Saturday, July 31, 2010

Francis J. Ricciardone and Namık Tan

Turkish Ambassador to the United States Namık Tan spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, on Thursday afternoon, in an event organized by Bülent Aliriza, Director of the CSIS Turkey Project.
The timing of the speech was significant, as it came just two days after the confirmation hearings of the newly appointed United States ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, which were held at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ambassador Tan's remarks at the Center consisted of responses to both Ricciardone’s Senate hearing and other U.S. officials’ statements criticizing Turkey’s foreign policy practices.
In his speech, Tan again reminded U.S. policy makers that the Turkish administration values Turkish-U.S. relations highly and that its expectations of the multi-leveled “model partnership” remained high. Tan laid out some of the collisions in which Turkey has been or may yet be extremely helpful to the U.S., for example finding reconciliation paths acceptable to conflicting parties in the region.
Mr. Ricciardone did not refer to the “model partnership” in his Congressional testimony, a term that was first applied by Obama during his visit to Ankara in April, 2009. Responding to a question, he recalled that the first time he was in Turkey, as he was starting his career as a young diplomat, that there was a coup d’etat. “Now those days are unthinkable,” he said. He went on to speak about some of the positive developments in Turkey in recent years.
During Ricciardone’s confirmation testimony on Tuesday, it was heard again that the U.S. administration was disappointed with Turkey’s choice to vote against the United Nations Security Council resolution 1929, and was concerned about the deterioration of Turkey’s relations with Israel.
During the Q&A section of the confirmation process with Foreign Relations Committee Members, Mr. Ricciardone also argued that if Turkey wanted to be influential in the region, it needed to have good relations with Israel. “I think the Turks understand this,” he said. When Ricciardone was responding to question from Senator Robert Menendes, who is known for his close ties to the Armenian lobbies and fund raisers questions, he reaffirmed that he will work to convey tough messages regarding Armenia to Turkey and would do everything to underscore the U.S’s priorities.
At the CSIS, Tan addressed the Iranian nuclear issue which has prompted a set of questions over Turkey’s unequivocal loyalty to the Western alliance in recent times. Tan said, “Turkey’s Western vocation is an irreversible process…The discussion on the so called ‘shift of axis’ in Turkish foreign policy is simply wrong.” Referring to the Tehran Reactor Deal, the Turkish ambassador once again argued that Turkey actually “fulfilled almost all of the preconditions that were relayed to us regarding Iran... by Obama” in a letter that was sent to the Brazilian President. Consequently, he said, the U.S. leadership should have praised Turkey’s role instead of being disappointed by it.
Turkey’s “serious efforts to reconcile disputing parties” in various countries were cited by Tan one by one in the beginning of the speech. He said Turkey had seriously tried to reconcile “Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites as well as Arabs and Kurds; Bosnian Muslims and Serbs; opposing groups in Lebanon, Iranians and the international community; and until recently, Israelis and Arabs,” in addition to other contributions in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul.
The Obama administration made it clear from the beginning that its top foreign affairs agenda is the Arab-Israeli peace process. However, Turkey’s relations with Armenia, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are other matters that of especial concern. Washington has spent enormous time and effort, through levels extending to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to see Turkey go decisively through its own reconciliation processes.
Mr. Ricciardone has recently been attacked by some of the leading Neo-con law makers, the former policy makers and experts of Washington when he was posted in the Cairo service between 2005 and 2009. Critics argued that he was not strongly pushing the Bush freedom agenda in Egypt, following the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s stern Cairo speech in 2005. Steven Cook, who talked to “Foreign Policy” recently, drew another picture in which Mr. Riccairdone was a cautious diplomat who was balancing the conflicting roles he had to play while calling for more political reforms within Egypt and also securing Mubarak’s support for the whole set of other issues in the region.
Ricciardone stated that during the hearings the old way of handling the affairs between the U.S. and Turkey were now filled with many “if” questions. Ricciardone told the Committee members that he had never heard “if” come up in the past while discussing Turkey’s alliance with the West. Such a thing would have been considered “beyond any question,” Ricciardone said, adding, “we always thought of Turkey as an example of a Muslim majority country with secular democracy... which is imperfect though as a moderate alternative to Iran.” Ricciardone asserted, “I need to understand it myself, how the country has evolved and changed.” It could also be argued that, in these remarks, Ricciardone was indirectly referring to the change of axis debates, and hinted that he saw some of the arguments raised in those debates as credible.
Tan’s description of Turkey is another significant part of the speech in which he argued that Turkey “is a secular and predominantly Muslim nation that has multiple regional identities, with an increasingly vocal standing in global affairs,” and the U.S. which is “a Western nation with a Christian majority that holds direct responsibility for global stability as the sole super power.”
In these descriptions, Tan eloquently elaborated the roles of both countries, America as a global power and Turkey, with its Muslim identity, a regional one. Tan made these delineations early in his speech, preparing the context to start debating other matters, so that following matters addressed in his speech could be seen in light of these defined roles which have also been attached, in recent years, to various contexts by Ankara as well.
If Ricciardone is confirmed as expected, arguments about the shift of axis, strained Turkey-Israel and flourishing Turkey-Iran relations will continue to be the source of many Turkey discussions. However, since the rhetoric over the flotilla crisis has somewhat died down recently, Turkish arguments have been put forward more forcefully in Washington. And whether one would buy into those arguments, they have been articulated in a more elegant manner by the Turkish Embassy staff in Washington than in sometime.

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