Kerry carries a heavy agenda to Ankara

Kerry carries a heavy agenda to Ankara

A day before the first visit of John Kerry as the new U.S. Secretary of State to Turkey, Turkish police detained 11 people suspected of possible links to al-Qaeda with alleged plans to attack the fortress-like U.S. Consulate building in Istanbul, Doğan News Agency reported.

This piece of news not only shows how Turkish security units are on alert after the suicide bombing at a gate of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara – only a month ago on Feb. 1 – but also gives an idea about the heavy agenda Kerry carries to Ankara with him. Responsibility for that bombing had been claimed by the DHKP-C, an armed Turkish fringe leftist group seemingly unrelated to al-Qaeda or one of its shadow organizations. But names of organizations and their identities are not that important if terrorist attacks have once again changed in nature to be part of the global power game, like in the gray days of the Cold War. In a recent Oxford report, young Turkish scholar Karabekir Akkoyunlu describes the current situation in the Middle East as a “redux” Cold War, seeing the border between Turkey and Syria as a new line between the powerhouses, with the real game going on between the U.S. and Russia.

There is no coincidence in Kerry’s promise for more (non-lethal, as it is defined) aid to the Syrian opposition a day after the Syrian National Coalition decided not to boycott the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference in Rome, with Turkish diplomatic efforts as well, and only a day before his visit to Turkey.

Life would be easier if terrorism and Syria were the only topics in Kerry’s Turkey file. But there are more.

For example, there is an issue quite high on the Turkish public agenda nowadays, linking not only the topics of terrorism and Syria but also Iraq and Iran, too - that is the Kurdish issue. It was the U.S. intelligence branch – the CIA – that had packaged up the outlawed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who was hiding in the Greek Embassy in Kenya, and delivered him to the Turkish intelligence agency, MİT, back in 1999. Now, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has started talks between MİT and Öcalan in search of a possible peaceful solution to this painful problem. But again, a day before Kerry arrives, chunks of the messages from Öcalan, some of them very provocative for the future of the “peace process,” were leaked to the media, as if in an attempt to sabotage the talks.

It relates to Iraq because the PKK’s military bases are in the Kurdish section of Iraq and, ironically enough, Iraqi Kurds who want to export their oil and gas to world markets via Turkey are at odds with the U.S. and the Iran-backed al-Maliki regime in Baghad because of this.

Is this complicated enough? Well, there is more. Turkey has kept its relations with Israel at a minimum since Israeli commandos killed nine civilian Turks onboard the Mavi Marmara ship carrying (not only non-lethal, but humanitarian) aid to Palestinians living in Gaza under blockade in 2010. Turkey has asked for an apology, compensation and an end to the blockade. The blockade is relatively relaxed now, but Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to apologize anyway. U.S. President Barack Obama, who had his first overseas visit to Turkey when he was elected the first time, is now planning his first visit to Israel, without hiding that he wants good relations between two U.S. allies in this region, as Iran carries on its nuclear program. Another tough job for Kerry.

And as if all those were not enough already, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum again called on Kerry yesterday to raise concerns about press freedom with Erdoğan during his talks.

He might do so, after thanking Turkey for its contribution to the Western alliance by hosting the NATO-operated U.S. early warning radar for the Defense Shield missiles – not against Russia or Iran, of course, just in the case of an arbitrary attack. If not, it would be another sign of the new “redux” Cold War, where democratic quality in the allied countries is secondary to security in a status-quo manner.

Is there anything else that we might have missed on Kerry’s possible agenda?