More on Turkey and the political waves it's causing in the West and in Israel. Political observers are trying to figure out what is happening with the Turkish state. Of particular concern was Turkey's and Brazil's joint initiative in Tehran recently. Ankara is redefining its political parameters as it looks eastward for better pastures. Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency, had this to say:
"Turkey is looking to consolidate its role in the region connecting Europe and Asia, the Islamic and Christian worlds, the Caucasus and Russia. This region is set to become the world's largest oil and gas "transshipment" hub. It is a region where Moscow's interests clash with those of the West, and it is also a gateway to the Middle East"
And just today there was a fatal clash between Israeli troops and civilian occupants of a Turkish boat attempting to bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip (see article at the bottom of this page). There were several losses of lives amongst the humanitarian activists on the boat. Stating that Israel's action against the humanitarian flotilla "might cause irreversible consequence" an indignant Ankara has recalled its ambassador in Israel and canceled various other events it had previously planned with Israel.
What Is Happening to Turkey?
Last week I asked Bernard Lewis where he thought Turkey might be going. The dean of Middle East historians speculated that in a decade the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk might more closely resemble the Islamic Republic of Iran—even as Iran transformed itself into a secular republic. Reading the news about Turkey from afar, it's easy to see what Prof. Lewis means. Since coming to power in 2002, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dramatically recast the traditional contours of Turkish foreign policy. Gone are the days when the country had a strategic partnership with Israel, involving close military ties and shared enemies in Syria and Iran and the sundry terrorist groups they sponsored. Gone are the days, too, when the U.S. could rely on Turkey as a bulwark against common enemies, be they the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Today, Mr. Erdogan has excellent relations with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, whom the prime minister affectionately calls his "brother." He has accused Israel of "savagery" in Gaza and opened a diplomatic line to Hamas while maintaining good ties with the genocidal government of Sudan. He was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his fraudulent victory in last year's election. He has resisted intense pressure from the Obama administration to vote for a new round of Security Council sanctions on Iran, with which Turkey has a $10 billion trade relationship. And he has sabotaged efforts by his own foreign ministry to improve ties with neighboring Armenia.
The changes in foreign policy reflect the rolling revolution in Turkey's domestic political arrangements. The military, long the pillar of Turkish secularism, is under assault by Mr. Erdogan's Islamist-oriented government, which has recently arrested dozens of officers on suspicion of plotting a coup. Last week the Turkish parliament voted to put a referendum to the public that would, if passed, allow the government to pack the country's top courts, another secularist pillar, with its own people. Also under assault is the media group Dogan, which last year was slapped with a multibillion dollar tax fine. Oh, and America's favorability rating among Turks, at around 14% according to recent polls, is plumbing an all-time low, despite Barack Obama's presidency and his unprecedented outreach to Muslims in general and Turks in particular. In 2004, the year of Abu Ghraib, it was 30%.
All this would seem to more than justify Prof. Lewis's alarm. So why do so many Turks, including more than a few secularists and classical liberals, seem mostly at ease with the changes Mr. Erdogan has wrought? A possible answer may be self-delusion: Liberals were also at the forefront of the Iranian revolution before being brutally swept aside by the Ayatollah Khomeini. But that isn't quite convincing in Turkey's case. More plausible is Turkey's economic transformation under the AKP's pro-free market stewardship. Inflation, which ran to 99% in 1997, is down to single digits. Goldman Sachs anticipates 7% growth this year, which would make the country Europe's strongest performer—if only Europe would have it as a member. Turks now look on the EU with diminished envy and growing contempt. One time arch-rival Greece mostly earns their pity.
Chief among the beneficiaries of this transformation has been the AKP's political base: an Islamic bourgeoisie that was long shut out of the old statist arrangements between the country's secular political and business elites. Members of this new class want to send their daughters to universities—and insist they be allowed to do so wearing headscarves. They also insist that they be ruled by the government they elected, not by the "deep state" of unelected and often self-dealing officers, judges and bureaucrats who defended the country's secularism at the expense of its democracy and prosperity. The paradoxical result is that, as the country has become wealthier and (in some respects) more democratic, it has also shed some of its Western trappings. Mr. Erdogan's infatuations with his unsavory neighbors undoubtedly stem from his own instincts, ideology and ego. But it also reflects a public sentiment that no longer wants Turkey to be a stranger in its own region, particularly when it so easily can be its leader. Some Turks call this "neo-Ottomanism," others "Turkish-Gaullism." Whichever way, it is bound to discomfit the West.
