April 24, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1145

Turkish Media: Washington No Longer Trusts AKP Government

April 24, 2006
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 1145

The American-Turkish Council's annual conference, which took place in Washington, D.C. in late March 2006, reflected the current chill in Turkish-U.S. relations. While in previous years this conference was always attended by leading Turkish and U.S. government figures, businessmen, and military figures, this year it was marked by sparse participation. Most of the Turkish officials in attendance told the press that Turkish-U.S. relations were in much worse shape than they had previously believed.

Two emissaries sent by Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a fence-mending mission to Washington following the ATC conference also failed in their mission. The emissaries, PM Erdogan's personal advisor Cuneyt Zapsu and AKP Party Deputy Chairman and MP Saban Disli, came under fire from senior U.S. officials with whom they met on April 7, 2006 at the American Enterprise Institute. During the meeting, the U.S. officials expressed their anger regarding several issues: the AKP government's unpredictable policies, Turkey's February 2006 hosting of a Hamas delegation, and the release of the anti-American and antisemitic Turkish film Valley of the Wolves - Iraq, which had the endorsement of high level AKP figures at the level of the wife of the PM, cabinet ministers, the parliamentary speaker, and other dignitaries who attended the film's festive opening gala.

The U.S. officials also told Zapsu and Disli that the U.S. had considered the AKP government unreliable since March 1, 2003, when it had rejected a parliamentary motion to allow U.S. forces passage to northern Iraq through Turkey - which damaged the U.S.'s war plans and resulted in U.S. losses. Zapsu argued in response that since there was no alternative to the AKP in Turkey, the U.S. would just have to live with it for the next six to seven years - and that it should utilize PM Erdogan instead of trying to have him removed. These remarks provoked an onslaught of criticism by Turkish politicians and the Turkish media.

Despite 50 years of strategic Turkey-U.S. alliance, ever since the AKP came to power Turkish polls have shown continued erosion of these relations. A recent study found that the vast majority of Turks harbor anti-American sentiment and see the U.S. as a major threat to Turkey.

Following are excerpts from the Turkish media on the crisis in Turkey-U.S. relations:

The ATC Conference

"The AKP Has Lost All its Credit in the U.S."

In a March 29, 2006 column titled "A Saddening Picture in Washington," Asli Aydintasbas wrote in the centrist, secular Turkish daily Sabah: "[...] For many years, [ATC meetings] were important summits, with the participation of leaders from the Turkish government, business circles, and the [Turkish] General Staff. American senators, a few cabinet secretaries, countless generals, U.S. bureaucrats, and business executives used to fill glamorous ballrooms for the banquet.

"This year, the meeting was almost empty, with low representation from both the U.S. and Turkey. […] This is the sign of a 'confidence crisis' in the bilateral relations. At lunch yesterday, I spoke to an important American official who told me that everyone [in the U.S.] was tired of talking about the so-called Turkish-American strategic partnership, and that clearly there were problems. He was not attending the ATC meetings, but he had much to complain about: the film Valley of the Wolves - Iraq, [1] the visit (to Ankara) by the Hamas delegation [...] and the possible legalization of the Koran classes by the [AKP] government. He said not a single positive thing about the AKP government. He was afraid that Turkey would become another Malaysia.

"[Clearly] his perception was that [Turkey] was adamant about becoming more fundamentalist [i.e. Islamist] than Western. […] This was the sad picture in Washington D.C. […].

"[…] As happens every year, the resolution on the so-called Armenian genocide will again be on the agenda in April. Turkey can no longer be certain of the Jewish lobby's support. Some foresee that this year the U.S. senators might be coerced [to pass it]. If that happens, the 50-year friendship between the U.S. and Turkey will be a thing of the past."

In an April 3, 2006 article titled "The AKP's Credit Diminishes in the U.S.," Yasemin Congar, Washington correspondent for the mainstream, secular Milliyet, wrote:

"[…] Those who came from Turkey to Washington for the annual ATC meeting reflected their pessimism in saying: 'The state of [U.S.-Turkey] relations is much worse than what we had thought.' […] In fact, nothing was new; the Americans conveyed to their Turkish counterparts the mounting discomfort they felt about the already well-known issues, as follows: Sharp reactions regarding the February visit by Hamas… the movie Valley of the Wolves - Iraq and the general anti-Americanism in Turkey, for which they blame the AKP […]"

"Hamas Visit Equals [Turkey's] March 1 Rejection"

Congar continued, "A high-level American official told a Turkish former politician who visited him, 'As far as we are concerned, the Hamas visit equals [Turkey's] March 1 [2003] rejection of the motion [to allow U.S. forces passage to northern Iraq through Turkey]. The Turkish source told us that he had left this meeting with the understanding that 'the [U.S.] attitude to the AKP and to the Hamas visit was much worse than previously thought.' A leading Turkish businessman who held a series of meetings with Americans said, 'We saw that the AKP's credit here [i.e. in the U.S.] is fast disappearing.' […]"

