Today's Zaman
30 June 2009, Tuesday

US official Matt Bryza answered the questions of Today's Zaman

Matt Bryza, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for European
and Eurasian affairs, has said one of the reasons why Turkey matters
so much to the United States is because of its democratic system.

"And democracy requires that a country's political future is
determined by voters at the ballot box through elections and through
political processes, that's the constitution. And we all know that
the fundamental tenets of the constitution are democracy, secularism
and rule of law," he said recently when answering questions from a
group of Today's Zaman columnists regarding the case of Ergenekon.

According to Bryza, Turkey has proven repeatedly that it can move
through tough issues, like the Ergenekon investigation, constitutional
challenges, challenges to the electoral system and memoranda that
generate much tension in society. "There are very serious allegations
that need to be worked through. And the truth needs to come out,"
he said.

Asked if a military coup would threaten US-Turkish relations, he said:
"You can imagine, were there a military coup in Turkey, that would
be quite disruptive for many people and for many relationships that
Turkey's officials have of course with the US. Why Turkey matters so
much strategically, one of the reasons, is because of its democratic

In regard to Turkey's relations with the European Union, in which
Turkey aspires to be a member, he said there are a few important months
ahead and referred to the support given to Turkey's EU accession by
US President Barack Obama on his historic visit to Europe and Turkey.

"A lot of the future prospect of Turkey's EU accession depends on
the Cyprus question," he said, apparently commenting on the upcoming
European Council report due in December evaluating Turkey's progress
in fulfilling its obligations.

"Turkey has to make an obligation to open its ports, its airports
to Greek Cypriot vessels. We also understand that Turkey wants to
make sure that all of these issues are dealt with in the context
of a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue. And we have some
reason to hope that Cyprus settlement discussions brokered by the UN
are making progress," he said.

Bryza said they hope breakthroughs will begin to come in late
September, adding that the Cyprus question is continuing on a positive
track with help from all: the international community, the US and
the EU, but essentially the parties themselves.

"Forcing them to do it simply is not going to be workable because
there will be referenda again. And eventually the parties will either
vote for or against, depending on how comfortable they are with the
settlement," he said. "If you talk to the UN secretary-general's
special representative, Michael Møller, you'll hear cautious optimism."

In response to a question on the normalization of relations between
Turkey and Armenia as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process,
Bryza said the processes are separate.

"They re moving in parallel but at different speeds. One process
will make progress one day or one week faster than the other one. And
the other one catches up and moves ahead of it. We know that as one
process makes progress, the mood generally improves in the region,
and it's easier to make progress on the other one," he said and added
that Azerbaijanis sometimes don't necessarily agree that normalization
of Turkey-Armenia relations and opening of the border is a positive
element because they believe Armenia will grow less flexible on the
Nagorno-Karabakh peace process if Armenia knows its border with Turkey
is about to open.

"I have a different view. I tend to believe that as the Armenian
side senses the possibility that it could have a normal relationship
with Turkey and its border could open, it actually does become more
flexible or has become more flexible," he said.

He also said that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was constructive
during the last two meetings he has had with Armenian President Serzh
Sarksyan on May 7 in Prague and on June 4 in St. Petersburg.

"Opening the border is one stage in the normalization process. It's
not an immediate step. It happens as other things fall into place
and as the Turkey-Armenia normalization process moves forward,
which gives us time to get the breakthrough on Nagorno-Karabakh
that we need. And hopefully if we are successful in forging that
breakthrough in Nagorno-Karabakh, then we don't have to deal with
this very difficult question," he explained.

In addition, Bryza referred to the Russian role in the process as

"As difficult as our relationship has been with Russia and Georgia,
they have been equally positive on Nagorno-Karabakh," he said and
added that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has twice been involved
in a helpful way.

"He helped last Nov. 2 by getting the declaration of Presidents Aliyev
and Sarksyan outside of Moscow at his residence," he said. "And
then again at St. Petersburg he played a constructive role when he
brought the presidents together at dinner. And after that the mood
has much improved."

In response to the question of doubts related to the Russian motives,
he said he is not at all "suspicious" because Russians have their
own reasons for favoring normalization between Turkey and Armenia.

"Maybe they calculate that their strategic position in the South
Caucasus will improve over time," he said.

Today's Zaman columnists inquired as to why no big statement had
emerged from the St. Petersburg meeting. Bryza said it is "not a
bad sign."

"They chose not to make any big statement because the process is
continuing. President Aliyev was worried that maybe the process
wasn't going to continue after the Prague meeting. And we saw in
St. Petersburg that it was."

He also touched on the issue of the alleged provocations of Ergenekon
supporters to manipulate the Azeri public against the normalization
of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

"I haven't looked into that. I would say that the Azerbaijani
people don't need much provocation. They are very much against the
Turkey-Armenia border opening and normalization."

'PKK damaged' Bryza said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)
was "seriously damaged" as a result of US-Turkey cooperation in
intelligence sharing decided upon on Nov. 27, 2007.

"We have also seen at the same time a significant increase in the
government of Iraq and specifically the Kurdish regional government's
operations to eliminate this terrorist threat."

When it comes to the issue of energy, he said the US and Turkey have
a strong legacy of strategic cooperation based on energy.

After the Baku-Tbilisi oil pipeline and the South Caucasus gas
pipeline, there is also the second phase of cooperation to try
and help Europe diversify its supplies of natural gas through a
southern corridor which consists of the Nabucco pipeline and the
Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline as well as interconnections of the gas
networks of Turkey and other European countries, he said.

"And it's going well. Turkey has a chance to elevate its strategic
importance for all of Europe by being a reliable transit state. That
means it needs to treat Azerbaijan as a partner and finish its gas
transit negotiations, reach an agreement with Azerbaijan and also
be a reliable state for transit gas, especially from Iraq and from
Turkmenistan into Europe."