|07ANKARA2847||2007-11-28 15:12:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Ankara|
VZCZCXRO8011 PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHAK #2847/01 3321512 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 281512Z NOV 07 FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4463 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 6095 RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
1. (C) SUMMARY. Through frequent high-level visits, the GOT
has reaffirmed its strong support for Georgian independence
and territorial integrity. It has sought, too, to reduce any
sense of diplomatic isolation felt by Tbilisi since the
deterioration of Russian-Georgian relations and, more
recently, the political crisis in Georgia. While extending a
hand, the GOT has advised Georgian leaders not to agitate
Moscow with claims that Russia is destabilizing the country.
The GOT has also urged Georgian leaders not to use NATO
accession to solve its political problems, and has cooled to
extending NATO/MAP to Georgia, though it will not oppose it.
Breaking ground in Georgia on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway,
President Gul emphasized the benefits of regional cooperation
among Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and signaled to Armenia
that it can share in these benefits when it resolves its
conflicts with its neighbors. Bilaterally, Georgia and
Turkey further deepened their economic engagement by signing
a free-trade agreement and an agreement on double taxation.
The GOT expressed its willingness to support the repatriation
of the Meskheti Turks to their homeland in Georgia. END
ALL-OUT SUPPORT FOR GEORGIA
2. (C) Georgian PM Noghaideli's last-minute decision to
proceed with his November 14-15 visit to Ankara came as a
surprise to the GOT. GOT officials were expecting the PM to
cancel, given the political crisis in Tbilisi. MFA South
Caucasus desk officer Yavuz Kul suggested that the visit
allowed Georgia to project a sense of normalcy (so normal
that he claimed the GOT had no idea of Noghaideli's impending
resignation). Kul said the GOT is trying to do its best to
help reduce any sense of isolation felt by Georgia since the
deterioration of relations with Russia and, most recently,
since the domestic political crisis emerged. No other
country, he averred, engages Georgia as frequently and at
such a senior level as Turkey.
3. (C) The GOT gave high visibility to Noghaideli's visit.
In addition to PM Erdogan, who hosted a dinner in his honor,
Noghaideli met with President Gul and Parliament Speaker
Toptan. PM Erdogan reaffirmed Turkish support for Georgia's
sovereignty and territorial integrity, while privately urging
Noghaideli to stop agitating Russia. The GOT believes that
Georgia has overstated its claims of Russian subversion.
Erdogan conveyed Turkish willingness to play a facilitating
role in Georgia's Abkhaz conflict, reminding Noghaideli that
the GOT had not canceled Abkhaz "president" Bagapsh's visit
to Turkey; it was only postponed (ref A). According to Kul,
Noghaideli also sought to persuade President Gul to
participate in the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway ground-breaking
ceremony on November 21, only days before President
Saakashvili was to resign the presidency ahead of January
elections. Seeing a useful opportunity to further bolster
Saakashvili, Gul accepted. Kul noted that Gul, in his
bilateral meeting with President Saakashvili, praised
Saakashvili for calling early elections and also expressed
concern about rising tension between Georgia and Russia.
Neither Erdogan nor Gul specifically raised the closure of
Imedi TV, and Gul did not meet with opposition figures.
REVIVING THE GREAT SILK ROAD...
4. (C) With Azerbaijani President Aliyev also in attendance
at the ground-breaking, Presidents Gul and Saakashvili
proclaimed the historical significance of constructing a
railway that will "connect China to Great Britain,"
describing the project as a revival of the great Silk Road.
Gul added that China and Kazakhstan had already pledged to
transport 10 million tons of freight per year on the route
(exceeding the railway's expected initial capacity of 5
million tons), expected to open in 2010. The project is
being financed entirely by the participating countries.
Turkey is providing $220 million to fund the 76 km of line
between Kars and the Georgia border, and Azerbaijan has
provided Georgia with a $200 million line of credit
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(partially from the state oil fund) to finance the 30 km of
construction within Georgian territory. Our Georgian Embassy
contacts told us the railway was never actually a high
priority for Georgia compared to the oil and gas pipelines,
and they noted the negative impact it might have on port
facilities in Batumi (ref B). More positively, the railway
could help boost economic development in the
majority-Armenian Javakheti region which it will cross, and
help further integrate that region into Georgia.
