A golden age for US-Turkish relations?

A golden age for US-Turkish relations?

A former U.S. ambassador to Turkey described to me the recent state of the relations between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan as “the best since the one between George [father] Bush and Turgut Özal” of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The late Özal had been subjected to a lot of criticism because he was perceived as being too pro-American at the time.

The former ambassador did not want to be named but was comfortable in giving the title since there was more than one former U.S. ambassador to Ankara in Istanbul last week for a number of conferences and workshops on different areas of relations.

It wasn’t just them either; one former secretary of state (Madeline Albright), one former national security adviser (Stephen Hadley), one current member of the president’s intelligence board (Chuck Hagel), as well as many think tank scholars on politics, energy, security and social matters were in Istanbul as well.

That was also the week in which Time magazine printed “Erdoğan’s Way” on its cover with a “Big brother is watching you” type of photo. All the contacts with Turkish diplomats, academics, journalists, businessman and civil society members were like an exploration effort before Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Turkey in the first days of December.

It seems this is going to be an important visit in putting relations on a new track as we heard a lot about the “New Turkey” from top-grade American opinion last week.

Is it worth asking what has changed? Is this a new Turkey or are there new U.S. expectations from Turkey? After having a lot of conversations with American and Turkish sources, I can say that both are valid.

One ranking Turkish diplomat makes a different point. He says that until a few years ago, one of the major activities of the Turkish Foreign Ministry was to get prepared for high-level annual political talks with the U.S. State Department. “Now there are daily contacts, all channels are opened and Erdoğan is among the leaders that Obama calls most,” he underlined.

One of the changes on the U.S. side can be summarized in the words of a top American source who told a group of Turkish opinion holders last week that relations with Israel was not the only parameter in relations, leading them to try and understand the “New Turkey.”

The changes on the Turkish side were summarized into three points:

1) The change of the Turkish stance on Libya; 2) Turkey’s agreement to host missile shield radars on its soil; and 3) Erdoğan’s speech in Cairo.

The American diplomat who made the Özal analogy thinks that “Erdoğan’s speech in Cairo was more important than Obama’s speech there.”

Erdoğan had said in a TV interview in Cairo that Islam and democracy were not contradictory and added that it was possible for a Muslim to run a secular country.

There is no need to say much in changing American needs actually; the Turkish role in the Syrian affair, in the whole Iran picture, in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkan conflicts are on the rise.

There times when Turkish people start to ask, “What for?” We are all going to see soon, but let’s wait for Biden’s visit first