News Analysis: Turkey-U.S. ties under test amid disputes

February 9, 2013 9:43 am 

By Shi Zhuying

ISTANBUL, Feb. 9 — Tensions between the United States and Turkey rise after recent spats flared up between the two NATO allies, which triggered wide speculations about a worsening Turkey- US ties.

On Thursday morning, Turkish media filed urgent stories saying that U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone had been summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Many assumed that Ricciardone was going to face questions and perhaps a protest about his words on the Turkish legal system. Yet it was soon understood that Ricciardone had requested an appointment to talk to Foreign Ministry officials.

Ricciardone held nearly two hours of talks with Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, who told the American envoy not to get too involved in Turkish political affairs.

On the same day, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told Ricciardone to stop interfering with Turkish judiciary system, saying ambassadors "should stay away from assessments that mean interference in Turkey's judiciary and domestic affairs.

The ruling Justice and Development Party's influential media spokesman Huseyin Celik had even harshly criticized Ricciardone for his criticism of Turkey's judiciary system.

However, Washington backed its ambassador quickly as the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded on Friday: "Ambassador Ricciardone only repeated what [former] Secretary of State Clinton has already said, and I am sure that Secretary of State John Kerry will say the same things when he has the opportunity to speak in public on these issues."

On the sideline with the Abant Platform in Bolu on Friday, about 280 km east of Istanbul, Patrick Hanish, the political consul of the U.S. to Istanbul told Xinhua the media might have exaggerated the issue.

"I think our ambassador to Turkey is just doing his job. He said nothing wrong. The same rhetorics appeared three months ago, six months ago. And I don't know why this time the Turkish media found it problematic. I think there are some intentional manipulation behind this incident," Hanish added.

Besides the diplomatic disputes, there are increasing disagreements between Turkey and the United States. Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Israel, saying it conducted "state terrorism" after Israel attacked targets within Syria.

On Thursday, Erdogan told Turkish media that despite U.S. opposition, Turkey will continue its oil trade with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq while confirming the trade as legitimate.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu criticized the Syrian regime for not responding to the Israeli assault. The U. S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Davutoglu's statements on Israel were troubling and might harm Turkey-U.S. relations.

Turkish public's anti-Americanism is also on rise, according to Zaur Shiriyev, a scholar from Johns Hopkins University. Anti- American sentiments are prevalent in Turkey and that this kind of public perception limits the further development of bilateral relations.

On Feburary 1, a Turkish suicide bomber attacked the U.S. embassy in Ankara, killing a Turkish worker at the embassy and himself. Furthermore, an American woman Sarai Sierra was murdered in Turkey last month and the investigation of her death is still ongoing.

Turkish political analyst Abudullah Bozkurt told Xinhua at the Abant Platform: "Turkey and the U.S. are at odds on several big issues. First, Turkey is not happy with the U.S.'s stance on Syria since the second term Barack Obama administration has slowed down the process of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad."

Second, he added, the U.S. and Turkey differ in opinions on Arab-Israeli conflicts. The United States is very unhappy about Turkey's hostility on Israel and even warned Turkey of harming ' Turkey-U.S. relation'.

Moreover, "Turkey's buying crude oil from northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) annoys America since it backs the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad. The U.S. worries that Turkey's action may cause the disintegration of Iraq and a more chaotic region," Abdullah Bozkurt pointed out.

There are other problems between the U.S. and Turkey nowadays too; Syria, for example. The second Barack Obama administration is not in favor of intervention to topple Bashar al-Assad, but is rather in cooperation with Russia's Vladimir Putin for a transition of power. Ankara is not happy with this, instead urging a combined push against al-Assad.

There is the Israeli problem, too. Turkey has downgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel, under U.S. protection, over the failure to apologize for the killing of nine Turks by Israeli commandos in the Mavi Marmara tragedy in 2010.

When Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently combined these two subjects by saying that al-Assad had never thrown even a pebble against Israel – let alone confront it – the U.S. reacted. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Feb. 5 that Davutoglu's words were "inflammatory" and harmed Turkish-U.S. relations.

But the real problem between the U.S. and Turkey nowadays is over relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. The U.S. and Turkey have swapped positions on the Iraqi stage radically over the last four years; the change is on the axis of the Kurdish and energy issues.

Up until 2009, Turkey was against even establishing relations with the KRG, on the basis that this may lead to an independent Kurdish state and disintegrate Iraq. Now, holding its own dialogue with the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) for a political solution to Kurdish problem, Ankara is taking the risk of being at odds with its major ally, the U.S., and is embracing the KRG.

Turkey is deeply interested in oil and gas projects in the KRG region, which infuriates the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad. The KRG has been sending crude oil with tankers to Turkey in order to be refined into gas and diesel fuel, paying Turkey in the form of crude oil.

It is not clear where the story is going to end up with, but it is clear that there is a Kurdish impasse between Turkey and the U. S. over Iraq.

Nevertheless, Yasar Yakis, the president of Turkey's Center for Strategic Communication, argued: "this wouldn't cause relations with the U.S. to deteriorate because bilateral relations proceed on a multidimensional basis."

Yakis, who is also a former diplomat and minister of foreign affairs, believes that Turkey is right in deepening energy ties with the Kurdish autonomous region but its policy needs fine- tuning. (PNA/Xinhua)

CTB/RSM

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