This just in via Nicholas Kristof’s Twitter feed:
Middle East sparks here in Davos. At a panel discussion, the Turkish prime minister walked out in a huff after Israeli president spoke.
My interest is piqued because I was just reading this article on reviving the American-Turkish alliance from Middle East Progress, the Middle East section of the increasingly influential Center for American Progress. (CAP is headed by John Podesta, the leader of Obama’s tranisition team.) The Middle East Progress article points out all of Turkey and the US’s shared interests in the Middle East:
As many of my Turkish interlocutors pointed out, the United States and Turkey share many goals, particularly in the broader Middle East and South Asia. Both countries are concerned about finding a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict; do not want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon; are involved in NATO operations in Afghanistan; cooperate on counter-terrorism, particularly against the PKK; and are worried about Lebanese stability (Turkey supports UNIFIL and has troops in the force), as well as ensuring Iraqi stability.
Turkey was even mediating talks between Syria and Israel late last year. But Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza inflamed anti-Israel sentiment not just in the Arab world, but also in the larger Muslim world, and, for that matter, much of the rest of the world. (Remember when Bolivia cut off diplomatic ties with Israel?) And during the war Turkey came out in support of Hamas–or at least opposed to the Israelis–while then-President-elect Obama kept silent. But it is up to Obama to save this important relationship. MEP concludes:
The Obama administration has the opportunity to rebuild these ties. Many Turks are eager to see improved relations between the United States and their country. Questions from my interlocutors suggested that aside from his statements on the Armenia genocide legislation issue, President Obama’s tenure was eagerly anticipated. This attitude gives his administration the ability to salve relations, but it will require an understanding of and attention to Turkey’s perspective. Repeatedly I heard that Turks wanted to see Ankara included as a stop on Obama’s first trip to Europe; the Obama administration could go beyond this by showing its continued support for its ally’s accession into the EU. Turks also want to see Obama rebuff a genocide resolution that might scuttle progress made between Ankara and Yerevan. Most of all, they hope that the United States under President Obama will place a heavier emphasis on diplomacy rather than military force and will respect Turkey’s choice of pursuing better relations with all of its neighbors, even those neighbors with which the United States has no relations.
Turkey must also do its part in rebuilding relations. If it wants to act as mediator, it must show that it is a constructive partner in these efforts. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has shown that it is adept at reading the concerns of its constituency; part of the reason that Erdogan spoke out so forcefully about Gaza is that critical municipal elections are set for March. Yet with no strong opposition, the AKP should also be ahead of its constituency in regaining its place as an important mediator between Israel and its neighbors. It should also continue the processes of democratization that have slowed due to last year’s judicial showdown and the growing sense of frustration with the EU process. Finally, Ankara should be more receptive to U.S. requests, including greater cooperation on Iraq and Afghanistan and help dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue.
But how will Washington and Ankara deal with a rift over Israeli aggression in Gaza? We’ll have to see. Turkey is a good partner for the United States for a number of reasons, one of them being their attitude toward Israel. At least until now. Kristof’s Tweet makes me think that this problem could continue.
I expect that there will be news stories about this within the next few hours. Keep your eyes open.