MURAT YETKİN > Erdoğan’s Obama visit; a give and take story

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Let us remember first. The first commitment of U.S. President Barack Obama that he would host Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was on March 22, during a telephone call from Ben Gurion airport in Israel where he was paying his first overseas visit in his second term of Presidency. It was right after Obama convinced the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to apologize to Erdoğan because of the Mavi Marmara flotilla raid in which nine Turks were killed and after hearing that Erdoğan accepted that apology. As Turkish and Israeli sides agreed on the date of the first round of compensation talks, the White House date was secured for May 16.

To be frank, no visit from Ankara to Washington DC has been more spectacular than Erdoğan’s latest visit, like the ‘Blair House’, i.e. Presidential treatment he received from Obama.

He not only took six of his cabinet ministers and chief of intelligence, but also his party deputies with him and made them sit around the same table with Obama and Obama’s team; on the Turkish side of the table there were 13 politicians at one point. And perhaps in order to make a symbolic point that only those elected have something to say in present day Turkey, the diplomats who were actually in charge of carrying out the contacts were sitting in the back chairs, including the Turkish Ambassador to Washington DC, Undersecretary of Turkish Foreign Ministry and chief of Turkish intelligence, MİT. Some of the Turkish delegation members, who lacked the translation support as Erdoğan did, seemed very happy about the talks in the official photographs released to the media. Those pictures and the treatment were priceless gifts from Obama to Erdoğan for domestic politics as Turkey gets prepared for a series of elections. Erdoğan’s gift to Obama was a calligraphic frame in Arabic script.

Erdoğan’s almost entire family did not leave him alone in this critical trip to U.S. as well. Obama politely made a point that he might have something to learn from Erdoğan’s experience of raising daughters. And Mrs Erdoğan was praised in a Georgetown University program where a professor of Iranian descent presented her with a book, titled “The Psychology of Dictatorship.” Mrs Erdoğan seemed to enjoy Mrs Obama’s warm hospitality, as could be understood from the official pictures.

Almost all the top bosses of Turkey escorted Erdoğan, too. At one point 70 percent of Turkey’s GDP was on board the same plane; thanks to the insisting invitations of Erdoğan’s economy minister, as evidence to show Americans that the Turkish business community was behind their prime minister. On the economic scene, the most important expectation of Turkey has been not to be left out of US-EU trade talks, because of its Customs Union agreement with the EU; both government and business people are more hopeful after the visit.
The fact that Moody’s had upgraded Turkey’s investment note right after the visit, perhaps by coincidence, was the cherry on top of the cake.

On the political scene, Erdoğan was happy to see Obama who said next to him that Bashar Al-Assad must go for a free Syria. But regarding any new concrete action, no, Obama was not going to move the U.S. alone, not without Russia -whose 10 warships from the Pacific fleet entered the Mediterreranean from Suez the same day and docked at Limassol port in South Cyprus -it seems. That was not exactly what Erdoğan actually wanted to hear. Erdoğan hoped he could convince Obama that Assad’s use of chemical weapons had violated the U.S.’s “red lines,” but no, Washington DC was still to wait despite atrocities in Syria.

We can see some interesting steps in the field of energy which might converge Turkish and American stances in Iraq and the eastern Mediterranean, including both Cypriot and Israeli fields there.

And speaking of Israel again... Right after the Israeli apology, Erdoğan had declared that he was going to visit the Palestinian territory of Gaza, under Israeli embargo. Both the U.S. and the Palestinian authority in Ramallah said that they preferred a visit to include the West Bank too, which is not under Hamas control. Erdoğan, postponing his visit (originally aimed for April) looked for ways to bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Gaza (something undesired by Halid Mashaal of Hamas) so that he could use Egyptian territory to go in and out of Gaza without being obliged to use Israeli air or land space. Following the meeting with Obama, Erdoğan announced that he was going to go to both Gaza and Ramallah in June. So we may expect a result for the compensation talks and upgrading of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel back to ambassadorial level by then.


