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30 November 2010, Tuesday / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (C)
Turkey on Monday expressed caution over a massive release of confidential US diplomatic cables, a revelation that, in the words of Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, amounts to the “Sept. 11 of world diplomacy.”
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cast doubt on the credibility of the Internet site WikiLeaks and said his government would wait for the completion of the release of US documents before commenting on what the leaked documents have to say on Turkey and Turkish-US ties. “Let WikiLeaks spill the beans first, and then we will find out whether this is serious or not because the seriousness of WikiLeaks is doubtful,” Erdoğan told reporters ahead of a visit to Libya. 

The reaction from the opposition was also moderate. “Most of the revelations amount to declaration of what is already known,” said Oğuz Oyan, deputy chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). “But what is important is that what is widely known to be true has now been officially confirmed to be true.”

Turkey is in a delicate position regarding its response to cables released by online whistleblower WikiLeaks that have sparked global reaction. ‘The government will wait for the release of US documents in their entirety before commenting on what impact the leaked documents will have on Turkey and on Turkish-US ties,’ PM Erdoğan has said

The confidential diplomatic cables sent from the US Embassy in Ankara to Washington contain excerpts from US diplomats’ meetings with officials, journalists, experts and other private citizens, analyses of Turkish politics covering a time period stretching from 2002 to the final months of 2010 and records of meetings between Turkish and US officials on key bilateral issues. None of the documents leaked late on Sunday contained particularly disturbing or shocking information, although they contain critical statements about Prime Minister Erdoğan and some of his policies and reveal disagreements between the two allies on some issues, mainly Iran’s nuclear program. Ankara stands out as the biggest source of the leaked documents, after Washington, according to news reports.

The documents, especially those prepared in 2004-2006, reveal critical views held by US diplomats of Erdoğan and his advisers, who they say have “little understanding of politics beyond Ankara.” Erdoğan has surrounded himself with an “iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors,” says one document.

One document, which consists of the records of a 40-minute meeting between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, shows that Gordon tried to persuade Davutoğlu that Turkey’s efforts to mediate a deal between the West and Iran may not be entirely helpful or wise, but that Davutoğlu insisted on Turkey’s position.

“Noting that Davutoğlu had only addressed the negative consequences of sanctions or the use of military force, Gordon pressed Davutoğlu on Ankara’s assessment of the consequences if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. Davutoğlu gave a spirited reply, that “of course Turkey was aware of this risk,” the document, dated Nov. 17, 2009, reads. “Gordon noted that while we acknowledge that Turkey can be helpful as a mediator, some of the prime minister’s recent public comments raise questions about how Turkey sees this issue,” the document goes on. But Davutoğlu says some of Erdoğan’s comments on his ties with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were taken out of context and says: “Only Turkey can speak bluntly and critically to the Iranians … only because Ankara is showing public messages of friendship.”

Gordon insisted that Ankara should give a stern public message about the consequences if UN resolutions are ignored and Davutoğlu countered that Erdoğan had given just such a statement in Tehran during an earlier visit.

In a more recent meeting, US Undersecretary of State William Burns also urged Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu to support US-led action to convince the Iranian government that it is on the wrong course. Sinirlioğlu, who insisted that Turkey’s mediation efforts are the best way forward, conceded that most countries in the region see Iran as a threat. Sinirlioğlu said sanctions on Iran would “unite Iranians behind the regime and harm the opposition,” while Burns argued that sanctions “would convey the international community’s unity and determination.” The document, dated Feb. 25, 2010, says: “A visibly disheartened Sinirlioğlu conceded a unified message is important. He acknowledged the countries of the region perceive Iran as a growing threat: ‘Alarm bells are ringing even in Damascus’.”

In another document, dated Feb. 27, 2009, the US Embassy mentions reports that Turkey and Iran had established a joint venture company to develop gas in Iran and build a pipeline to bring this gas to Turkey and Europe. A Turkish private company, owned by a person said to be a high school friend of Erdoğan, was involved in the deal.

Another document strikes a more conciliatory tone: “Turkey understands and partially shares US and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but is hesitant to use harsh language in public statements, in part due to its dependence on Iran as an energy supplier and as a trade route to Central Asian markets.”

Cooperation on PKK

The US Embassy documents confirm that Turkish-US cooperation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), initiated in 2007, is still under way. One document says success of the Turkish military’s campaign against the PKK, supported by US intelligence sharing, “has given the civilians the political space to explore this ‘opening’.”

“Our 2007 decision to share operational intelligence was a turning point for the bilateral relationship, and President Obama’s declaration before the Turkish Parliament of our continuing commitment to support Turkey’s fight against the PKK was warmly welcomed. This cooperation has helped to improve our bilateral relationship across the board. Turkey’s military leaders value this intelligence and the advice our military leaders give them. Our work has made it difficult for PKK terrorists to use northern Iraq as a safe haven,” says the document.

Israeli ambassador on ties with Turkey

The US documents say the Turkish Foreign Ministry and General Staff agree with the US administration that Turkish-Israeli ties are essential for regional stability, while Prime Minister Erdoğan “has sought to shore up his domestic right political flank at the expense of this relationship.” In a document dated Oct. 27, 2009, Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Gaby Levy also seems to agree with the Americans that the deterioration in ties with Turkey is solely attributable to Erdoğan. Levy told US diplomats that “Davutoğlu had relayed a message to him through the visiting Czech foreign minister that ‘things will get better.’ He had also fielded messages from senior civil servants … urging him to weather quietly Erdoğan’s harsh public criticisms of Israel. Levy dismissed political calculation as a motivator for Erdoğan’s hostility, arguing the prime minister’s party had not gained a single point in the polls from his bashing of Israel. Instead, Levy attributed Erdoğan’s harshness to deep-seated emotion: ‘He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously’ and his hatred is spreading,” the document reads. An embassy comment follows statements of the Israeli ambassador: “Our discussions with contacts both inside and outside of the Turkish government on Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Israel tend to confirm Levy’s thesis that Erdoğan simply hates Israel.”

Davutoğlu ‘exceptionally dangerous’

One document, dated Dec. 30, 2004, says Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, widely seen as the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy, was referred to as “exceptionally dangerous” by one of Turkish ministers, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül. “With regard to Islamist influences on Erdoğan, Defense Minister Gönül, who is a conservative but worldly Muslim, recently described Davutoğlu to us as ‘exceptionally dangerous,’” says the document.