|06ISTANBUL2100||2006-11-21 14:49:00||UNCLASSIFIED||Consulate Istanbul|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 002100
1. Summary. A largely academic audience responded
positively to visiting scholar Dr. Ian Lesser of the Woodrow
Wilson Center and former Foreign Minister Ilter Turkmen's
discussion of the "Future of Turkish-American Relations."
Lesser and Turkmen inaugurated Sabanci University's Istanbul
Policy Center on November 17 addressing Turkish perceptions
of the U.S. and anticipated changes in U.S. policy in Iraq.
Lesser anticipated the Administration's policy in Iraq would
shift to a "traditional, multilateral" approach, with U.S.
troops redeploying to Northern Iraq, but no precipitate
withdrawal. Lesser and Turkeman agreed that Turkey and the
U.S. would both oppose a new nuclear power (Iran) in the
neighborhood. Turkmen described the U.S.-Turkey relationship
in largely favorable terms, but noted that public perception
has a 'disturbingly' anti-U.S., anti-EU bent, fueled by
nationalism as well as radical leftism and exacerbated by the
summer 2006 Israeli military action in Lebanon. End summary.
2. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs (1980-83) and current
Hurriyet columnist Ilter Turkmen and former S-S/P staffer
(1994-95) and now public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson
Center Dr. Ian Lesser addressed the opening of Sabanci
University's Istanbul Policy Center. Turkmen's perspective is
informed by 40-plus years of public service; he noted the
U.S.-Turkey relationship always has ups and downs but that
the relationship is distinguished as Turkey's lengthiest
(formal) bilateral relationship. Current negative public
perceptions of the U.S. are fed by radical leftists and
nationalists, infused with a mixture of religious enthusiasm.
Current public perceptions about the U.S., he argued, were
mostly wrong but aggravated by disproportionate Israeli use
of force against Palestinians generally and the Lebanese this
past summer more particularly. Turks believe the U.S.
colludes with Israel in these matters. Ian Lesser took note
of rising nationalism in Turkey from left and right. Poll
results count more today in terms of influencing government
than they did in the Cold War period when there was a
bilateral bargain for survival and after the collapse of the
Soviet Union, Lesser said that Turkey denied strategic use of
Incirlik airbase, for instance. In the long term, however,
the key question was not a particular issue like EU accession
but Turkey's convergence -- or not -- with Europe and the
West, which Lesser said is not in doubt.
3. Turkmen reflected on the huge - and positive - cultural
shift brought about among Turkey's military elite through
NATO membership and friendship with American general
officers. He recounted his personal experience as a junior
MFA officer assigned to Turkey's first NATO mission when the
country had its first "annual review" in 1952. When Turkey
was told it should retire its only (WW I) era battleship,
some Turkish officers shed tears. The strong military
relationship with the U.S. has forever marked the Turkish
military culture and Turkey's general officers honor the
vital contribution of the United States.
4. Turning to Iraq and the war on terror, Lesser said the
U.S. administration departed from traditional regional
approaches to problem-solving and instead focused on
functional problems, with the U.S. asking friends and allies
for specific favors, thus changing the "timbre" of
relationships. The biennial U.S. elections helped the
administration in moving toward a new policy it was already
seeking. The Iraq effort had been a strategic U.S. error,
according to Lesser, but not an existential one as it is for
some of Iraq's neighbors, including Turkey. The current
policy was not sustainable but headed toward a "more
traditional, multilateral" approach; there would be no
precipitate withdrawal but most likely a redeployed residual
American force in Northern Iraq. Coordination and
cooperation with Turkey would be an integral part of any such
effort. Taking exception to Richard Haas' article in the
current issue of Foreign Affairs, Lesser thought chaos in
Iraq and the region was not inevitable and that there were
still options for unilateral U.S. involvement. Ambassador
Turkmen said the U.S. experience in Iraq should be sufficient
to dissuade Turkey from sending its troops into Northern
Iraq, with or without an increased presence of U.S. troops in
that region. On the PKK, Lesser counseled staying with the
original intent of the Ralston mission to address Turkey's
security concerns and avoid making it a trilateral exercise.
Regionally, Lesser predicted the U.S. would back away from a
policy of regime change with a much reduced interest in
risk-taking. The EU, he said, could and should be involved
in continuing tranformational efforts in the region with
regime change no longer on the table.
5. Considering Iran's nuclear gambit, Turkmen said the
atmosphere in Turkey was "disturbing" because of anti-U.S.,
anti-EU tendencies in Turkish public and foreign policy
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circles. Were the AK Party not in control of the Prime
Ministry, Turkmen said there would be Islamist radicals in
the streets shouting, "Allahu akbar!" in support of Iran.
Lesser did not anticipate a military option -- American or
Israeli -- in dealing with the threat of a nuclear Iran and
opined the region would have to deal with a nuclear or near
nuclear Iran for some time. On the other hand, the U.S.
remains the dominant military power in the region and could
take certain military actions successfully on its own, such
as keeping open the Strait of Hormuz. However, America's
military power is not hegemonic and has lost a "soft power"
buttress. Nevertheless, he argued, on all absolute issues,
U.S. and Turkish views are convergent, both are status quo
actors and neither want a new nuclear power in the
6. Comment. The audience was largely receptive and
questions tended to mirror points in the presentations.
Turkmen closed the session answering a question on the
up-tick in Turkish nationalism. In 40 years in the
diplomatic corps, he had never heard a colleague mention the
Treaty of Sevres, underlining a point that the current
fixation in some quarters, including among professionals, is
not a healthy variant in the Republic's history.