June 9, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 919

Founder and Chairman of Leading Turkish Think Tank: The U.S.-Turkish Strategic Partnership is Long Gone

June 9, 2005
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 919

In an interview in the Turkish business daily Referans on May 30, 2005, [1] Kemal Koprulu, Founder and Chairman of the ARI movement, a leading Turkish think tank, reviewed U.S.-Turkish relations. In the interview, Koprulu discusses the activity of the delegation of ARI representatives who visited the U.S. in April 25-30, 2005, and conducted a series of meetings in Washington with the White House, State Department, members of Congress, and the National Security Council, as well as many American NGOs and think tanks. According to Koprulu, the strategic partnership between Turkey and the U.S. is over, despite the Turkish government's claims to the contrary.

The interview is followed by an Appendix, which is a political poster denouncing the U.S., signed by eleven public associations.

The Turkish Government's Claim that There Are No Problems with the U.S. Prevents an Accurate Diagnosis

Question:"What are your impressions of the talks you conducted in Washington?"

Kemal Koprulu: "Turkish-American relations have been in a process of erosion for a long time. The strategic partnership is long over. And after it ended, unfortunately no effort was made to redefine our relations. We [at ARI] decided to do that. […] With the aim of re-defining and strengthening the [bilateral] relations, we first had a round-table discussion […] and then as a delegation we spent a week in meetings in Washington.

"To apply a cure to an illness one must first properly diagnose the disease. The Turkish government's constant claim that there are no problems in its relationship with the U.S., and that the strategic partnership continues, prevents an accurate diagnosis."

Question:"Does that mean that the Turkish public opinion is misled?"

Koprulu:"Exactly. People are being misinformed on the issue of Turkish-American relations. Our goal is to bring truthful information to the public attention. We went to Washington and had 30-35 successive meetings in a short time. In general, we conduct about one-third of our meetings with the White House, the State Department, and the National Security Council. We try to meet with Republican, Democratic, and Independent groups, and of course with members of Congress, senators, as well as with their advisors..."

The Pentagon No Longer Plays a Role in Relations with Turkey

Question:"Is it necessary to redefine Turkish-American relations?"

Koprulu: "Yes. There's a real paradigm change in these relations, as I mentioned in my article in TPQ [Turkish Policy Quarterly]. [2] First, contrary to the official statement, we no longer have a strategic partnership. […] In the past, on the subject of Turkish-American relations and whenever a decision had to be made regarding Turkey, whether political or military, the Pentagon would be involved, preserving Turkey's point of view as well.

"The Pentagon no longer plays a role in the relations with Turkey; it has transferred all matter of relations to the State Department. […] This means that whereas before there were five people in the Pentagon, five in the National Security Council, and five in the State Department who considered the relations with Turkey, now there are no more than five people [altogether]. That is because the U.S. has no strategic partnership with Turkey. This is the first fracture [in our relations].

"The second fracture took place in the attitude of various U.S. government institutions towards Turkey. Previously, the U.S. government – the Cabinet, Treasury, Pentagon, National Security Council, etc. – looked warmly to Turkey. Now there's a negative atmosphere in these institutions, especially in the Pentagon.

"In contrast, whereas previously there was a generally negative stance towards Turkey in the Congress due to the influence of the Greek and Armenian lobbies, now there is a relatively positive one. This is due in great part to the Turkish Friendship Group […], whose members know Turkey well; they visit Turkey and our area in some capacity annually, and update and increase their knowledge.

"Whereas before they used to allow us 10-15 minutes, each of the members of Congress and senators we met with gave us an hour this time, and we saw that they have a strong grasp of what is happening in Turkey, Cyprus, and Northern Iraq. Turkey needs to better evaluate this advantageous situation in Congress."

The Pentagon Has Not Forgotten March 1, 2003

Question:"So, what is the stance of the Pentagon?"

