Biden’s visit to Turkey a turkey, yields one-sided demands

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Vice President Joe Biden’s two-day diplomatic trip to Turkey has apparently yielded nothing beyond a list of Turkish diplomatic demands.

The trip’s high point was a two-hour meeting with Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, whom President Barack Obama has treated as a trusted adviser on Middle East issues. Biden walked away from the meeting with no commitments or promises from the Turks for tougher sanctions on Iran, or for improved relations with Israel.

“We’re talking about a bilateral relationship, as they say, [and there] is no free lunch,” Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan told The Daily Caller during a Dec. 7 breakfast event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

However, he said, the U.S. administration is willing to help Turkey, and has recently sent four high-tech drone spy aircraft to a U.S. airbase near a war-torn separatist Turkish region.

Kurds in Turkey are fighting to secede and join with a the U.S.-friendly Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The Turkey–U.S. cooperation “is at the highest level, stated by President Obama,” Tan said. “They know what we want and we expect them to deliver, and it included the drones,” Tan said, who attended the meetings with between Biden and Turkish officials.

“We do have specific request or demands. … There are many items in that regard, but unfortunately it is not proper to list all those of what we want,” Tan said.

Erdogan is the elected Islamist prime minister who is trying to roll back Turkey’s secular laws and regulations.

For example, he is replacing secular judges and generals, ending the ban on Islamic head-scarves for women, and has reversed Turkey alliance with Israel by backing HAMAS-allied Islamist groups in Turkey. He also also sued and jailed journalists and has turned one ancient Christian church over to Muslim leaders who plan to convert it in to a mosque.

Turkey shares many foreign policy goals with Obama. Both have pressured Egypt’s ruling military to cede power, pushed Syria’s dictator to quit and spurred opposition to the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Biden travelled to Turkey as part of Obama’s effort to improve relations with Muslim countries. In a pre-trip briefing, Biden advisor Anthony Blinken told reporters that “there are few international issues on which we do not consult closely with Turkey. … In many, many areas we’re working very, very closely with Turkey.”

One reason for this reliance, he said, is Turkey’s status as a “bridge” between the West and the Muslim world. “Turkey has, in many ways, a unique role to play as a bridge between these different worlds, an ability to talk to different countries in ways that are extremely helpful,” he said on Nov. 28.

However, Blinken declined to name any concession given by Turkey in exchange for U.S. support. “There are areas where we clearly have disagreements with our ally and partner, and we have the kind of mature relationship which we can make those disagreements known,” said Blinken, who accompanied Biden to Turkey.

The Dec. 3 meeting between Biden and Erdogan took place at the prime minster’s house and was scheduled to last 45 minutes, but stretched to 2 hours, according to a briefing given to U.S. reporters by an official who accompanied Biden on the trip.

“They spent about half of the meeting talking about Iraq [and] the Vice President gave them a very detailed readout of the trip, his meetings, the key takeaways,” said an unnamed official. Biden also talked about the U.S. help against Kurdish secessionists, and about the U.S. desire to toughen sanctions on Iran, the official said.

Tan, however, said Turkey will comply with international sanctions on Iran, and declined to urged tougher sanctions.

“We have complied with each and every sanction that has been introduced through the United Nation and on various occasions,” he said.

“What we want from Iran is good neighborly relations … [but] we cannot tolerate Iran having nuclear weapons.”

Late in the meeting, Biden also cited the growing antagonism by Erdogan’s government towards Israel.

The conflict spilled into the open in 2010, when Erdogan’s government allowed a flotilla of ships to leave a Turkish port carrying supplies for a Hamas enclave in Gaza.

Israel’s navy maintains an embargo on the enclave because it wants to stop Iran and other countries shipping weapons to the Israel-hating Hamas government. The flotilla was stopped by the Israeli navy, but on one ship Islamists attacked the Israeli boarding party, captured some Israelis, and began a battle in which nine Islamists were killed.

“Israel killed our people,” Tan said. “What would you expect for us to do? Just to remain indifferent or turn a blind eye to this gross violation of international law?”

However, Tan offered, “if they want to make the apology and pay the compensation, we can move on, and we can leave this whole complication behind and normalize our relations.”

Biden neither challenged the Turkish claim nor supported Israel’s self-defense against Hamas supporters.

“He expressed our hope that both Turks and Israelis would look for opportunities to strengthen their relationship and to get over the recent tensions,” said the U.S. official. “It pains us to see two of our closest friends and partners not getting along so well, and that we would continue to encourage both to look for opportunities to strengthen their relationship.”

“Our U.S. counterparts, at all levels, starting from the president down to any individual desk officer,” said Tan, “they know what we want, and they have been clear enough to indicate their willingness to help us.”

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Neil Munro