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A Capital Report Special Report: Senator McCain Keynotes Middle East Institute’s Third Annual Conference on Turkey

Volume 4, Issue 3

May/June 2012—No. 03 (202) 785-8430

AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.

The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.

A Capital Report Special Report: Senator McCain Keynotes Middle East Institute’s Third Annual Conference on Turkey

AHI attended the Middle East Institute’s Third Annual Conference on Turkey held at The National Press Club, June 27, 2012.

The conference opened with Senator John McCain who offered the keynote speech. He spoke on the new dynamic geo-political environment of the Middle East and argued that the tectonic shifts of the Arab Spring provide an excellent opportunity for the US-Turkish alliance to forge deeper, durable and better strategic cooperation that will mutually serve the countries’ national interests in the 21st century. In his view, the two countries need to deal with each other realistically and invest in each other’s success without mistrust and the U.S. should embrace Turkey in order to advance its strategic interests within the Middle East.

He identified three areas that the two states can collaborate: (1) terrorism, through closer cooperation between the countries’ Intelligence Communities and banking systems, (2) trade, through the establishment of a Free Trade Area (FTA) between the two countries, and finally, (3) defense through closer collaboration of the countries’ defense industries. 

Proceeding, Turkish Ambassador to U.S. Namik Tan confirmed the two countries’ important bonds and expressed his optimism for the direction the U.S.-Turkey relations are taking.

The first panel featured: Yalçın Akdoğan, member of Parliament, Justice and Development Party; Ruşen Çakır, Turkish Daily Vatan; Michael Gunter, Tennessee Technological University, and Levent Köker, Atilim University, who addressed Turkey's Domestic Calculus: The Kurds, the Constitution, and the Presidential System Debate.” Michael Werz, Center for American Progress, moderated the panel.

The second panel, “Turkey, the EU, and the U.S.: Evolving Partnerships Post-Arab Spring,” moderated by Sharon Wiener, senior advisor to the President, Koç University, featured speakers: Brice de Schietere, political counselor, delegation of the European Union to the U.S.; Ambassador Robert Pearson, president, IREX; Ambassador Ross Wilson, director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center-Atlantic Council, and Yaşar Yakış, president, STRATIM and former Turkish minister of Foreign Affairs.

Opening the panel, de Schietere argued that the EU accession process of Turkey has a new impetus as there has been a positive-dialogue-process based on realistic perceptions and mutual understanding. He believes that a plethora of new security-related issues (i.e. Syrian Crisis, Iran’s nuclear aspirations, Trans-Caucasian energy-security and humanitarian issues in the broader Muslim World) can foster a stronger EU-Turkey cooperative framework. He concluded that both have a lot to gain vis-à-vis the current challenges of the Middle East, thus he foresees positive development between the EU and Turkey. 

Proceeding, Ambassador Robert Pearson’s argued that the US-Turkish relations tend to be motivated by mutual security interests within the regional inter-state system and not so much by economic or human rights issues. In his view, while U.S. policymakers still struggle with some major questions with regard to Turkey’s true intentions within the Middle East, the two countries can substantially reinforce their partnership by focusing on the bilateral basis of the current regional security issues. While he argued that Turkey’s role will grow within the region, it needs to: (1) normalize relations with Israel and (2) solve the domestic issues of Secularism vs. Islamism and Democracy vs. Militarism.   

Following, Ambassador Ross Wilson argued that the Arab Spring, the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq and the stall of Turkey’s European accession, have all fostered U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations. At the end of his speech, he expressed his concerns as to what might go wrong in the US-Turkish relations, including: personnel changes in the two states’ bureaucratic apparatuses may lead to political discontinuities; war between Armenia and Azerbaijan may recalibrate United States foreign policy (especially due to the Armenian Diaspora’s influence in the U.S. Government) and further deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations, which will put greater pressure on the U.S.

At the end of the panel, Yaşar Yakış, argued that in order for Turkey to become influential it needs to compete with two states: (1) Iran, which seeks nuclear capability and, thus, it can severely alter the regional balance of power and (2) Egypt, which has a quasi-military regime, and hence, it can still project military power within the eastern part of the Mediterranean. At the end of his speech, Yakış spoke briefly about EU-Turkish relations by focusing on Cyprus, and specifically, the “Annan Plan.” He argued that after the negative vote on the referendum by the Greek-Cypriots in 2004, the European Council wanted to “punish” the Republic of Cyprus by establishing direct trade between the EU and the northern part of Cyprus and by bringing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). However, the Republic of Cyprus managed to block that after its accession into the European Union on May 1, 2004, according to Yakış. 