Koprulu: "[The] Pentagon has not forgotten March 1. [3] The facts that the vote was taken with three weeks delay, the [U.S. military's] best units to be kept waiting at sea unable to join the military effort, Turkey's refusal to open a northern front in Iraq have caused a very negative view of Turkey. Thinking militarily, they go to war, they need their allies, they draw a road map with them but at the last minute one of their allies refuses their road map. They could not digest these events.

"We also found out that there's a negative view towards Turkey among the top-ranking military leaders in Washington. For the first time in a long while there is a military command in Washington that thinks negatively about Turkey. This is a very serious fracture."

U.S. Secretary of State Rice: "Our New Partner in the Balkans is Greece"

Question:"What about the State Department?"

Koprulu: "[…] Other units of the [U.S.] government, I mean especially the 'neo-cons,' are at a [completely] different place. In a few of our meetings they told us that they were observing a new trend of foreign policy in Turkey. They said that in the last six months against its traditions of going along with the western alliance, Turkey has turned towards a different axis and has been seeking other alliances with some Middle Eastern countries.

"If Turkey has a new foreign policy doctrine it wants to follow, they [the Americans] would want to understand it and define their own approach accordingly. They also expressed that if [Turkey's] new doctrine is to build relationships with some other countries, not taking [the U.S.] into account, then Turkey will not be on anyone's side, but no one will be on its side either.

"You may have noticed that recently Condoleezza Rice said that "our new partner in the Balkans is Greece." This is a big change, for previously the most important U.S. ally in the Balkans was Turkey […]. Now there is Greece in the Balkans, not Turkey. In fact, there is no Turkey in the Middle East, either. Where are we?"

The Jewish Lobby Stands Behind Turkey but No Longer Goes Out of its Way

Question:"What is the stance of the Jewish lobby?"

Koprulu: "The Jewish lobby in the U.S. is, as always, very sensitive to the matter of Turkish-American relations. Of course we must not forget that from their point of view the subject is two-dimensional: Turkish-American relations and Turkish-Israeli relations. Therefore they are twice concerned. […] They worry that in its foreign relations Turkey will slide over to a different axis.

"When we consider the events of recent months, such as our prime minister's negative comments about Israel, his accusing Sharon of terrorism, etc., we can say that some negative steps have already been taken. But still, the Jewish lobby in the U.S. stands behind Turkey, but no longer goes out of its way in doing so."

Question:"Does Turkey have different foreign policies?"

Koprulu: "First let's explain that the prime minister often prefers to consult his non-official advisors instead of the officials in the Foreign Ministry, who are indeed very well informed. In foreign countries, he does not consult with our ambassadors. This becomes an issue in Washington, as it presents problems in communication and coordination. […]

"For example, before March 1, [2003,] there were contacts made on economic, political, and other issues. Yet none of these are on record, because they were done behind the scenes, even in people's homes. If you follow this road, you must be very careful, because when you don't have certain pieces of information, you may make inaccurate decisions."

Question:"Do you think that America's foreign policy, known as the Bush Doctrine, will be permanent for this region?

Koprulu: "It is certain it will be permanent in the Middle East. Even if there is a Democratic president in 2008 or a heavily Democratic Congress, the foreign policies will not change suddenly. Only their approach might change. Bush also changed his approach and is trying to act more multilaterally. For example, he has come to agreements with the European countries on Syria, with Russia and even with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and he has been successful to a point. On Iran they are acting together with Europe, but the diplomatic initiatives there don't seem very successful so far.

"In conclusion, yes, they'll stay in the Middle East. There have been indications to this effect. When Paul Wolfowitz came to Turkey in July 2003, he said he wanted to cooperate with Turkey not only on Iraq, but in the whole region. Then the expectation was that this process would last five or even fifteen years. In Turkey many people thought that these people would only enter Baghdad, end Saddam's rule, and go back to their homes. It's not like that. The U.S. will probably stay in the Middle East for 25 years, but of course as things are, not together with Turkey. They are looking for new partners."

The White House Kept the Turkish PM Waiting 70 Days for a Meeting, Just as the PM Kept the U.S. Ambassador Waiting 70 Days for a Meeting

Question:"What can the Turkish side expect from the June visit [of the Turkish prime minister] to the White House?"

