CONVERGING REGIONAL POLICIES
by Bulent Aras

Media Monitors Network
April 30

"The Obama administration needs regional allies to implement its
foreign policy through multilateral diplomacy."

During a visit to the United States that preceded President Barack
Obama's visit to Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, chief advisor to Turkey's
prime minister, stated that "Our approach and principles are almost
the same, very similar to the US on issues such as the Middle East,
Caucasus, Balkans and energy security. Therefore, we hope that there
is a golden era ahead in cooperation." That sentiment was based on
converging developments in the Turkish and American approach to foreign
policy issues, particularly the Middle East. Obama's subsequent visit
to Turkey signaled that this new golden era had indeed begun.

It can be inferred from Hillary Clinton's remarks during her
delegation's stay in Turkey that the US regards Turkey as an effective
negotiator in the region. Turkey's relationship with Iran, Syria and
Hamas is critical to the foreign-policy-through-diplomacy approach
of the Obama administration: Turkey can act as a conduit through
which America communicates with these countries and actors. Despite
outspoken criticism in Washington of Turkey's open dialogue with
America's enemies, the Obama camp regards Turkey's relationship with
Iran, Syria and Hamas as positive.

Several issues marked the agenda during the Obama visit to Turkey. He
addressed the Muslim world, arguing that the gap between the West and
the world of Islam is not insurmountable. He extended an olive branch
to the Muslim world with a strong declaration that "the United States
is not, and never will be, at war with Islam." Obama's speech in the
Turkish Parliament continued with words of friendship and the promise
of seeking "broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual
respect". His speech was broadcast live on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya,
the two most important Arabic satellite TV channels.

He placed his support for Turkey's inclusion in the European Union
in the same context. In Prague, just before his visit to Turkey,
he argued that Turkey's membership would make the EU a truly
multi-cultural entity and help to bridge the gap between Islam and
the West. He added in Turkey that the EU would be stronger with its
inclusion. In addition, he sent a strong message of rapprochement
to Iran from Turkey, implicitly honoring Ankara's offer to mediate
between Tehran and Washington.

He proposed a "model partnership" between Turkey and the US. He wants
Turkey to continue to contribute to Syrian-Israeli peace talks. Obama
also satisfied Turkish concerns over his involvement in the Armenian
genocide issue, noting that if Turkey and Armenia "can move forward
and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire
world should encourage that."

Under the Obama administration, America's foreign policy vision
converges with Turkey's on democracy, human rights, peace and
international legitimacy. This convergence is more about values
than considerations of realpolitik. The Obama administration needs
regional allies to implement its foreign policy through multilateral
diplomacy. The way forward for the US toward positive bilateral
relations with Turkey and a more effective engagement with the Muslim
world is to firmly establish its foreign policy priorities in alignment
with Turkey's. A review of the Obama delegation's agenda for his visit
to Turkey reveals that the president did indeed present proposals for
addressing such Turkish foreign policy problems as normalization of
Turkish-Armenian relations, associating this requirement with Turkey's
leading role as a peacemaker in the region.

Obama called for further reform and democratization in Turkey, with
strong reference to improvement of minority rights. He made it clear
that there will be consistent support for Turkey's government as long
as it moves in the direction he outlined. This should contribute
to democratization in Turkey. Ankara's civilian elite is currently
expending a great deal of energy to eliminate the Cold War-style
illegal apparatus popularly known as Ergenekon that was deeply rooted
within the state. US support for democratization and EU membership
will anchor Turkey on this path.

The positive atmosphere of rapprochement that emerged with the Obama
presidency will soon overturn the bitter legacy of the Bush era. One
can easily foresee a rapid improvement of America's standing in Turkey
and the Middle East. Obama with his new image will narrow the gap
between East and West and establish sustainable friendships in the
region. Considering the new foreign policy orientation of the US,
under Obama Turkey will serve as a short-cut for American policy
coordination in the region.

Obama pledged during his election campaign to enter into cooperation
with Turkey; his visit proves that he will keep his word. Obama
underlined Turkey's democratic, western, secular and Muslim charters
and classified Turkey as an influential western country with multiple
identities in the Middle East and its environs. The current Turkish
administration promotes a domestic and foreign policy orientation
that accommodates cooperation, as demonstrated by Turkey's recent
peace-brokering in the region. It is only a matter of time before
we witness the effects that a positive Turkish-American relationship
has on the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world.