U.S. Ambassador Wilson's Statements Differed from Official U.S. Statement

Congar wrote: "I asked U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Ross Wilson: Did your private statements, which differed from the official U.S. statement, lead to the misconception in the Turkish public opinion?' [...He] emphasized that it was natural to convey certain views on certain issues to the government without sharing them with the press. He said, 'If the Hamas visit was one of those, so be it.' In reality, [Wilson's previous] statements had recently been the topic of intense discussions within the Bush administration, and many [U.S.] officials were concerned that failing to respond strongly [regarding the Hamas visit] so as to avoid strong reactions from Turkish public opinion was compromising the effectiveness of the messages given [by the U.S.] to the AKP government. [2] […]"

Congressman Robert Wexler: "We Were 100% Against Turkey Talking to Hamas"

On March 30, Asli Aydintasbas of Sabah wrote: "[…] Important [U.S.] officials to whom I spoke called the Hamas visit a 'second March 1 incident.' Turkish officials who could no longer be certain of the support of the Jewish lobby were talking with fear about the possibility of the U.S. Senate passing the Armenian genocide resolution this year. [...] U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler, [whom I went to see,] is chairman of the Turkish caucus in Congress, and considered 'the voice of Turkey' within Congress. Wexler, who will be visiting Turkey next week to meet with PM Erdogan, is our No. 1 lobbyist…

"These were his words: '[…] On the issue of Hamas, as I wrote to your PM, it was an unfortunate decision [by Turkey] to be the first Western country to meet with that organization. It is impossible to comprehend how this could benefit Turkey. For the first time in a long time, the U.S. and Europe are on the same page about this issue, and they are against any contact with Hamas. On the subject of Hamas, the U.S. position is very clear. We were 100% against your talking to Hamas. [...] Some say that [the AKP's hosting of the Islamist Hamas] is due to an [Islamist AKP] reflex. […] Democratic countries like the U.S., England, and Turkey do not host terrorist organizations […]'

"[I asked,] Would you also react the same if Muqtada Al-Sadr came [to Turkey]? [3] [He said,] 'This would be extremely negative. Al-Sadr plays a direct role in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. It would be like you inviting bin Laden, or us inviting Ocalan [from the PKK].'"

AKP Emissaries Meet with U.S. Officials in Washington

U.S. Officials to AKP Leaders: "We Don't Trust AKP Government!"

AKP emissaries Zapsu and Disli, who were sent to mend the strained U.S-Turkey relations, ended up further exacerbating tensions. Their controversial visit was extensively covered by all the Turkish media. Following are excerpts from the coverage:

Quarrel in Washington

On April 9, 2006, Asli Aydintasbas wrote in Sabah: "[…] The polemic between the advisors and Richard Perle and another Pentagon official [at the AEI] was harmful and damaging. In the presence of journalists, Americans saying 'We don't trust the AKP government' and the Turkish side responding 'And you [the U.S.] are talking to the PKK' will open diplomatic wounds. […] This can be called the wrong method and the wrong officials.

"[…] The Turkey-U.S. crisis, which has not been resolved [since March 1, 2003] and even became chronic after the Hamas visit and Valley of the Wolves, cannot be solved by sending 'advisors.' […] After three years of experience with the AKP, the Americans are upset, and think 'you give us private messages [and promises] and then go and do the opposite.' […]

"Now Turkey and AKP must decide: For its national interests, does it want a close friendship with Washington, or does it prefer, in the name of having a 'multi-axis foreign policy,' a cordial relationship based on lowest common denominator? The choice belongs to Turkey, and not to the U.S....

"[…] The American side is not interested in a 'media flirtation' with the AKP government, but wants a 'state-to-state,' organic alliance [with Turkey] that includes economic and military ties. [The U.S.] is inclined to 'downgrade' its relationship with a Turkey that they no longer trust. Yet despite its negative psychology towards the AKP, […] no one in Washington wants to lose Turkey […]. [They want] a strong, democratic, secular, and Western Turkey that can continue its friendship with the U.S. and stay on the path towards Europe - all of which is in the interest of both the Bush administration and Ankara. […]

Fight Over Hamas

On April 8, 2006, Yasemin Congar of Milliyet quoted the tense interactions at the AEI meeting between officials from the White House, Vice President Cheney's office and figures close to the Pentagon, and AKP's Disli and Zapsu, as follows:

"Zapsu: We got your message on the Hamas issue loud and clear… Here, we are arguing over the method rather than the essence. I certainly would meet with [Hamas] if there was a one in 1,000 chance that [Hamas] might change; I would meet with them again. It would be naïve to say that there are no talks at all with groups that have killed people.

