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Turkey: A More Awkward Partner?

Published on: August 4th 2007 13:08:40

The White House expected the victory of the ruling AK party in the July 22nd election and looks forward to continued close cooperation with Prime Minister Erdogan. “The balanced outcome was exactly what we wanted,” we were told. “Erdogan is politically stronger but does not enjoy enough votes in Parliament to force through constitutional changes.” One positive conclusion drawn by US officials is that a large-scale Turkish intervention in northern Iraq is now less likely. The Pentagon will now pressure the Kurdistan Regional Government to crack down on the PKK. Below the surface, however, there is some anxiety in Washington that relations with Turkey may have reached a turning point. An early test will come over Iran. Here, US hopes of avoiding a military confrontation with Tehran depend on isolating Iran from commercial interaction with the rest of the world, especially on energy. US officials thus view with concern the preliminary agreement between Ankara and Tehran to build a new pipeline connecting Iran to Turkmenistan. This conflicts directly with US hopes to bypass Iran with a pipeline under the Caspian Sea. Outside foreign policy, conservative circles in Washington – which remain resentful over Turkey’s unhelpfulness at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003 – are sensitive to what they regard as “Islamist” leanings in the new government. They will seek a tough US response should Erdogan renominate Foreign Minister Gul as its candidate for President. A Pentagon official commented to us: “Our relations with Turkey could go off track because of who is allowed to wear the hijab.”

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