US, Turkey to carry on Mideast cooperation

US, Turkey to carry on Mideast cooperation

US, Turkey to carry on Mideast cooperation

On the eve of his visit to Turkey, US Vice President Joe Biden (2nd from L) visits and meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki (R), Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (2nd from R) and US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey in Baghdad. AP photo

The United States and Turkey will continue to work together on “pursuing shared interests” in the Middle East and North Africa as it is reshaped by the Arab Spring, according to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Responding to emailed questions from daily Hürriyet ahead of his landmark visit to Ankara that was due to start late yesterday, Biden said Turkey’s “economic leadership” could have a “transformative impact” in the region.

“We will continue to work with Turkey on pursuing shared interests in the Middle East and North Africa,” Biden said.

In the interview, Biden said Turkey was “a secular, majority-Muslim democracy with an open market economy” from whose experiences the Middle East and North Africa could benefit.

The U.S. considers Turkey a friend and a partner on a broad agenda of strategic issues, including 21st-century threats against NATO, the global economy, non-proliferation, missile defense and terrorism, Biden said. “It is difficult to find an international issue on which we do not consult and cooperate, to the benefit of both countries.”

Regarding the situation in Syria, Biden commended Turkey’s stance. “Turkey has been a real leader,” he said. “I commend Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s call for Mr. [Bashar al-]Assad to step down because of the regime’s treatment of its people, as well as Turkish leaders’ calls for others in the international community to support the Syrian people.”

Washington also welcomes Ankara’s “giving space” in Turkey to the Syrian opposition, Biden said. “We look forward to the broadening of international sanctions as a means to bring about change in Syria.”
The U.S. vice president completed his visit to Baghdad and Arbil yesterday and will visit Athens after his program in Ankara and Istanbul.

[HH] Seeking new sanctions against IranBiden, however, hinted that Turkey could do more against Iran.

“We continue to support a diplomatic solution to our concerns with Iran,” Biden said. “However, we also believe that putting pressure on Iran’s leadership is necessary to secure a negotiated settlement and that is why we encourage our partners, including Turkey, to take steps to impose new sanctions on Iran.”

The vice president, meanwhile, said the U.S. would not leave “chaos behind” when it withdraws its troops from Iraq.

He also said he disagreed with views suggesting the pullout would benefit the PKK in northern Iraq. “As the majority of U.S. forces have already withdrawn from Iraq, we do not expect that the security environment in northern Iraq will change dramatically,” Biden said.

Commenting on U.S. efforts against the PKK, Biden said he did not find the expectations of the Turkish side “unreasonable.” However, he did not hint at any additional steps the U.S. could take, other than unmanned aerial surveillance flights and attack helicopters which have been already provided. “We are consulting closely with Turkey on how we can provide additional help in the future,” he said.
Biden also reiterated his concerns on human rights issues in Turkey. “We have made known our concerns over such issues as lengthy pre-trial detention and restrictions on the freedom of expression affecting journalists and the Internet,” he said, adding that Turkey’s new constitution should “deepen respect for human rights for all Turkish citizens.”

Regarding the closed Halki Seminary, Biden said the reopening was overdue. “In many ways, Turkey has shown great tolerance toward minority religions. The continued closure of the seminary is an anomaly and an unnecessary mark against Turkey’s international image,” he said.