"AEI official: So, should we meet with the PKK, because there might be a one in a 1,000 chance that they might change too?

"Zapsu: Aren't you [...] meeting [with the PKK]?

"Pentagon official: No, the U.S. government does not meet with the PKK.

"Disli: We came to have a friendly dialogue. But if you ask us [questions] using [the same] language as […] PKK representatives, we cannot.

"[U.S. official]: In March 2003, we understood that we could not trust Turkey… We can love and respect you as a country and as a people, but, government to government, there may not be a relationship of trust.

"Zapsu: Saying 'we understood that we cannot trust Turkey' is not the right approach. The U.S. government must live with this [Turkish] government. We [i.e. AKP] are leading the polls with 42.7%. As the AKP, we will be in power for another six to seven years. Wouldn't it be wiser if we sorted out these misunderstandings, and misjudgments? […] We need the U.S. and the U.S. needs us.[…] This man [i.e. PM Erdogan] is honest; he is sincere in his beliefs. You must take advantage of him. He enjoys wide popularity. […] Instead of trying to knock him down, instead of sweeping him down the drain, use him. […]"

Emissary Disli: U.S.-Turkey Tensions are " Provocation by Jewish Lobby"

On April 8, 2006, the centrist, secular daily Aksam reported: "[…] A Turkish Foreign Ministry official evaluated the tensions in Washington as the manifestation of the great anger felt by the White House towards the AKP. He said: 'It is clear that they [the Americans] are reacting to the [AKP] government.' On the other hand, [the AKP's] Disli said that the incident was a provocation by the Jewish lobby. […] Disli told Aksam: 'There is an attempt to create an atmosphere that relations with the U.S. are severed, that they are finished. The Jewish lobby is behind all this.'"

U.S. Ambassador "Changed His Statements After He Went to Washington"

The report continued: "[Turkish] Foreign Ministry sources drew our [Aksam's] attention to the fact that Ambassador Wilson had given softer messages on the issue of the Hamas visit 'but changed his statements after he went to Washington. We know that the U.S. administration's reaction to Wilson caused the change.' [4]

"Another Foreign Ministry official told us: 'After the [Turkish parliament's] March 1 [2003] rejection of the motion [to allow U.S. forces passage to northern Iraq], the element of trust in our bilateral relations with the U.S. diminished. [...]"

Wife of Turkish PM Attended Gala Opening of Valley of the Wolves - Iraq, Praised Film Tearfully and Emotionally

Aksam continued: "During the talks in Washington by Zapsu and Disli, there was criticism also against [the Turkish PM's wife] Emine Erdogan's praise for Valley of the Wolves - Iraq. Zapsu said that some Washington circles had asked them how they would react if First Lady Laura Bush had [seen and] praised the [anti-Turkish film] Midnight Express. Zapsu said: 'Such a comparison would be wrong.'"

(It is noteworthy that in a recent interview with Robert Pollock of The Wall Street Journal, PM Erdogan refrained from condemning, or even criticizing, this "religiously and racially divisive" film that depicts Americans "murdering and dismembering Iraqis, to steal their organs for Jewish markets." Instead, Erdogan justified the making of this film, and its popularity, by saying that it was "based on media reports" and "TV images." [5] )

Disli: "The PKK is a Terrorist Organization [...] This Kind of Comparison [to Hamas] Is Completely Ugly"

On April 10, the Turkish Islamic daily Zaman, which is owned by Turkish Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen, reported:

"In their joint statement, Zapsu and Disli said: 'We emphasized that a fairly elected political party can never be seen [as] equal to a terrorist organization. The PKK is a terrorist organization responsible for the killings of thousands [of mainly soldiers and police officers], whose participation in an election is impossible; therefore, this kind of comparison between two friendly countries is completely ugly. We also said at that particular [AEI] meeting that the U.S. has broken many promises to us about [helping] our struggle against the PKK, which is sheltered in northern Iraq - a factor which fuels the anti-Americanism in Turkey.'"

Hurriyet: AKP Misled [Turkish] Public Opinion on Hamas Visit

On April 9, 2006, Turkish columnist Oktay Eksi of the mainstream, secular Hurriyet wrote: "It is understood that Washington has written Tayyip Erdogan off […] Erdogan should really be nervous. […] Obviously, the information that the AKP gave the public following Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al's visit in February did not reflect the truth.

"As you will remember, they [i.e. the AKP] had claimed that both the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and Israel were informed of the visit [in advance] and said, 'Ignore the public expressions of displeasure; they [i.e. the U.S. and Israel] were agreeable.' Apparently, there was nothing given or taken or agreed upon… And now, Washington has told Zapsu and Disli […] that the U.S. no longer trusts the AKP.

