Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, addressed a Middle East Briefing in Philadelphia on March 13, 2000.
Turkey is important to the United States. The U.S. commitment to Turkey's success is part of a larger U.S. goal to work toward a U.S.-European partnership for the 21st century. Our agenda with Turkey is focused on security, prosperity and democracy.
Security: The end of the Cold War did not diminish Turkey's importance to the United States and NATO, for various reasons. First, Turkey has borders with Iran and Iraq, which pose military and terrorist threats to the region and to U.S. interests. Second, Turkey is close to the Balkans-a region in which bitter conflict has accompanied the birth of seven new democracies in the last decade. Third, the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh problem and violence in Chechnya block peace and stability in the Caucasus
Meanwhile, Turkey is a full partner in U.S. and multilateral efforts to confront 21st-century threats. Ankara helps deter Iraqi aggression by hosting Operation Northern Watch; it provides a 1,000-man brigade to help secure a lasting peace in Kosovo and maintains 700 troops in Bosnia; it participates in the Minsk process seeking a solution to the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh; and together with the United States is discussing ways to counter the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction from Iran and Iraq.
Prosperity: Until the 1999 earthquakes, Turkey had the fastest growing economy in the OECD since 1980. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Commerce identified Turkey as one of the world's ten "Big Emerging Markets." The United States responded accordingly, with bilateral trade having grown by twenty-eight percent over the last five years and now totaling $6 billion.
Turkey and the United States share a vision of an east-west corridor in the Caspian region. President Clinton witnessed in Istanbul the signing of intergovernmental agreements by the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main oil export pipeline. The United States and Turkey are also cooperating to encourage the construction of a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to supply Turkmen and Azeri gas to Turkey's burgeoning energy market.
Democracy: Since coming to power in June 1999, the new government in Ankara has passed laws to expand Turkish democracy and improve Ankara's human rights record. Turks know that the answer to most of their challenges is more democracy and more freedom. The Ecevit government is on track to pursue further reforms. I believe they can succeed, especially in areas such as expanding freedom of expression and putting an end, now and forever, to torture.
Foreign Relations: Turkey supports the Arab-Israeli peace process. It maintains a small contingent as part of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron and participated actively in all five multilateral peace process working groups. Its flourishing relationship with Israel is aimed at no other party, and has the potential to benefit everyone.
A remarkable transformation in Turkish-Greek relations has recently occurred. Greeks and Turks helped each other dig out of the rubble of their respective earthquakes. Earlier in the year, Turkish Foreign Minister Cem and Greek Foreign Minister Papandreou took important steps to expand Turkish-Greek cooperation. Similarly, we are pleased that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are engaged in an effort to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus-although more can be done. The parties have held two rounds of proximity talks under UN auspices in New York and Geneva and will resume these talks on May 23.
Turkey a Model? Yes, we do see Turkey as a model for the Muslim world. Turkey is a country that is simultaneously secular, democratic, and Islamic. How Turks deal with that balance is their business, but it certainly is in the interest of the United States and of Europe. Our objective in Turkey is to make it a success because it is important to the United States. We are interested in a democratic Turkey with a free market and respect for human rights. What is feasible in Turkey might not necessarily be feasible in other countries. So while I do see Turkey as one model for the Muslim world, I believe that each country should find its own way.
Economics: In Turkey, two economies coexist. On the one hand, there is a booming entrepreneurial economy that meets European standards, exports to Europe, deals with high tech, etc. A second part of the Turkish economy, however, is still state-controlled. The United States would like to see Turkey meet its responsibilities to the IMF, develop the culture of entrepreneurship, and expand the free economy vis-a-vis the state economy. The answer to most pressing issues in Turkey, again, lies in having more freedom and more de-centralization.
The Kurdish Question: the Kurdish situation precisely fits into the category of more rather than less freedom. For many years, the Turks faced a very serious threat from the PKK, a terrorist group claiming to represent the Kurds. Turkey has every right to defend itself against terrorism but there is no purely military solution to that problem. Turkey's capture of PKK head Abdullah Öcalan provided Ankara a great opportunity to make progress with the Kurds. Öcalan's capture created two big opportunities: to show that the Turkish justice system is transparent and works; and to show Turks that the vast majority of Kurdish people are not interested in terrorism and separatism.
The European Union: Turkey had to wait long years to get an invitation to begin the process to join the European Union, but this has now been issued, to our satisfaction. The U.S. government has argued for years in favor of the EU offering membership to Turkey. It is perfectly legitimate to ask the Turks to make progress with Greece and Cyprus, to improve its human rights record, and so on. But it is not proper for the EU to deny membership on religious or ethnic grounds. It took the EU a long time to come to that realization, but it finally did so in Helsinki in 1999, when it granted candidacy status to Turkey. Turkey's candidacy status will help it make progress on human rights issues and in the southeast of the country.
Fundamentalist Islam: Islamic issues are, of course, an internal Turkish matter. The United States believes in freedom of expression, and that people ought to be able to organize themselves in political parties. There is a protest vote in Turkey, and it moves from one place to another. In any election, at any time in Turkey, about fifteen percent of the population will vote for an Islamic party. I do not see a problem in that because I have confidence in Turkish democracy. I believe that the more Turks have confidence in their own democracy, the sooner they will recognize this is part of the political process.
Summary account by Assaf Moghadam