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Sunday, December 26, 2010

U.S. Takes New Approach to Turkey
(IRIS) -- Any doubt about the importance of  Turkey in U.S. middle east relations was put to rest with the Wikileaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. The number of documents out of Turkey is second only to the number of documents originating from the United States State Department itself. 

Most of them are out of Ankara and include crass language about leaders that indicates little understanding about the culture.

The Obama administration however has introduced a new approach that may help understanding between the two nations. Now the delegation charged with improving the relationship has returned from Turkey and the following is an exclusive interview detailing one woman’s revelations on this journey to explore misunderstanding between eastern and western powerhouses.

In March, 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new exchange program called “Young Turkey/Young America: A New Relationship for a New Age.” In its announcement the bureau said it was making a half million dollars available for the program to help30 emerging leaders of each country through at least two programs. The goal was to develop grassroots initiatives that will positively impact people’s lives and will result in stronger ties between the two nations. Given the release of Wikileaks, the timing couldn’t have been better. The U.S. needs help now more than ever in international relations.

“The Wikileaks thing didn’t happen until the end of our trip.”

American Civil Liberties Union employee, Rebecca Gasca of Reno, Nevada was among the group in Young Turkey, Young America that just returned in December, 2010. She said the Turkish press picked up the leaked documents right away and she started hearing from people while she was there.

“I heard everything from the United States actually conspiring this whole Wikileaks thing in order to bomb Iran, (and I also heard) the traditional, in-line support of Julian Assange in order to expose the U.S.”

Those Turkish opinions of U.S. motives show how unpopular the U.S. is becoming. Gasca’s unspoken role under the State Department program, like it or not, was to improve our popularity. Her entire two-week tour was organized by the department ahead of time.

“I remember we were descending (into Istanbul) and it was sunset and I was groggy and the horizon of Istanbul was breathtaking. I wanted to get my camera and take a picture, but I didn’t want to take my eyes off it.”

They took a bus to Taksim Square in Istanbul and walked around this modern commercial district where there had been a terrorist bombing only a month earlier, but she saw no sign of the bombing.

“I had never been to the middle east before and it was so different,” she said. “I had heard that Istanbul was really cosmopolitan, and it is in a really geographically interesting spot. But it is one big city. I saw elements of what seemed like every part of the world there from San Paulo, to the number of people seemed like Tokyo. There was the 5-times-a-day call to prayer. Ruins still standing from the Ottoman Empire.”

The very next day they had their first meeting. They took a boat down the Bosporus. There was a former parliamentarian who gave them some background.

“It was a crash course in Turkish domestic relations. The way the program is set up, we were in pairs. We had projects that we developed. My project was to look at the nature of secularity and how well minority religions are able to thrive in either country. We are still working on it.”

What she found is exactly the problem that seems to be evident in the Wikileaks documents. “It is hard to know a country, you can talk to experts and people who grew up there, but our government, in terms of our elected officials, I certainly think that there is a lack of understanding about Turkey.”

The old saying, ‘Turkey divides east and west’ is a “cliché,” she says. The misunderstanding is that Turkey is turning one direction or the other, east or west, that it is a kind of pawn or battleground in the region between ideologies.

“I was there for only two weeks, but I think that it is likely that they won’t join the European Union, or turn east. I think they will very much be their own country. They are doing very well economically.”

“I think it is time that the U.S. and Turkey have some very frank discussions. Turkey doesn’t see their role as doing (negotiation) for the U.S.. Turkey sees itself as being a way of helping an ally a little more and the region. I think that Turkey is growing up. It is starting to be more confident.”

But changes in relations between countries begins with changes in the people. Particularly how the people from different cultures understand each other. That’s what Gasca says happened to her.

“The most surprising thing was the realigning of my idea of secularity. For some reason it is boiling down in the media that Turkey is becoming more religious and I think that is totally wrong. People don’t really have a religion, and the government is protecting itself from religion.”

She says that Turkey’s relaxation of old religious restrictions such as the ban on the use of headscarves by women is a progressive step to give back some of the freedoms of religion to its people, in a way becoming more tolerant. She says the government is also considering starting a world religions class. “I don’t see them as becoming more religious,” Gasca said.