The more serious question is how far it all will go. Some of Mr. Erdogan's domestic power plays smack of incipient Putinism. The estrangement from Israel is far from complete, but an Israeli attack on Iran might just do the trick. And it's hard to see why Mr. Erdogan should buck public opinion when it comes to Turkey's alliance with the U.S. when he's prepared to follow public opinion in so many other matters. Most importantly, will the Erdogan brand of Islamism remain relatively modest in its social and political ambitions, or will it become aggressive and radical? It would be wrong to pretend to know the answer. It would be insane not to worry about the possibility.
Russian President to Sign Strategic, Long-Term Agreements in Ankara
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to sign strategic and long-term intergovernmental agreements during an official visit to Ankara, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Igor Sechin said the agreements are still being worked on. "Negotiations on some documents continue at an expert level," Sechin said. "Of course, the leaders of two countries get the final say. In particular, we are talking about cooperation in the gas, electricity, nuclear energy and oil transportation sectors, and the introduction of a visa-free regime." The Russian Prime Minister is due to arrive in Ankara on Tuesday evening. A number of bilateral agreements are expected to be signed during the visit along with a joint statement on the formation of a high level cooperation council, to be chaired by Medvedev and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Sechin said one of Russia's priorities is the construction of the $1.5-billion Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline, being built by the Turkish holding Calik Energy and Italy's ENI. The pipline will extend 700 kilometers (435 miles) through Turkey from the Black Sea port of Samsun to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean and take a capacity of 60-70 million tons of oil a year (1.2-1.4 million bbl/d). "All participants of the project are interested in its implementation," Sechin said. The sides will also discuss the construction of Turkey's first nuclear power station, although details of a document on this issue, due to be signed tomorrow, have not yet been disclosed.
Turkey building up its role as Euro-Asian oil and gas crossroads
Turkey experienced a flurry of diplomatic activity in mid-May, similar to periods of "heightened solar activity." On May 12, President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Two days later, Erdogan paid an historic visit to Greece and on May 16th he dropped by Tehran where a nuclear deal was signed between Iran, Turkey and Brazil. From Tehran, he flew to Azerbaijan and then Georgia non-stop. It was curious how the issues discussed at one meeting merged with those on the agenda for the next: Iran's nuclear program, the Nagorny Karabakh conflict and the Caucasus conflict (discussed at the meeting with Medvedev), Black Sea pipelines and European energy issues.
It looks like Turkish leaders are deliberately travelling along the perimeter of the Anatolian Peninsular to make their concept of regional "geopolitical and energy pluralism" somehow more real. Their end goal could be described as making Turkey a "regional superpower," if such a paradoxical term existed. But who knows, maybe Turkey's efforts will eventually make it happen. Turkey is looking to consolidate its role in the region connecting Europe and Asia, the Islamic and Christian worlds, the Caucasus and Russia. This region is set to become the world's largest oil and gas "transshipment" hub. It is a region where Moscow's interests clash with those of the West, and it is also a gateway to the Middle East. In this sense, Turkey's policies are broader than regional.
In any case, Turkey's efforts over the past week were to a large extent just for show. In particular, for Europe: more precisely, the European Union, to which Turkey was denied entry. It is not even entitled to associate membership until 2020. Therefore, it is calculatedly showing Europe exactly what it is losing out by not letting it, Turkey, their Eurasian neighbor, join the group, and in what direction that rejection is driving it.
Russia apparently plays a special role in Turkey's plan to improve its regional status. In fact, Turkey has to maneuver very delicately here, as it combines political cooperation with Moscow with an "easy" economic and energy competition. In fact, Turkey's "geopolitical pluralism" must include efforts to strengthen the status quo in the post-Soviet countries, in the South Caucasus in particular. To achieve this, logically, Turkey must try to draw Azerbaijan and Georgia as far away from their former colonial power (Russia) as possible. For that to be achieved, Russia needs to be isolated, for example by cutting off its oil and gas flows to Europe. But Turkey refrains from doing so.
