Today's Zaman, Turkey
March 28 2009


Obama nominee defies senator's pressure to criticize Turkey


Philip Gordon, recently appointed by US President Barack Obama as
assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, has
refused to call Turkey's presence in Cyprus an "occupation" and
insisted that any US move to back Armenian "genocide" claims would be
counterproductive, despite pressure from a senator at a Senate
committee.

At his confirmation hearing at the Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations on Thursday, Gordon was asked to comment on a pre-election
statement by Obama outlining his foreign policy priorities in which he
said "a negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the
Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the island's tragic
division while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the
entire region." When asked if he agreed with the statement, Gordon
said "yes," but when Sen. Robert Menendez pressed him to say if he
considered the Turkish presence on the island an occupation, he only
said the Greek Cypriot government and a number of experts considered
it an occupation.
Gordon was then criticized by Menendez for opposing past attempts in
the US Congress to pass a resolution recognizing claims that Armenians
were subjected to a genocide campaign at the hands of the Ottoman
Empire in World War I. Menendez then said he was concerned over
whether Gordon would act in a balanced manner regarding this
matter. Gordon, for his part, insisted that congressional measures on
the issue would provoke a "nationalist backlash" in Turkey. To prove
that he would take a balanced approach, Gordon talked of the need to
"recognize that terrible tragedy took place," and said "more than 1.5
million people were driven from their homes and massacred."

Congress has recently introduced a new resolution calling on the US
president to describe the killings of Armenians as genocide. Turkey
says any such move would both harm Turkish-US relations and undermine
the efforts between Turkey and Armenia to normalize their relations,
severed, among other reasons, due to the dispute over history. Ankara
denies the genocide accusations and says the killings were a result of
civil strife.

In a sign of the importance attached to Turkey by the new US
administration, Obama is expected to visit Ankara to discuss a wide
range of issues including Iran's nuclear program, Iraq and
Afghanistan.

When asked why good relations with Turkey were important by
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gordon noted that the US image in Turkey had
deteriorated badly in recent years and added that it was "hard to get
work done in a democracy when there is such skepticism about our
country." He added: "We have a lot of work to do with them. Turkey is
critical for the energy routes between the Caspian, the Middle East
and the West. Turkey is a country that has borders with Greece, the
Black Sea, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the
Mediterranean. For that reason alone it's a critical strategic player
in the world. And it is an aspirant to EU membership. The global
symbolism of a majority Muslim country joining EU will be very
powerful."

"We have a compelling national interest in working with Turkey, which
is not to say we agree with them on everything," he also said.

Gordon, a senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Brookings
Institution, was nominated to replace Daniel Fried on March 11.

28 March 2009, Saturday
ALÄ° H. ASLAN WASHINGTON