gaza after Israel's deadly operation.

"Israel's attack would have been out of the question if there were no divisions and disagreements among the Palestinians," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told a new conference after talks with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

"I underlined (to Gul) the importance we attribute to national Palestinian reconciliation because the interests of the Palestinian people are above reconciliation between the groups," he said, through a translator.

Egypt has stepped up contacts with envoys from Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas running Gaza, seeking a durable truce.

Both sides called separate ceasefires on January 18, following Israel's 22-day offensive on Gaza which killed around 1,330 Palestinians.

But progress towards a permanent ceasefire has been slow despite repeated announcements of imminent success.

The Egyptian truce plan also calls for Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement to reconcile and form a government that would be acceptable to the international community.

But the two movements have been deeply divided since Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007, a rift that has widened since the Israeli offensive.

Hamas has also called for an alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) -- recognised internationally as the sole representative of the Palestinian cause since 1974 -- that would include itself and the radical Islamic Jihad group.

Mubarak said the PLO -- in which Fatah is the most powerful member -- must be maintained.

"This organization is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," he said.
Gul meanwhile said Turkey would continue to support Egypt's efforts to establish a permanent truce in Gaza and help reconcile Palestinians.

"It is vital to have unity among Palestinians and Arabs," he said, with a new government coming to power in Israel following elections and a new administration in Washington.
Both leaders also called for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Cairo is holding an international aid conference for the war-battered territory on March 2.

One of Israel's few Muslim allies, Turkey has been strongly critical of the deadly assault on Gaza and has actively sought a ceasefire, shuttling between exiled Hamas leaders and Egyptian officials.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Turkey becomes well-known destination for US tourists

Hurriyet Daily News

The tourism attache of the Turkish embassy in New York said on Saturday that Turkey had recently become a well-known destination in the United States.

The "Turkey pavilion" at this year's "New York Times Travel Show", which is one of the most important travel shows in the United States, has drawn much interest from visitors.

Besides the Turkish Tourism and Promotion Office in New York and the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, a total of 8 Turkish tourism agencies attended the show.

In an interview with A.A, Tourism attache Hasan Zongur of the Turkish embassy in New York said that Turkey would continue to conduct a promotion campaign in the United States in an effort to attract more number tourists from the country in 2009.

Expressing the United States media's interest in Turkey, Zongur said that numerous articles on Turkey would be published in several U.S. tourism magazines this year.

"Turkey had been a tourism destination not quite known in the U.S. 4-5 years ago. Recently, it has become a popular destination and we have positive expectations from 2009," Zongur said.