CHP began learning to communicate with Washington

CHP began learning to communicate with Washington

A four-member delegation from Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited Washington, D.C. this week at a time when the Obama administration is having a honeymoon period with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

One Washington figure who is very close to the Obama administration, as well as Ankara, said this week, “[Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan might be the only leader in the region who really roots for the success of Obama.” One Washington source elaborated on the personal relations between the two leaders, “Maybe Obama’s Muslim and African roots make Erdoğan better connect with him.”

Before the visit, on two of the most significant well-working foreign policy areas of the current administrations, with regard to Syria and decision of the U.S. radar deployment in Turkey, the CHP appeared at odds with Washington. 

During a long talk with the members of delegation, Ambassador Faruk Loğoğlu said they made it clear to Washington that the CHP never opposed the concept of the ballistic missile shield program, which aims to defend NATO allies. What the CHP opposes is how the location for deployment was identified without a parliamentary scrutiny or public debate. The CHP doesn’t categorically object the deployment of the radar in Turkey, but argues the local population where the installation is built must be heard.
On Syria, the CHP conveyed another clear message to Washington; it wants Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to go, but through a negotiation process. The AKP’s current policy with regard to Syrian opposition, according to Loğoğlu, is “one-sided” which increases the chance for more bloodshed and violence. 

Ahu Ozyurt of CNNTurk, before the visit began, wrote about the CHP’s Syria policy and if it can mediate between the al-Assad regime and outside word. The CHP delegation was unwilling to talk when I asked about it, though there are “serious” signs the CHP is open to consider using its leverage with al-Assad if it is asked, which both administrations don’t have. 

Washington and Ankara, in recent days, began sending more cautious messages when it comes to a military option against al-Assad. U.S. senior officials, for now, have pointed to the Arab League plan which foresees hundreds of monitors going into Syria if al-Assad accepts it.

Washington is understandably vague about what the plan B is, if this Arab initiative fails because the Syrian opposition is still not unified in terms of what exactly it wants from the international community. 
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), as the most formidable force within the opposition, is in no mood to negotiate with al-Assad, as one Syrian-American expert said, both because of al-Assad’s brutality but also the MB’s belief that they alone will rule the country in the post-al-Assad period. On the other hand, their and some other opposition groups’ Islamist and traditional anti-Western posture don’t allow them to call for NATO help.
There is no chance to pull a second Libya, since the Russian and Chinese opposition at the U.N. Security Council make impossible to get a U.N. mandate.

Creating a buffer zone or humanitarian corridor solely by Turkey, which also brings along military elements, currently appears very risky for all parties to undertake. If such a step is taken under these circumstances, it will appear as if Turkey and potential other partners are doing it on behalf of such un-unified opposition who doesn’t ask for it in one-voice, yet.

Freedom problems

Among other topics, the CHP delegation talked about some of Turkey’s freedom problems in Washington with the U.S. administration, starting with arrested elected deputies, journalists and college students.

Loğoğlu said, “We are not talking about these issues in Washington to complain. But if some want to call it a complaint, let it be.” CHP member Faik Öztrak said, “These values [of freedom] are now universal, we should be talking about them with everyone, everywhere.”

Just like the AKP began learning to talk about universal values or embracing secularism in the Arab Spring states, the CHP appeared to be learning to talk to Washington this week.