Sunday, October 21, 2007

Turkey Recalls Ambassador From U.S. as Tensions Escalate Over Vote

Global Insight
October 12, 2007

Turkey Recalls Ambassador From U.S. as Tensions Escalate Over
Armenian Genocide Vote

by Mandy Kirby

Turkey remained defiant today, following a referral of the Armenian
genocide resolution to the U.S. House of representatives.

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the United States for
"consultation", following the decision of U.S. House of
Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to refer a bill recognising as
genocide the 1915-1918 slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman
Empire troops. The Turkish government said that Ambassador Nabi
Sensoy has not been permanently recalled, but would be in Turkey for
some days to discuss further action.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul was quick to condemn the resolution as
a betrayal of his country from one of its key allies, within minutes
of the vote on 10 October. Turkey accepts that atrocities were
carried out, but has denied genocide, as well the number of 1.5
million generally accepted by historians. Turkey has asked for a
joint commission of Armenian and Turkish historians to be convened,
and wants recognition for the thousands of Turks and others who died
during the civil and military unrest of the time, in atrocities
carried out by several states. However, more than 20 countries have
passed similar resolutions, calling on Turkey to accept its past.

Global Insight

Significance Turkey has recalled its Ambassador to the U.S. for
"consultations" following the passing of a resolution recognising as
genocide the 1915-1918 slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by troops
of Ottoman Turkey.

Despite the opposition of key administration members, including
President George W. Bush, the resolution's future is now in the hands
of the House of Representatives, and Turkish-U.S. relations are under
threat, paving the way for scrabbling diplomacy to ensure the fallout
does not extend into regional destabilisation.

The deterioration in relations with the United States heightens the
risk of Turkey taking unilateral action in pursuit of Kurdish rebels
into northern Iraq. Turkey could also threaten to limit U.S. access
to the Incirlik air base, which provides logistical support to U.S.
troops in Iraq. However, Global Insight believes that any such
unilateral action is highly unlikely.

Risk Ratings
This is potentially the most serious issue to have hit U.S.-Turkish
relations. The implications radiate into the region, which can ill
afford destabilisation. On a positive note, Turkish-U.S. business
relations are unlikely to suffer, although Turkish public opinion has
certainly shifted towards general opposition to the United States as
whole. Currently, Turkey's security-risk rating reflects the tense
border situation, but a risk upgrade would be necessary in the event
of Turkish unilateral action in Iraq.

Iraq Threat

>From the perspective of the U.S. administration, the situation is
fraught with difficulties. Leading members had warned against the
timing of resolution, with Turkey set to tackle the increasingly
critical issue of separatist rebels in the southern Turkish and
northern Iraqi regions. The content of the resolution provoked a
similar warning, as it calls for the resolution to inform U.S.
foreign policy. Opponents include President George W Bush, as well as
Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, who condemned the actions of the vote as endangering U.S.
national security interests, hinting that the action would endanger
U.S. troops serving in Iraq.

The reasons for this are twofold; Turkey has recently moved to a more
aggressive position to pursue Kurdish rebels, debating authorizing a
cross-border incursion in pursuit of rebels from the Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK), largely based in the northern Iraqi regions, and
in particular in the difficult terrain of the Qandil mountains.
Secondly, a considerable concern for the United States is the
possibility that access to the Incirlik base would be restricted or
closed down. The base provides significant logistical support to U.S.
troops in Iraq, acting as a cargo conduit. Although the United States
has functioned without Turkish support in the past when in 2003
parliament voted against opening a second front into Iraq, loss of
access to Incirlik could compromise U.S. operations in the short

Terrorism Issue Paramount to Turkey

The issue of separatist rebels should not be underestimated; it has
now taken on paramount importance for Turkey, and the genocide
resolution gives the government a pretext to take a more hard-line
approach to the issue. The Turkish government, seeing public opinion
sway after a raft of recent fatalities of soldiers and civilians, and
a key report discussed in the last week over rebel capabilities,
changed its position earlier this year. Then it gave assurances that
parliament would be consulted over any incursions into Iraq,
stressing this would be a last resort (see Turkey: 13 June 2007: ).
Now, it feels the threat is justifying a stronger response. The U.S.
is clearly and vehemently opposed to unilateral Turkish action across
the border, which it fears would destabilise Iraq's northern
Kurdish-dominated regions. Although Turkey and Iraq recently signed
co-operation agreements on rebel pursuit, the autonomous Kurdish
administration (KRG) has paid little heed to these, and is unwilling
to get involved in the dangerous pursuit of rebels, leaving many to
conclude that northern Iraq is something of a safe haven. Previous
attempts to track rebels have had mixed success, and the Turkish
military now believes that only a sustained presence in a roughly
60-kilometre border region would have a marked effect on rebel
presence. The present, periodic "hot pursuits" do not do enough to
damage rebel infrastructure, and even cross-border operations are
unlikely to succeed if they are too brief, the government believes.
While Turkey has carried these out in the past, such operations have
has always had the support of the Iraqi government, which is visibly
lacking now.

Outlook and Implications

Turkey has been incensed by the passing of the genocide resolution by
the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, although the
issue is by no means unanimously decided. The committee voted 27-21
to approve the resolution, which will now be formally put to the
House of Representatives. Its fate there lies in the hands of the
Democrats that control the chamber. The Republicans are largely
against passing the measure, and in this instance the issue more the
usefulness of this particular resolution, its wording, and--most
critically of all--its timing.

Other relationships will be affected; the situation has implications
for Turkey's position as a European Union (EU) candidate state, with
France leading a call for recognition of genocide--although this
throws up controversies too, as President Nicholas Sarkozy
controversially told Algerians subjected to atrocities under French
rule that the sons could not be expected to apologise for the sins of
their fathers. When the French resolution was passed, Turkey
suspended contacts with the French military, but France has the upper
hand in this situation, being able to prevent Turkey's EU ambitions.

Although the Iraqi government will protest any unilateral moves, it
has difficulties of its own, with the KRG not heeding messages from
central government, and more keen to protect its own. Pressure is
unlikely to be brought to bear, given the risk of an move by the
region to secede--taking the oil and gas-rich city of Kirkuk with
it--a fear shared by Iraq, the United States and Turkey. Relations
with Israel may also suffer, with Turkey unhappy that its ally,
Israel, did not push harder to prevent the resolution from being
voted on; the Israeli line remains that historians and not
politicians should and that the issue is an internal U.S. one.
Additionally, the Anti-Defamation League reversed its position in
August this year and declared the slaughter of the Armenians
"tantamount to genocide".

Turkey's reaction may well be seen as rash. Had it held off acting,
and taken this non-binding resolution in a different spirit, this
obstacle could have been overcome. Instead, there is now less scope
for compromise. Turkey, which has exhibited reactionary foreign
policy often in the past, will now be looking for reassurance and
concessions from the United States. This may happen in some respect,
and go towards soothing Turkish sensitivities, but the United States
will not jeopardise its own interests, and will extend only nominal,
placatory measures. The critical issue is whether bilateral relations
will be damaged more profoundly; Turkey has felt increasingly
sensitive to the lack of support it perceives over the rebel issue.
U.S.-Turkish business relations are less likely to suffer, being well
established. This is small comfort ahead of a tense few days to
ensue, with backroom diplomacy going into overdrive.

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