Bloomberg: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Ankara for her first extended talks with NATO ally Turkey on issues including Iraq, Iran, Middle East peace and the security of energy supplies.
By Viola Gienger
March 7 (Bloomberg) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Ankara for her first extended talks with NATO ally Turkey on issues including Iraq, Iran, Middle East peace and the security of energy supplies.
“Turkey is a major player in the region,” Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried said before Clinton began her week-long trip. The new administration will seek to build on relations that improved during the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency, he said.
The Obama administration needs Turkey to help stabilize Iraq and to mediate in Middle East conflicts involving countries and groups with limited or broken diplomatic ties with the U.S., such as Syria and Iran. Turkey, which aspires to European Union membership, also forms a vital oil and gas corridor.
Clinton is continuing the Bush administration’s advocacy for predominantly Muslim Turkey’s admission into the EU and raised the issue with European officials during a two-day stop in Brussels earlier this week.
She arrives in Turkey as the nation struggles with the effects of the global economic crisis and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tries to stave off the need for a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The loan conditions likely would require measures such as budget cuts.
Clinton will meet today with her Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, as well as Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul. She’ll lay a wreath at Anitkabir, the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, considered by Turks to be the founder of modern, secular Turkey.
Continuing her outreach beyond government officials, Clinton will participate in a Turkish television talk show akin to America’s “The View,” in which four women engage in conversation.
Turkish officials have offered to help the U.S. engage Iran on common interests such as stabilizing Afghanistan and resolving the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
The country could also play a role in mediating peace talks in the Middle East. Turkey brokered indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, until the Israelis began a 22-day military operation against the Hamas movement that controls the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Ties between Turkey and Israel, including close military links, have been strained over Erdogan’s criticism of Israel’s Gaza offensive. Erdogan last month walked out of a panel discussion on the issue with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Clinton spent the first part of her trip this week in Egypt and visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank.
On energy, Turkey is part of a consortium seeking to build a pipeline that would bypass Russia and transport gas from the Caspian Sea on the country’s eastern border to the EU.
The project is intended to reduce Europe’s reliance on energy supplies from Russia.
Ties between the U.S. and Turkey were strained in 2003 when the government in Ankara barred U.S. troops from using its territory to invade Iraq. They were strained again in 2007 as Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq increased cross-border attacks on Turkey, which demanded the U.S. help control the militants.
Although relations have improved, differences remain. The U.S. has pressed Turkish and Armenian officials to work on normalizing relations damaged by an alleged genocide in 1915.
Armenia alleges that Turks committed genocide against 1.5 million of its people. Turkey denies the charges and has called on intellectuals from both nations to jointly investigate the claims. A border between the two countries has remained closed since 1993.
A group of U.S. lawmakers have backed resolutions in the past declaring that the atrocities constitute genocide. They were rejected by the Bush administration, which resisted an action that would have inflamed Turkey.
The U.S. and the EU want closer contacts between the two countries as a means of stabilizing a region that includes Russia and Georgia, which fought a five-day war in August over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.