Turkey is maneuvering very artfully between Russia and Europe. It agrees to transit Russian oil and gas to Europe, as well as Azeri (Turkmen and Iranian) oil and gas bypassing Russia. In addition to that, they must surely realize that the gas flow from Russia will always exceed that from Azerbaijan, but they need to prove their energy diversity to Europe. For example, Erdogan is going to sign a new agreement in Baku on gas supplies from the Shah Deniz 2 gas field in Azerbaijan. At present, Azerbaijan annually supplies Turkey with 6 billion cubic meters of gas from Shakh Deniz 1, which produces 9-10 billion cu m a year. Turkey wants to buy another 6-7 billion cu m from Shakh Deniz 2. The field is due to go on stream by 2014-2017 and is expected to produce up to 16 billion cu m a year. Some of this gas may be channeled into the planned Nabucco pipeline, which is to ship gas to Europe bypassing Russia. Turkey agreed to Nabucco crossing its territory since the role of a "gas dispatcher" for Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran should further boost its regional status.
To achieve this, Turkey is trying to remove political risks arising from the conflicts in the Caucasus. Erdogan brought the proposed Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact to Azerbaijan and Georgia. Turkey prepared the draft last year and is actively promoting it as a supplement to oil and gas contracts. Officials in Ankara have reason to believe that a real coordination of regional security policies in the Caucasus should be added to energy agreements, as this would move the region one step closer to a unified regional security system. Turkish President Abdullah Gul described the key idea of the pact as follows: "The Caucasus is the key as far as energy resources and the safe transportation of energy from the east to the west is concerned. That transportation goes through Turkey. That is why we are very active in trying to achieve an atmosphere of dialogue, so there is the right climate to resolve the problems. Instability in the Caucasus would be like a wall between the East and West; if you have stability in the region, it could be a gate."
Iranian Nuclear Deal Raises Fears
A new Iranian offer to ship out about half of its nuclear fuel—in a surprise deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey—posed a fresh obstacle to U.S.-led efforts to punish Iran for its nuclear program, and underlined U.S. difficulties in affirming its global leadership amid the assertiveness of smaller powers. Tehran agreed to the proposal during a weekend meeting between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the leaders of Turkey and Brazil—two developing economies aiming to wield more clout on the diplomatic stage, often by opposing the U.S. "Diplomacy emerged victorious," Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said on Brazilian radio. "It showed that it is possible to build peace and development with dialogue."
The Obama administration said it had "serious concerns" about the new offer, a weaker version of one that Iran negotiated last October with a broader group of countries to avoid sanctions—but which Tehran's government declined to approve. For instance, in the previous agreement Iran would have halted its efforts to enrich uranium to a level of more than 3%-4%. In the new offer, Iran isn't called upon to stop its higher enrichment, now at 20%. (Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90%.) Though Iran would still ship out the same amount of fuel to be enriched elsewhere for its use in medical research, it has more of the fuel now—so it would keep more. U.S. and European diplomats worried Tehran's renewed fuel-swap plan could upend progress toward enacting new sanctions on Iran's program through the United Nations Security Council.
Iran "must demonstrate through deeds—and not simply words—its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. The U.S. has been working for months to bring Russia and China on board for tougher sanctions. Both countries have extensive dealings with Iran and can veto the effort. On Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cautiously welcomed Tehran's new offer, but he stressed there were questions, particularly about Iran still enriching nuclear fuel. "In that case, the international community's concerns could remain," Mr. Medvedev said. Chinese officials had no immediate public reaction. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is to review the agreement along with the U.S. and other Security Council members. A U.N. spokesman called Tehran's offer "encouraging, in the sense that it's important that there be discussions."
The U.S. has had to tread carefully around the efforts of Brazil's President da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both countries are current members of the Security Council, and though they don't hold veto powers, agreement of 10 of the 15 members is needed for the sanctions the U.S. seeks to take effect. Washington has been aware of the two leaders' forays, and some officials fear they are participating in a ploy by Iran to crack international unity. But the U.S. did not appear to press the countries to cease. They have said they are standing up for the right of smaller countries to gain civilian nuclear programs. The White House was cautious not to criticize the leaders Monday, acknowledging "the efforts" they had made. Still, some U.S. and European leaders spoke bitterly Monday of Turkey's and Brazil's actions, saying the Iran issue could imperil Ankara's effort to join the European Union and Brasilia's hopes of becoming a permanent Security Council member.
Both countries have emerged as key diplomatic allies of Iran, with which they have financial and energy ties. Neither is by any means always an adversary for the U.S., and Turkey has been an important military ally. But Turkey also has focused attention repeatedly on Israel's widely suspected nuclear weapons program—an uncomfortable subject for Washington—and has been aggressively looking east to resolve problems with regional neighbors Iran and Syria. Brazil recently has angered U.S. officials by criticizing U.S. plans to use military bases in Colombia, and for failing to support the post-coup elections in Honduras.
