Kerry coming with loaded agenda

Kerry coming with loaded agenda

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Istanbul for talks with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu. Turkey is one of the key allies of the U.S. If the U.S. secretary of state is making a visit to the region, obviously it is normal to see him stopping over for coffee, tea and some kebab along with some conversations with the most-lectured foreign minister of the neighborhood. Sure, nothing abnormal or extraordinary.

Is it really so? Was Kerry not around here only at the beginning of March? What followed his trip? Via President Barack Obama, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan put an end one way or the other to the almost-three-year-old “apology” standoff between themselves. That landmark deal became possible through effective direct and indirect diplomacy by Kerry. In reality the wording of the “apology” of Netanyahu over the Mavi Marmara raid and murder of nine Turkish nationals by Israeli troops was more or less the same as what the Israeli government said immediately after the incident in May 2010. Anyhow that is the miraculous aspect of diplomacy… What is said is important; how it is perceived is far more important.

Now, of course he is most welcome, but why is Kerry visiting Istanbul again in less than five weeks? Friends at the Foreign Ministry told me that over the past 10 days or so Kerry and Davutoğlu have discussed various issues on the phone more than a dozen times and in each case none of the issues was satisfactorily discussed as the two kept on jumping from one issue to the other. That is, Kerry is coming to finish off what he could not satisfactorily discuss with Davutoğlu on the phone.

What are these issues? Obviously the Arab-Israeli peace process and Turkey’s probable contributions now that it is once again on speaking terms with Israel. Turkish officials believe Washington values well Ankara’s probable contributions to promote dialogue between Palestinian factions. Upgrading diplomatic representation between Israel and Turkey – a development expected to be completed within weeks – is expected to place Turkey back at the heart of peace diplomacy. A second issue is of course the Syria problem. Apparently the U.S. will be stepping up its support for Syrian rebels though its irritation with the “radical elements” within the rebel groups continues. How to marginalize radical groups and how to restore relative normalcy in some rebel-controlled areas of Syria will all be among the talking points.

The third item on the agenda is Iraq. Kerry just made a surprise visit to Baghdad and met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who for some time has been considering Turkey an enemy, as well as with northern Kurdish leadership. The U.S. is against Turkey and northern Iraqi Kurds establishing direct oil export deals sidelining Baghdad. A third pipeline, which besides northern Iraqi oil would pump southern oil as well, might be in the cards, sources said.

A fourth but very important issue on the table will be the Cyprus quagmire. Turkey has been demanding resumption of the U.N.-sponsored settlement talks “as soon as possible.” Just last week Turkey served a strong warning to the Greek Cypriots, who have been planning to use the offshore hydrocarbon wealth of the island to finance the current economic crisis, reminding that the Turkish Cypriots share in the wealth of the island and for the first time suggested a two-state resolution if a federal bizonal and bicommunal deal could not be possible.

Could there be a surprise Cyprus move, like the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement that followed the March trip? What is diplomacy for?