That certainly is not the opinion of many in Turkey, and a fear has developed of a religious extremist takeover of the country. Ironically, some of those same fears exist in the United States and the balance between freedom of and freedom from religion is a challenge in both countries.

“I tried not to have many expectations. I really wanted to be open-minded and I think I was. For me it was very different to learn about the role of women in Islam and in the country itself and the whole head scarf issue and how fearful people are of change even though they want change.”

Rather than worry if Turkey is leaning east or west, the challenge in Turkish-American relations may be to let Turkey be its own country and share their common challenges.

“The food was awesome. I gained a couple of pounds,” Gasca said. “The Turkish coffee was the best ever and I have been craving it ever since I came home. Having the opportunity to understand where they come from was the best part.”

The State Department has successfully reached at least one American, 308 million more to go.

Sun, December 26, 2010 | link          Comments

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turkey prefers a nuclear-armed Iran over conflict

A Reno, Nevada resident is playing a roll in what appears to be a new approach to Turkey as viewed through Wikileaks cables. I will tell her story next week, but first lets examine the new understanding that is emerging about the relationship between Turkey and Iran and what it means for Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

RENO, NV (I.R.I.S.) -- A confidential cable from the U.S. Embassy in Istambul released by Wikileaks recounts recent independent assessments of Turkey’s swing in favors of Iran in energy, economics and nuclear weapons.

 Turkey sees a military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities as the worst possible outcome on the Iran issue. Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability would only be the second worst outcome,” wrote former U.S. Consul General Sharon Anderholm Wiener.

The in-depth report follows a series of regionally alarming developments between Turkey and Iran. The first occured on February 27, 2009 when a diplomatic cable outlined how the Turkish Prime Minister's friends would benefit from a gas pipeline deal with Iran and his delcaration that "Iran is our friend."

In a secret cable, Israeli Peace Process Officer Frederic Beryziat alleged that Turkey had allowed nuclear weapons-related material to cross Turkey with the Turkish Prime Minister’s full knowledge. The Israeli representative didn’t have any evidence to support that claim, but said they were collecting it.   

In the following months, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara released this extensive investigation into Turkey’s stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It summarizes extensive interviews with business, independent non-profits and close government contacts. The cable is titled: Turkey-Iran Relations: Motivations, Limitations and Implications, dated December 4th 2009.

The cable outlines how Turkey is dramatically deepening its economic ties with Iran, it questions if Turkey truly understands its Iranian neighbor, and some predict that Turkey will be seen as "on the wrong side of history."

One of the “contacts” interviewed is described as an “international relations professor with ties to PM Erdogan's (Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan) office,” who said that Turkey is deepening ties to Iran because the region faces a "power vacuum."

“This contact acknowledged that this (a power vacuum) sometimes requires Turkey to tactically distance itself from the USG (United States Government) on several key issues, including Iran's "right" to enrichment (of nuclear weapons grade plutonium) and the regime's dismal human rights record.”

Wiener says that this support for Iran enjoys some Turkish public support. “Turkish public opinion also considers an attack against Iran as more dangerous to Turkey than Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,” she wrote. “Indeed, almost a third of Turks polled do not consider a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat, believing that Iran would never attack a fellow Muslim country.”

But Wiener doesn’t address what the other two-thirds of the polled Turks said or who conducted that poll.

Regardless of what fear may exist, the relationship between Turkish and Iranian officials is strengthening. According to the cable, are in the middle of an ambitious campaign to double their bi-lateral trade to 20 billion dollars and complete that plan by 2012. Trade experts say that is an unrealistic goal, but financial and trade ties circumvent western trade sanctions.

Wiener wrote that Turkey is protecting the expansion of financial ties with Iran by continuing to allow Iranian Bank Mellat to operate in Istambul. The bank has sanctions against it by U.S. Executive Order 13382, “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Their Supporters.” They are also conducting business in Turkish Lira and Iranian Rials which avoids having to clear those payments through US or European banks, Wiener wrote.