"In fact, love turning to hatred between the U.S. and the AKP is nothing new. It has happened before… with the U.S. feeling betrayed after the rejection of the March 1 motion… [and] on July 4, 2003, when the U.S. trampled the honor of the Turkish Armed Forces and our nation by arresting 11 Turkish soldiers and officers in Suleymaniye and put sacks over their heads… [when] Tayyip Erdogan declared that Israel was a 'terrorist state' when Hamas leader Yassin was killed; when he used a similar term [i.e. "genocide"] for the U.S. attack on Fallujah; [when] he kept [former] U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman waiting for months for an appointment - all these were incidents that brought about this result. […]"

Unofficial AKP Mouthpiece Yeni Safak: The American Enterprise Institute is Home to Warmongers [and] a Bloodthirsty Group

On April 9, 2006, columnist Fehmi Koru of the Islamic daily Yeni Safak wrote:

"[…] The AEI is the home of the worst warmongers in the U.S. All the pretexts for the assault on Iraq were planned and decorated with lies and deceptions by AEI 'experts,' and they were carried out by bureaucrats and politicians with AEI origins.[…]

"There is no way of convincing this bloodthirsty AEI group, that has brought nothing but blood and tears to the Middle East. They have lost, and they want others [i.e. the AKP] to pay for it… […]"

"An Open Warning to the US!"

In an April 9, 2006 column titled "An Open Warning to the U.S.!" Cuneyt Ulsever wrote in Hurriyet: "There is a survey that studied a concept that has recently preoccupied Turkey: A survey on nationalism has been conducted by Bilgi University and the Infakto Research Workshop on behalf of Tempo magazine. [...] The field work was conducted [...] February 18-28, 2006. […] I will issue a serious warning to our American friends [emphasis in original] about one aspect of the findings of this serious study.

"One of the questions asked was: 'Which of the following [countries] poses the greatest threat to our nation's security?' Pay attention to the fact that the question is not about 'love-hate' or 'appreciation-criticism.' […] The [Turkish] citizens were asked about the very sensitive issue of 'perception of threat.' […] The resulting picture of the 'perception of threat' by the Turkish public is as follows:

"U.S.: 35%; a probable independent Kurdish State in Northern Iraq: 25.8%; Greece: 9.5%; EU: 5.5%; Israel: 4%; Iraq: 3.5%; Iran: 1.5%; Russia: 0.3%; Other: 1.1%; None of the above: 1.9%; Don't know: 8.2%.

"It must be noted that the Turkish people's perception of 'an independent Kurdistan' is also [closely] related to the perception of the U.S.'s role as the party responsible for this and provoking this. Therefore, you can conclude that 60.8% of the respondents perceive the U.S. as a 'threat.' […]

"I hope that the U.S. leaders who have expectations from Turkey as part of their Middle East policies will carefully examine and analyze these findings."

[1] The anti-American and antisemitic Turkish blockbuster Valley of the Wolves - Iraq is the most expensive film ever made in Turkey, and has drawn the biggest crowds, and has also been selling very well in Turkish communities in Europe and in Arab counties. The film depicts Americans as barbaric murderers who rape and kill Iraqis, with an American Jewish doctor dismembering them to supply organs for Jewish markets. While Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan had the film privately screened for him, his wife Emine Erdogan attended the February 2006 gala opening, sitting with the film's very popular lead actor and Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Bulent Arinc. After the screening, an emotional and tearful Mrs. Erdogan praised the film, and Speaker Arinc called it "very realistic."

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1114, "Hamas Visit to Turkey Deepens Secular-Islamist Rift" (see "U.S. Ambassador Wilson: "Hamas Criticism - of Certain Groups in the U.S., Including Leading Jews - Not U.S. Official View") March 14, 2006, Hamas Visit to Turkey Deepens Secular-Islamist Rift.

[3] After the Hamas delegation's February 2006 visit to Ankara, Iraqi Prime Minister Designate Ja'fari came to the Turkish capital at the invitation of the AKP government. It was announced at that time that the Turkish government had also extended an invitation to Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr, who is expected to come in a few months.

[4] Turkish Daily News, April 10, 2006: "[…] the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson said the visit was 'disappointing' and stressed that some members of Congress asked where Turkey is heading. 'They were expressing concern, and even beyond concern, their anger.' They said, 'We cannot accept that a country like Turkey, which suffered much from terrorism, let this happen' Wilson was quoted as saying during a meeting last week [in Washington]." See: Hamas Visit to Turkey Deepens Secular-Islamist Rift.

[5] The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2006.

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