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Peter Kypros

5/19/2013 8:00:53 PM

US already decided what it wants in the region. If that is consistent with what Turkey wants that would be fine if not Turkey will have to obey the rules of the planet power as it happened with Iraq. Russian policies seem to be consistent with that of US with respect to Syria. They want a transition of power but not under the control of religious extremists. With respect to energy no country wants to rely totally on Turkey for transport.

kibrisli TURK

5/19/2013 12:30:10 PM

Unfortunately Turkey is just a pawn in the bigger picture chess game between the US & Russia...as per ususal, all smaller powers are usually the collateral between a bigger war be it cold or hot between the bigger powers...it is however disturbing & i daresay insulting for the Turkish 1st lady to be handed a book on Dictatorship - & from an Iranian?...this should have been expressed at the highest level...

Laz Kemal

5/19/2013 7:50:32 AM

Time for some fun. So what’s the significance (meaning) of each gift? Iranian professor who has lived almost all of his life in UK and USA giving the Mrs. a book on dictatorship? Maybe he’s suggesting that the Sultan days are long over! Next the PM giving a gift to Obama, his name "Barack Hussein Obama" written in Arabic calligraphy? Maybe PM is reminding Obama of Obama’s Islamic heritage! Yes, there is a meaning/truth behind every gift and every joke.

Laz Kemal

5/19/2013 7:43:56 AM

Obama should have paid attention just to recent news re those who demonstrate against terrorism in Turkey (ie recent Reyhanli bombing) especially the university students can be brutally beaten by PM’s police force. And compare with what happened to a cop in US who after similar behavior was first removed and later fired. I guess that’s the difference in rule of law and human rights with “Christian Democracy” vs “Islamic Democracy”!!

Laz Kemal

5/19/2013 7:34:47 AM

In the joint speech Obama said“ we support efforts in Turkey to uphold the rule of law and human rights” Once again Obama is not paying attention to what really goes on in Turkey or is too busy sucking up to what he and Bush ignorantly call “Islamic Democracy” regarding Turkey. Both happy with this low standard as long as it’s not fanatic Islamists. Years ago in a speech Obama emphasized why the separation of Church&State is a must yet 70% in Turkey believe Islam plays a role in politics

Laz Kemal

5/19/2013 7:22:47 AM

That’s your version. And here’s my take on that boondoggle trip for many including family members. I am sure most or all of the businessmen are AKP men or avid supporters. Otherwise in today’s Turkey they wouldn’t be where they are. You forgot to include the father of the poor 19 year old dual citizen kid killed by Israelis in Mavi Marmara. Sadly this kid was brainwashed enough and said prior to the Mavi Marmara event that he want to become a martyr

Faruk Timuroglu

5/18/2013 11:07:43 PM

According to estimates, the second Iraq war cost $6 trillion in money and 4,488 U.S. military lives to U.S. For Iraqis 134,000 of which 70% civilians died of direct war violence. America lost esteem in human rights and democracy. In addition, a big economic crisis was the cost to the entire world.

Faruk Timuroglu

5/18/2013 11:06:28 PM

Some Israeli, Saudi and Neo-Ottoman VIPs and Neo-Cons in Washington DC have been trying hard to goad President Obama to repeat in Syria what W. Bush did in Iraq. Some of them careless, just want to get what they want regardless the cost. Others incapable of grasping the immeasurable consequences may lie ahead. I don’t know in which group PM Erdoğan and his FM in. Does it matter? ++

Aryeh Rapaport

5/18/2013 7:09:38 PM

I feel Turks have a wrong feeling about US, West & its agenda. Im happy Turks brought top leadership to US to sit & meet first hand US leadership. I hope they learned US is not the Devil as many Muslims & Turks portray it to be. US has good intentions & Interests for ME region specifically & world in general that is to promote Freedom, Democracy, Stability (peace), Trade and understanding between cultures. Lets hope there is more Confidence & Trust so both countries do the right thing.

dogan kemal ileri

5/18/2013 7:08:47 PM

I really like Erdogan's style bringing the whole team with him in front of Obama, politicians and business barons alike. I am sure Erdogan once again has come out trumps as far as business contacts are concerned with the added advantage of Turkiye gaining another investment grade status in his back pocket.I am disgusted with the Russians sending an unprecented armada of 10 warships to the eastern Mediterranean and even more disgusted with Greek Cyprus for accommodating them at Limassol.
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