Reuters

06.07.2010
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Part 1, July 6
Turkey's president says Israel acting irrationally
By Simon Cameron-Moore



ABOARD THE TURKISH PRESIDENT'S AIRCRAFT

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul said on Tuesday that divisions within Israel's coalition were stopping the Jewish state repairing relations ruined by the storming of a Gaza-bound aid ship over a month ago.

Speaking to Reuters while returning from an official visit to Kazakhstan, Gul said Israel's apparent readiness to become more isolated by ditching relations with a country that had been its only Muslim ally was irrational.

"They don't have many friends in the region, " Gul said. "Now it seems they want to get rid of the relationship with Turkey."
The United States, a mutual ally of Israel and NATO-member Turkey, has quietly encouraged the two governments to overcome their differences.

But in comments as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to meet President Barack Obama in the United States on Tuesday, Gul said that he believed bitter rivalries within the Israeli coalition were stopping a rapprochement.

"As far as I can see, the internal political strife in Israel is very harsh. They undermine each other... they always block one another," Gul said.

"It is important that everyone is aware of what kind of politics is going on there," Gul said. "My own impression is that they don't have the ability to act rationally."

Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli marines stormed the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara in international waters on May 31, after which Turkey withdrew its ambassador, suspended joint military exercises and closed Turkish airspace to Israeli military planes.

APOLOGY

Turkey has demanded an apology, compensation for victims' families and an international inquiry into the incident. It doubts the impartiality of an Israeli inquiry begun last month.

Turkey also led calls for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned on Monday that Turkey would not wait forever and without going into specifics he said Turkey would cut off ties if Israel failed to start making amends.

Should the Israeli commission rule that the raid was indeed unfair and the Israeli government apologised in line with those findings, Turkey could be satisfied, Davutoglu added.

Israel maintains the marines fired in self defence after a boarding party was attacked by activists armed with metal clubs and knives.

Israel has partially relaxed its blockade of Gaza following the international outcry over the incident, but argues that a blockade is needed to choke off the supply of arms to Hamas Islamists running the enclave of 1.5 million people.
Gul said a meeting between ministers of the two governments in Brussels last Wednesday was requested by the Israeli side and was supposed to have been secret; but news of the talks was leaked by other factions in Netanyahu's cabinet who wanted to stop any progress.

"There were those who were not happy with this, and the situation remains frozen."

The meeting between Davutoglu and Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer had been the first face to face contacts between senior officials since the attack on the aid flotilla on May 31.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had not been informed of the meeting as a row broke out within the Israeli cabinet.

Netanyahu subsequently said that while his government regretted the loss of life and wanted to stop relations deteriorating further there would be no apology as the Israeli soldiers had acted in self-defence. Lieberman also ruled out an apology.
Although Turkey is heading towards an election a year away, and politics are highly charged, there has been cross-party support for the government's stance towards Israel.

Part 2, July 7

Turkey's President Looks Beyond European Myopia
Peering out of his aircraft window at the energy-rich lands of Central Asia 35,000 feet (10,000 metres) below, President Abdullah Gul wondered how opponents of Turkey's bid for EU membership could fail to see the big picture.

"Everyone knows Turkey's biggest contribution will be in the field of energy," Gul told Reuters on his way home from Kazakhstan, a country courted for its mineral resources by China, Russia and the West.

In the new "Great Game" being played out across Eurasia, Turkey's role as a landbridge for pipelines bringing oil and gas from Central Asia and the Middle East will be a crucial for Europe's energy security.

But old doubts about letting in a Muslim country of 71 million people, many of whom still live in the backward areas of eastern Anatolia, have held Europe back. For all recent reforms, some sceptics still see a country haunted by the economic turmoil and military interventions of the late 20th century.

Some of the EU's 27 members, Gul said, were erecting "artificial obstacles" without any sense of long-term vision over the advantages of having a secular, Muslim country with a fast growing economy in the club.

"If you sacrifice strategic objectives for tactical considerations you will never be a big player," Gul said.
Five years have elapsed since Turkey entered formal negotiations to enter the EU.

In that time, Turkey has completed one chapter, the term given to subjects for negotiation, and opened 13 others, leaving 21 to go.

EUROPEAN AMBITIONS

All but three of the remaining chapters are blocked, including, to Gul's consternation, the one on energy.

The hold up is mostly due to an impasse over the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member whose Greek Cypriot government has obstructed Turkey's progress throughout because of Ankara's support for Turkish Cypriots who broke away in 1974.
But Turkish EU campaigners might argue the Cyprus issue has become a device for other countries that want to keep Turkey out.

"Some countries, even though they are not directly affected, are hiding behind this matter to create artificial obstructions," Gul said.

NATO member Turkey's concerted efforts to forge relations with its eastern neighbours, the Middle East, the Islamic World, as well as Russia and the former Soviet bloc countries, has led to some critics saying it is turning away from the West.
Some go further, saying the choice of new friends, like Iran and Syria, is a mark of the ruling AK party's Islamist pedigree.
Gul dismisses such notions as misconceived.

For Turkey, gaining admission to the EU is the top priority of state policy, he said.

The AK Party he belonged to before becoming president in 2007 has been the driving force, and while critics still talk of its Islamist roots, the party likens itself to a Muslim version of Europe's christian democrats.

Turkey, Gul said, was committed to the ideals of democracy, human rights, free markets, gender equality, and transparency and accountability and was intent on promoting those values.

The youth, intellectuals, and politicians in many Muslim countries, according to Gul, have been inspired by watching Turkey change.

OTTOMAN LEGACY

"Turkey has become a sort of central attraction," Gul said. "Everybody is questioning themselves and saying; If Turkey can realise this, we can realise this too."

Improving relations with Eastern neighbours, and seeking to grow markets in the Middle East, Africa and the wider Islamic World as well as former Soviet bloc countries didn't compromise Turkey's EU goal, Gul said.

It was natural for a country to engage with former dominions of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus, Gul said, in the same way that Britain cherished its ties with the Commonwealth and Spain retains its links with Latin America, including some radical states.

"Turkey's orientation is being confused with its contacts and relations -- these are separate things."
Having good relations with neighbours, was part of a vision to spread stability and security needed to bring prosperity to a a region whose governments have neglected their people by squandering resources on war, conflict and confrontation.
Relations with eastern neighbours have opened up markedly an alliance with Israel, however, has soured since Israeli forces boarded a Turkish aid ship on its way to Gaza, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists.

The new foreign policy approach will not be without its setbacks. But Ankara clearly sees the opening as a driving force for its own domestic development and a key selling point to those Europeans yet to recognise Gul's big picture.
"Turkey is like a stability generator in the region," Gul said.

 

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