5. (C) But the project will deepen Armenia's regional
isolation. The railway will effectively replace the
Kars-Gyumri (Armenia)-Tbilisi railway that had earlier served
as the only rail connection between Turkey and the former
Soviet Union. Turkey closed the line in 1993 following the
Armenian occupation of Azeri territory in the
Nagorno-Karabakh war. President Gul used the ground-breaking
to reinforce a message he delivered two weeks earlier in Baku
(ref C): regional projects developed by Turkey, Georgia and
Azerbaijan are meant to benefit the entire Caucasus, but
Armenia's hostility toward Azerbaijan and Turkey excludes it.
He was, however, somewhat more magnanimous in Tbilisi:
"When peace and stability dominate the region, we will not
want to exclude anyone. Everybody can participate in these
projects; all peoples of this region can gain the use of
these projects without being discriminated against on the
basis of race or religion...I hope that the realization of
these projects is not misunderstood. I believe that these
projects will one day serve the entire region, not only three
ECONOMIC TIES DEEPEN
6. (C) Trade was high on the agenda of both visits.
Accompanying Gul to Georgia, State Minister for Trade Kursad
Tuzmen signed a long-awaited free trade agreement and an
agreement eliminating dual taxation. While the Georgian side
had wanted trade liberalization without restrictions, reduced
tariffs will remain on agricultural products such as tea,
wine, wheat and citrus. The Georgian DCM told us the GOG is
satisfied, however, with the greatly expanded quota of wine
Georgia can now export duty free. In partnership with the
Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB),
the two sides have already begun to modernize border
crossings, and have ended visa requirements for travel
between the two countries. In a joint press conference with
PM Noghaideli, PM Erdogan celebrated these achievements,
emphasizing that Turkey is Georgia's number one trading
partner and that the value of goods and services traded
annually has reached $1 billion. Speaking alongside Gul one
week later, Saakashvili expressed his appreciation for
Turkish investment and the employment it has brought to
Georgia. With the problems of dual taxation solved, Kul said
he believes that Turkish companies -- already impressed by
the improved business environment in Georgia -- are set to
further expand their investments.
LESS INCLINED TO SUPPORT MAP FOR GEORGIA
7. (C) President Gul reaffirmed during his visit that the
integration of the South Caucasus with Euro-Atlantic
institutions is a high priority for Turkey. But the GOT is
concerned that Georgia is trying to drag NATO into solving
its political problems, notably Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The recent political crisis, in which the GOT believes
President Saakashvili unnecessarily antagonized Russia, has
further dampened GOT enthusiasm for extending MAP to Georgia.
MFA Deputy U/S Unal Cevikoz recently told Ambassador that
the domestic political situation in Georgia is likely to
become more complicated for Saakashvili, even after his
expected re-election. The GOT is not sure that April 2008,
in Bucharest, is the right time to go ahead with MAP. He
described the GOT position as having gone from "neutral plus
to neutral-minus." Despite its lack of enthusiasm, Turkey
will not block an Allied consensus in favor of Georgia's bid
for MAP, should one emerge.
TURKEY PREPARED TO FACILITATE REPATRIATION
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OF MESKHETI TURKS
8. (C) Turkey is pleased that the Georgian parliament has
passed legislation authorizing the repatriation of the
Meskheti Turks to Georgia from Russia and Central Asia, where
they were exiled during Soviet times. The GOT has
consistently raised this issue with Georgian leaders. The
GOT expects the process to begin in 2008 with applications.
Georgia has not allocated any specific region for
resettlement, and the GOT understands GOG concerns about
upsetting the demographic balance of the majority-Armenian
Javakheti region, which most Meskheti are native to. The GOT
is confident, however, that once the Meskheti return to
Georgia, they will not be restricted from resettling wherever
they choose, including Javakheti. Meeting with PM
Noghaideli, Erdogan remarked that Turkey would advocate
projects to assist the return of the Meskheti Turks "to their
homeland," and ensure the development of the region. He said
the Meskheti Turks would constitute "a new bridge of
friendship and cooperation" between Turkey and Georgia.
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