A delegation of senior Turkish officials is heading for Washington next week for talks that Turkish policymakers say are important for the future course of Turkish-US relations, Today's Zaman reported.
The delegation, headed by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, will tell US officials that Turkey is not in disagreement with the United States on key foreign policy objectives, although there might be differences in the methods pursued to achieve these objectives.
Ankara hopes the message will help ease concerns in Washington about the future of the alliance with Turkey. The two NATO allies cooperate closely in Iraq, where problems in the formation of the government still persist five months after parliamentary elections, and in Afghanistan. But there are visible rifts on two other issues -- Iran's nuclear program and the state of Turkish-Israeli relations. The US expressed disappointment after Turkey voted against sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council in June, a move that led many conservatives in Washington to question whether Turkey is still an ally. Turkish criticism of Israel, which came after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship in international waters, further deepened concerns about Turkey in Washington. Earlier this month, the State Department made it known to the public that it held a closed-door session on Turkey. The meeting, in the words of a State Department official, aimed to "assess in a free, think-tank sort of way, are we moving in the right direction, are there other areas we can address?"
Sinirlioglu, accompanied by Deputy Undersecretary Selim Yenel and Deputy Undersecretary Tacan İldem, will discuss Iran's nuclear program and sanctions imposed on Tehran, the government formation process in Iraq, Turkish-Israeli relations and the situation in Afghanistan, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday. They will tell their US counterparts that there is no shift in Turkey's axis and explain that Turkey is instead pursuing a more independent course, the sources said.
Turkish and US interests converge on Iraq, where both countries want a quick solution to the ongoing political impasse, and Afghanistan, where Turkey is a key Western ally. The Obama administration has made clear that it wants cooperation with Turkey to continue in the two areas, but this may prove to be a difficult task as skeptics begin raising their voices within the US Congress.
Some Republican senators are already blocking the appointment of Obama's nominee for ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, saying he would be too soft to deal with the Turkish government at a time when the Turkish government is deepening cooperation with Iran and is turning away from Israel. Sen. Sam Brownback, who placed a hold on Ricciardone's appointment, has also said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that next year's elections in Turkey are an opportunity for the Turkish secularist opposition to demonstrate its strength and that the US cannot allow its bilateral relations with Turkey to translate into de facto support for the ruling party by sending Ricciardone to Ankara.
This week, the Financial Times reported that Obama has personally warned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Turkey risks not getting some of the weapons it wants to buy from the US unless it changes its position on Iran and Israel because of unfavorable views about Turkey in Congress. The White House later denied there was any "ultimatum," but observers say it is no secret that misgivings about Turkey are growing in Congress.
The Turkish delegation is expected to ask for the administration's help in easing concerns about Turkey in Congress, the sources said, emphasizing that the administration should better explain ties with Turkey to the congressmen so that Turkish-US ties won't be seriously damaged.
While in Washington, Sinirlioğlu and other officials will be seeking to unblock the appointment process of Ricciardone, telling US officials that it would be best for Turkish-US ties if Ricciardone begins his job as soon as possible. Ricciardone had been expected to be swiftly confirmed in the Senate, but the Senate failed to vote on the nomination in its Aug. 3 session, automatically postponing his appointment to September, when the Senate is due to return from recess.
US withdrawal from Iraq is not expected to be on the agenda of the talks since the US has not made any request from Turkey as regards the pullout of troops or military equipment, the sources also said.