Turkey / Israel — Noting that Turkeys rush to assist Israel to fight a massive forest fire has opened a new window of opportunity to bring bilateral relations to a level of normalcy, Çankırı deputy and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Foreign Affairs Deputy Chairman Suat Kınıklıoğlu said, If Israel does not take a step and take advantage of this opportunity, then unfortunately we will enter a period of what I call cold peace.
Given that Turkey intervened in the fire in which over 40 people died, for the same humanitarian purposes that it intervened against the killing of defenseless people in Gaza, Kınıklıoğlu added: If Turkeys good intentions are not understood and the diplomacy that came to be as a result of Turkeys aid to Israel following the recent fire is obstructed for domestic policies, then there will be a period in which relations will not only be cold but mutual cooperation will be limited. During this period, there will probably be a diplomatic framework in which Turkey will be represented at a low level.
In a recent interview with Todays Zaman, Kınıklıoğlu, who is also the chairman of the US-Turkish Interparliamentary Friendship Group, responded to some questions.
Will the tension with Israel continue to have a negative effect on Turkish-US relations?
The Israeli lobby in the US is really making Turkey feel aware of this issue within the context of Turkish-American relations. It is making its discomfort with the tension known. We see that Israel has realized it cant handle Turkey on its own so it is trying to find a balance by getting a third actor involved. Obviously this adds an unneeded dimension to Turkish-American relations and creates tension. From what I have been observing, the mood in the US Congress — the Senate — has been very negative for the past six to seven months. The most upsetting part is that comments and meetings that can be considered a direct intervention in Turkeys internal affairs are being made. I think this is concerning for the medium and long term future of Turkish-American relations.
Is this concern being expressed sufficiently by the friendship group?
We have told our American friends numerous times. As the chairman of the Turkish-American Friendship Group I have shared our concern with my counterparts during every visit. We told them that we are concerned about the tension in Turkish-American relations and that this is not good. We explained that Turkey and Israel will be able to resolve the tension between each other and that while we appreciated Americas constructive efforts to improve relations we did not appreciate how the issue had been turned into an item on Americas agenda.
The two ally countries also have a different perspective on Irans nuclear program.
There are two topics in Turkish-American relations where perspectives are reciprocally different. The first is related to the way in which Irans nuclear issue should be dealt with. Our neighborly policies and their efforts to make Iran a regional and global monster conflict with each other. We have disagreements on how to address this issue. The second issue is obviously related to the tension between Turkey and Israel, which peaked after the Mavi Marmara incident. Our main concern about Iran is the same as the USs concern. We dont want Iran to possess nuclear weapons either. But we differ in our approaches to dealing with this issue.
Actually the tension started before the Mavi Marmara.
Differences in opinion between Israel and Turkey date back to 2006. There was the clash with Hezbollah, Israels invasion of southern Lebanon, its attack on Gaza, the Davos incident, the ambassador crisis and most recently, the Mavi Marmara incident. Turkey and Israel are actually allies. Turkey has always addressed tensions within the scope of international law. Turkey tried to prevent it from worsening, from snowballing into something bigger and getting out of control, by avoiding making it a political issue.
Does the assistance to the forest fire show that animosity is not the source of the tension?
The humanitarian attitude that Turkey exhibited by sending two firefighting plans showed that Turkeys concerns about Gaza and its stance against the killing of children were also based on humanitarian concerns. The humanitarian reaction our prime minister showed to the killing of almost 1,500 people in Gaza and the wounding of almost 20,000 and the similar attitude he showed to the deaths of more than 40 people in a fire and the devastation of a beautiful forest is also an important state reaction. It shows that a regional country should use its logistical opportunities when there is a need for them for the sake of the regions interests. Similar to what it would do if there was a need in Lebanon, Jordan or Iran, the prime minister did not spare Turkeys help from Israel.
Was Turkeys attitude initially misunderstood?
An opportunity emerged, and Israels prime minister adequately understood this as a window of opportunity. We can see the importance of this opportunity was grasped because Turkish planes were visited, photographs were taken, appreciation was extended, and a telephone call was made to the prime minister to express gratitude.