Koprulu: "Believe me, nothing much will result from the June visit. And anyway, it will be a very short meeting. There are several reasons why our prime minister was made to wait for two months [for a meeting in] the White House.

"First there is the Edelman issue. Just like the [Turkish] prime minister kept Edelman waiting for 70 days, the White House made our prime minister wait for 70 days.

"Another reason is the foreign policy doctrine. The White House and political circles around it are seriously worried, wondering in which direction Turkey is going. If I'm not mistaken, the PM will be asked this Question:. The AKP [officials] have not been giving Washington's message to the prime minister, or if they have, the reaction has not been forthcoming. For a year now, Washington has tried to send these messages, but now believes it has been unsuccessful, so in this meeting they plan to ask the prime minister directly.

Question:"Have the civil organizations and the business world been able to remain outside of these fractures?"

Koprulu: "For the first time there is a multi-faceted fracture in our relations with America: in politics [between the governments], and in the military. In all meetings emotions come forth on both sides on the subject of March 1 and July 4. There has also been a serious falling out with the media; our media attacks theirs, and their media attacks ours. There has been acrimony among the bureaucrats too. In all negotiations, in all meetings, hurtful words were exchanged, which no one easily forgets.

"What remain are the non-governmental organizations and the business world. There's still business being conducted; I believe up to eight billion dollars' worth. There doesn't seem to be a problem between the non-governmental organizations, and the channels of dialogue are still open.

Question:"Did you let the American side know about our concerns?"

Koprulu: "We always do that, but we do not use harsh words or an extreme attitude. This time we emphasized the matters of Cyprus and of the PKK, and explained that the fact that the U.S. does not adequately support Turkey on these issues has also harmed our relationship. On Cyprus, they will take some steps soon, but we'll have to wait and see whether these will be to our liking. But we have to let them know what we would like.

"On the PKK Question, they are well aware of our concerns. We stressed to them that it makes no sense to fight a global war on terrorism on one hand, and to refrain from intervening in a well-established terror organization on the other."

The U.S. Wants Democratization in the Middle East; Turkey Acts as if it is Worried about Changes in the Status Quo

Question:"How does the U.S. see Turkey's stance vis-à-vis the efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East?"

Koprulu: "[…] The U.S. wants democratization in the Middle East. […] Turkey acts as if it is worried about changes in the status quo of the Middle East. As the ARI movement, we believe quite the opposite. We believe that the development of democracy among Turkey's neighbors will have a positive effect on Turkey's security and on its business ties with them.

"As an organization, we [ARI] want to improve representative democracy in Turkey and to provide the possibility to those of opposing views to have a platform for expressing their views. To this end our first concrete step will be the International Conference on the Democratization of the Greater Middle East (to use NATO terminology), which we are organizing for June 23-24 in Istanbul."


In early March 2005 an announcement poster was displayed extensively throughout the streets of Istanbul as well as the lobbies and hallways of public buildings, inviting the public to a large scale anti-US demonstration, scheduled for March 19, 2005. The poster depicted the US as a giant octopus whose long tentacles strangled the globe. The signatories were the most prominent national organizations, trade and labor unions and professional associations of Turkey, each of them representing millions of members.

Signatories (at the bottom of the poster) were:

TURK-IS: Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions
HAK-IS: Confederation of True Trade Unions of Turkey (Islamic)
DISK: Confederation ofProgressive Trade Unions of Turkey (Leftist)
KESK: Confederation of Public Service Employees' Trade Unions
TMMOB: The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects
The Union of Turkish Dentists
Turkish Pharmacists Association
Turkish Medical Society
The Union of Turkish Veterinarians
TURMOB: Union of Chambers of Certified Public Accountants of Turkey
Istanbul Bar Association
The poster read:

[1] Referans (Turkey), May 30, 2005.

[2] Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol.4 No.1 Spring 2005.

[3] On March 1, 2003, the Turkish parliament rejected a resolution that would allow U.S. troops to open a northern front against Iraq from Turkish soil.

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