Despite the strong ties, there is little evidence that Turkey can even influence Iran for its own purposes according to the cable. This has strong implications for the U.S. if the policy is that influence over Turkey might translate to influence over Iran. Wiener wrote that Turkey has no record of successfully moderating Iranian policies. One instance she sites is according to a Turkish businessman who deals with Iran (Ref F), several interventions from Turkey's Trade and Foreign Ministers, and even a plea from PM Erdogan in Tehran on October 27 were unable to persuade Iran to lower its customs duties on Turkish imports. Those duties are currently 45 percent for finished products.

“As our business contact explained, even though Iran depends on Turkish diplomatic support and benefits from Turkish gas purchases and other trade, Iran realizes it does not have to sacrifice any critical policy priorities in return, including its customs income, because "Iran knows Turkey is not going to walk away," Wiener wrote.

While Turkey claims to understand Iran and be critical to regional stability, its influence is seriously questioned. “These contacts suggest that Turkey draws its assessment of Iran's internal dynamics through a subjective filter, which values regime stability foremost, and thus Turkey's assessments artificially inflate evidence suggestive of regime stability,” Wiener wrote. “Despite its belief that it knows its neighbor Iran better than most other countries do, according to our contacts, Turkey is just as uncertain as the USG (United States Government) and other western countries as to what exactly is happening behind the regime's closed doors.”

The cable concludes with a very vague conclusion as to the U.S. approach. Wiener says a Turkish professor explained the best way for the U.S. to proceed is to sweeten deals for Turkey, but also pursue tougher measures.

The U.S. did take this approach two months after the report. Secretary of State Robert Gates met with the Turkish Minister of National Defense. They discussed sweet weapons deals for Turkey, but at the same time, Gates encouraged Turkey to prepare for armed conflict between Iran and Israel.

It’s not clear if Gates achieved his desired result, but given Turkey’s preference for a nuclear-armed Iran over an armed conflict, Gates’ comments could have also encouraged Turkey to more quickly pursue nuclear proliferation with Iran to prevent conflict.

A brief read of the diplomatic cables out of the U.S. embasy in Ankara, Turkey shows the uncertainty and a possible shift in an approach to the government there. Assessments of Turkey’s government are inconsistent at best. In December, 2004 Ambassador Eric Edelman described Turkey’s Prime Minister as “unbeatable” and that he holds influence with a two-thirds majority in the parliament. Three months later, another cable out of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara by Rober Deutch said the Turkish Prime Minister was “isolated” and lost touch with his parliamentary group. At least one assessment questions how seriously the U.S. government takes the Turkish leaders. A cable by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey said, “In any case, sooner or later we will no longer have to deal with the current cast of political leaders, with their special yen for destructive drama and – rhetoric.”

Despite the downplaying of the Turkish government in some cables, the more recent cable outlining the interviews to better understand Turky’s role in a nuclear-armed Iran signals a shift in understanding the Turkish government, as a kind of behind the scenes assessment, instead of taking the world of government officials. Along this same line, last month, the State Department sent an independent non-governmental group to Turkey including a resident of Reno, Nevada. The goal was to better understand the secular conflict currently underway in that country. Since many Turks believe Iran would never attack a fellow Muslim country, the emerging secular conflict may be central to nuclear proliferation in the region.

Sun, December 19, 2010 | link          Comments


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Nation's First Cold War Memorial Groundbreaking & Book Signing

The Forest Service members of the CIA and workers from Area 51 were at Mt. Charleston outside Las Vegas for the groundbreaking of the nation's first Cold War Memorial on Saturday, November 17. This will enhance the regions international recognition for its role in America's victory in the Cold War. The Atomic Testing museum with its hands-on exhibits, the atomic test site with its bomb-ravaged structures and now the cold war memorial honoring America's heroes who lost their lives in America's longest war. Vistors can get a signed first-edition copy of Silent Heroes of the Cold War (Stephen's Press 2008) and learn more at this first public event on a multi-million dollar Forest Service project in the area.

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