Friday, April 9, 2010
U.S. President Obama will be hosting an unprecedented nuclear security summit in Washington on April 12 and 13. Obama, after passing health care reform in Congress, received a big boost in his standing. And after this historic achievement, he now wants to go on a roll by building international consensus on a variety of nuclear non-proliferation issues, as well as he is hoping to find some solidarity among the international actors against Iran's misbehavior.
In the last couple of weeks, the Obama administration has signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, with the Russians to cut both countries' nuclear arsenals by one-third.
The Obama administration also released its New Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, last Tuesday, and declared to the world that he is radically narrowing down the conditions under which the U.S. could use nuclear weapons.
Obama spelled out his “nuclear dream” almost a year ago in Prague for the first time. In that speech, Obama said he would work to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S.'s National Security Policy and eventually work to fully eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth, even though he will probably not see such a goal realized in his life.
In both of these cases, START and NPR, Obama has been criticized by the left and right on the domestic political spectrum. The liberals think that already Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama did not go far enough (such as Michael Levi). And the conservatives think that Obama is weakening the country by putting too many constraints on its biggest deterrence policy (like Tunku Varadarajan.)
On the other hand, Obama is realistic enough to see that he needs two-thirds of a majority of the Senate to ratify international treaties such as START, and it means that as long as he does not secure some of the Republican support, however big the promises he wishes to extend to world, he will end up failing at home.
The nuclear security summit that will start on Monday also stems from another goal that was set in Prague a year ago by Obama, which was to do more to prevent nuclear arsenals from falling into the hands of non-state actors.
Turkey will be attending the summit as well, but not because it has much to say on the topic, but because it sits at the U.N. Security Council and its proximity to Iran.
While the Turkish Prime Minister visibly increased his anti-sanctions posture recently, according to the latest reports, China and Russia have been moving slowly to support some kind of sanctions against Iran. The final version of the sanctions will not be tough or as “biting” as America or more importantly like Israel wishes to see, according to experts. Still it looks like we are headed to a voting day at the U.N. Security Council this spring.
Will there be a bilateral meeting?
While it took some time for the prime minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan, to make his decision to participate in the summit, following this decision to visit, the Turkish side expected to secure a “bilateral” meeting with Obama. When the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced that Obama would have a one-to-one meeting with the president of Armenia, Serge Sarkisian, but not with Erdoğan, it felt like another cold shower for the Turkish delegation that is gearing up to leave for Washington.
I reached a senior White House official after Gibbs announced that there would be no meeting bilaterally or trilaterally with Turkey. The senior official, who wanted to stay anonymous, confirmed the no-meeting news but added that "[they] expect the president will have a chance to talk with PM Erdoğan as they will be seated next to each other at one of the events."
Namik Tan, who was recalled after the resolution of "genocide" passage at the key House Committee last month, returned to Washington Tuesday night, and had some meetings at the White House the next day.
Mr. Tan, during his meeting in the White House, along with other issues, raised the issue of “bilateral” meetings as well, but the reaction he received from the White House was the same reaction that I received from the senior White House official a day before.
Though I must add, the Turkish diplomats believe that there will be a “bilateral” meeting between Obama and Erdoğan at the end, even though the current ambiguity is a bulky annoyance.
The meeting between the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Armenian leader Sarkisian is already agreed on, but still the parties are working on the details.
Erdoğan recently sent his special envoy, Mr. Feridun Sinirlioglu, to Erivan to deliver a letter. According to people who know the developments first hand, the “meetings in Erivan went well."
The Turkish administration also believes that "there are some hopeful signs in terms of reaching a some kind of understanding over the Karabakh issue" with Armenia. The reaction from Armenians is not the same. Instead, the Armenian side insists that the Karabakh issue was not even addressed before and during the signing of protocols last year, according to daily Radical.
Different Armenian officials have constantly given the same message with the backing of the U.S. and many other European countries in recent months, which is that they already did enough work for the protocols and rest is up to the Turkish administration. "It is impossible to ratify protocols before April 24," says the Turkish side, while the Armenian diaspora is increasing pressure and lobbying the White House in run up to the April 24.
‘Nuclear option’ for genocide?
From various discussions in circles in Washington recently, there is another option being implied to handle the issue of “genocide” in Turkey. I would call this “thinking” the “nuclear option” and it basically suggests Turkey consider what would happen if it changes its official view of the 1915 events, which it does not see as genocide currently. This option is not valid before the 24 April apparently, but can be put into perspective in times to come.
Omer Taspinar, director of the Turkey Program at the Brookings Institution, a Washington based think tank, gave one of the most “straight” talks of this option in Washington at the Gulenist Rumi Forum last week. Taspinar suggested that Turkey has not compromised yet as Armenia did during the “normalization process.” According to Taspinar, Turkey should come to terms with regarding to the events of 1915 as well.
Taşpınar also predicted in a phone conversation later on that, "there is a 99 percent chance that, this year like the last year, President Obama will cite the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia and avoid using the word of genocide while he will give his annual Armenian Remembrance Day statement on April 24."