A rare nation that voluntarily dismantled its nuclear arms program, Brazil has some global credibility on nuclear issues. Its officials have grumbled that the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty has focused on keeping emerging economies from enriching fuel, rather than on disarming nations with bombs. Brazil has growing commercial ties with Iran, an increasingly big buyer of its beef and chicken. Brazil has a $1 billion trade surplus with Iran and both countries say they expect trade volumes to grow. U.S. and European officials stressed in interviews that the new Iranian fuel-swap offer appears weaker than the agreement they supported in October. "According to this formula, Iran has given up virtually nothing, while receiving international support in return," said a U.S. official working on Iran. In both proposals, Iran committed to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to third countries for conversion into fuel rods to produce medical isotopes for Tehran's research reactor. In October, however, the offer represented roughly three-quarters of Iran's stockpile—far more than it does now.
Iranian officials said Monday that the deal wouldn't prevent Tehran from continuing to produce nuclear fuel at levels moving closer to weapons-grade. Iran also said Monday it maintained the right to bring back its nuclear fuel—from Turkey, which would receive it—without the approval of the IAEA or U.N. None of the parties detailed Monday which countries would perform the task of fabricating Tehran's fuel rods, or who would pay. In the October deal, Russia and France would have held the fuel and fabricated rods. U.S. officials said their Iran policy is going to be squeezed in the coming weeks between domestic and international factors. Congress, meanwhile, is pressing forward with its own Iran measures aimed at crippling its energy sector. The White House worries such legislative measures also could undercut efforts at unanimity at the U.N. This argument would be weakened, however, if the Security Council appears to be stalling further. "We could get whipsawed in the coming weeks," said a second U.S. official. "The next days will be crucial."
Turkey, Germany, France Lead Condemnation of Israeli Ship Raid
Gaza Flotilla Attacked: Israeli troops storm aid ships, up to 20 killed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZenysNLAfc8&feature=player_embedded
Turkey said its relations with Israel may not recover, and European nations including Germany and France issued condemnations after Israeli troops stormed an international aid flotilla bound for Gaza, killing at least 10 people. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called the seizure of the vessels, some of them Turkish-flagged and carrying Turkish passengers, “inhuman” and a “serious violation of international law.” Germany is “deeply concerned,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner said he’s “profoundly shocked.”
The clash between Israeli commandos and passengers on the convoy of vessels, which also included Swedish and Greek- flagged ships, took place early today. It followed repeated warnings by Israel that the ships should abandon attempts to dock in Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade. The attack “shows that the current situation in Gaza is untenable and requires an urgent political response,” Kouchner said in a statement. “We will take all steps to ensure this tragedy doesn’t lead to a fresh escalation of violence.”
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon called the flotilla a provocation and said at least two firearms were found on the ships after they were boarded by the Israeli navy. Some of the organizers of the convoy are connected to terrorists, he said at a press conference in Jerusalem. Germany is seeking an explanation of what took place after Israeli commandos carried by helicopter intercepted the flotilla, a foreign ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity.
Greece Cancels Exercise
Greece’s National Defense Ministry called off a joint air force exercise with Israel after the news. The exercise began on May 25 and was due to end on June 3. About 30 Greek citizens were reported to be on board two of the ships, according to the ‘A ship for Gaza Initiative’, one of the organizers. There was widespread condemnation in the Middle East, and Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa called for an emergency meeting of the Cairo-based group tomorrow.
Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, condemned the attack and will continue its policy of facilitating the crossing of civilians and aid into Gaza, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported citing Hossam Zaki, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. Egypt has been criticized by other Arab countries for restricting movement of goods and people across the border with Gaza.
‘Dangerous and Crazy’
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned the Israeli action as “a dangerous and crazy step that would inflame the struggle in the region.” Israel fought a monthlong war with the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah in 2006. Hezbollah called today’s raid a “crime” and a “massacre.” The Israeli attack may widen a rift with Turkey, its longtime military ally, that dates back to Israel’s three-week military offensive on the Gaza strip that began in 2008. Thousands gathered in a central Istanbul to protest against the Israeli action.
“Israel has once again showed completely clearly that it counts human life and peace-making initiatives as nothing,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on its website. “This regrettable act, carried out in international waters in serious violation of international law, may cause damage to our relations that will be impossible to repair.”
Turkey plans to call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, of which it’s currently a member, CNBC-e television reported. Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel, Haberturk television said.