How reasonable is it to escalate tension over the Iranian issue when Turkey and Israel could find a way to resolve it?
Actually these two topics have become completely intertwined. Both of them appear to part of the same issue from the perspective of the American public and domestic politics. The connection that is made between these two topics is what disturbs us the most. Indeed, the voting in the UN Security Council coincided with the Mavi Marmara incident. But from our perspective, there is no connection between these two. Their dynamics, history and our diplomatic approaches toward them are different. Unfortunately, we havent seen this properly portrayed on the American side.
Arent Turkeys intentions sometimes understood?
Of course there are different perceptions about our Iran policy; however, the quality of communication between Turkey and the US has improved significantly particularly since May 17 (since the Tehran Agreement). Therefore, America knows what we want to do and it is aware of Turkeys contribution to the diplomatic process that has recently commenced. But since the problem and the negative mood in America is still in place, we can not deny that the main reason for this is the tension between Turkey and Israel nor can we deny that Israel has weight and influence in Washington.
How do you feel about the lack of an ambassador?
We have an ambassador problem in Turkish-American relations as well. The critical relationship between Turkey and America is being carried out at the undersecretary level. Even though the undersecretary is very hardworking and good intentioned, the lack of an official ambassador does not suit this relationship.
How will things continue? Where will different perspectives take relations?
We are going through a certain process with the Iran issue. There is a process that began in Geneva and will continue in İstanbul in January. Obviously we dont know where this process will take us. We hope that the P5-plus-1 countries can find a formula that does not deny Irans right to produce nuclear energy but also addresses the international communitys concerns about nuclear proliferation. In my opinion, the P5-plus-1 countries and Iran all have responsibilities they need to fulfill.
Isnt Barack Obamas presidency an opportunity?
Obama is a president who values Turkey. He made his first official visit to Turkey and spent 48 hours here. He indicated that he would attach special importance to Turkey even before he was elected and has incorporated this sentiment into his policy. These are important things we need to understand. Obama is the person in America who understands Turkey, stresses Turkeys importance and balances the negative atmosphere in Congress. He called our prime minister and expressed his regret following the disclosure of secret US cables by WikiLeaks. The prime minister and Obama have an important dialogue and this dialogue is the most important assurance of the continuation of Turkish-American relations. The West is trying to create a new enemy
Do you agree with assessments that the West needs a new enemy in the post Cold War period?
As someone involved in these matters and as someone who visits America frequently and speaks with US officials frequently, this question has come to my mind as well. The cold war is over, Sept. 11 happened. Does the West need a new a new enemy?
Why does it need something like that?
Its like the West feels it needs to create a monster in order to ensure internal harmony and unity. This is evidence when we look at the historical process as well. Europe and the West have always defined themselves according to a point of reference. In other words, the West needs a monster from time to time. Iran has been made into a monster in the global discourse. You can see this if you look at the documents and debates in the lower committees of NATO and if you look at the way the American and British-dominated media depicts and defines Iran. There is a broad consensus in the EU.
Doesnt Frances demand for harsh sanction hold a different place?
Interestingly, France is one of the countries most vocal in its opinion about Iran. That is because Sarkozy promised to put French-American relations on track even before he was elected president. The current president came to power with the promise to put relations, which had derailed in the left and socialist process, back on track. This is why France is speaking up the most about the Iranian issue and the missile defense system. France is one of the main countries that wants to impose harsh sanctions on Iran.
Is it possible for Turkey to view things from the same window?
A monster was created and this monster is Turkeys neighbor. It is a neighbor that holds an important place in Turkeys policy relating to its neighbors. It is a neighbor from which we import 15 percent of our natural gas needs and with whom we have a foreign trade volume of around $10-11 billion, which the prime minister said the two countries want to increase to $30 billion during his visit in November 2009. It is also a regional power and a deeply grounded civilization. It is because we cannot view things from the same window that we have disagreements over this issue.