The third panel, “Turkey’s Leadership Role in an Uncertain Middle East,” moderated by Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief featured Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director, International Crisis Group; Yigal Schleifer, freelance journalist, and Robin Wright, senior fellow at the USIP and Wilson Center.

Joost Hiltermann’s spoke mainly on Turkish-Iraqi relations. In his assessment, a major breakthrough between Ankara and Baghdad may take place with the current Syrian crisis, which can function as a game-changer. For instance, he contends that, as the Syrian regime is getting internationally delegitimized, Iraq may choose Turkey as its gateway from the Middle East toward the Western markets.

Following, Yigal Schleifer focused on Turkish-Israeli relations arguing that the future of this relationship is “murky” because Turkey seems unwilling to normalize its relations with Israel (unless Israel officially apologizes, compensates and lifts the blockage at Gaza). However, he sees some signs of collaboration such as cooperation during the wildfires in Israel or the earthquakes in Turkey, which could potentially provide a basis of unofficial (civil-society) dialogue between the parties. In conclusion, Schleifer maintained that the countries need a great push in order to normalize their relations and this push, according to him, can solely come from the U.S.

In closing, Robin Wright spoke on Turkish-Syrian and the Turkish-Iranian relations. In her view, Turkey can play pivotal role in the current Syrian crisis by assisting economically the opposition, by providing security to refugees and political basis to the opposition, and by militarily assisting the Syrian Free Army. Regarding Turkish-Iranian relations, Wright argued that Iran has a deep-seated negative pre-judge against Turkey. Concluding, she characterized Turkey as the “China of Europe,” for it has remarkable economic growth, thus making the country both a giant of soft power and a model for other Muslim countries.

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Former NSA Brzezinski Talks Turkey at Brookings

The Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) at The Brookings Institution hosted a discussion with former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, May 2, 2012.  In his remarks, Brzezinski offered perspectives from his new book, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (Basic Books, 2012), on how the United States and Europe can better engage with Turkey. In the book, he asserts that only a vigorous and united West that includes Turkey and Russia will be able to combine power with principle to shape the future global order.

Brookings President Strobe Talbott and Güler Sabancı, chair of the Board of Trustees of Sabancı University, provided introductory remarks. Following Brzezinski’s remarks, Martin Indyk, vice president and director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, moderated a discussion with the audience in Washington. Sabancı University Professor Meltem Müftüler-Baç also moderated the discussion in Istanbul with students and a wider overseas audience who joined the event via videoconference.

According to Brzezinski, Eurasia is central to global peace. In particular, Brzenzinski’s arguments focus on Turkey’s inclusion and welcoming in the global political arena as an asset to the United States as well as a friend to Israel. In his remarks, he argued that the conflicts in Eurasia needs the United States involvement in order to address global problems through the role of “stabilizing the interrelationships… [as a ] balancer, influencer, but not direct participant in mainland conflicts.”

Brzenzinski argued that Turkey is “a model for the future development of Iran which has many social economic similarities to Turkey… [thus] Turkey is critical to the stability of the Middle East [and] is the most important largest democracy in the Middle East.” Brzenzinski believes that the United States and Turkey share many similarities in both the “security and political dimensions,” saying that even though “ we don’t always agree on everything … that is part of a normal, mature relationship between two countries that are guided by rather similar political principles and fundamentally common security interests.”

During the Q&A session, Brzenzinski provided his views on Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union, which in his opinion “is desirable,” as well as assessment and implications on Turkish-Israeli relations. In his view, “diversification of sources is essential” and Turkey has a major opportunity to play an energy role through the implementation of the Nabucco pipeline, the Azeri-Turkish initiative while at the same time acting as a balance against the energy dependence on Russia. Arguing that a closer relationship with Turkey is of interest to both the West and Turkey alike, he iterated that “it is not as much of a priority as it was some decades ago” but “if one looks at the larger picture, clearly closer association, more mutual engagement with the West, is in Turkey’s interest.”

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Washington’s “TRNC” Representative Comments on Cyprus Issue

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended a discussion held by Mr. Ahmet Erdengiz, Washington Representative of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” hosted by the Turkic-American Alliance (TAA), June 7, 2012.

In opening remarks, Erdengiz clarified his position that he is presenting the Turkish- Cypriot version of the emergence of the Cyprus issue because there has been no recent development on the Cyprus issue. His presentation was based on the notion that the Cyprus conundrum is a protracted, irreconcilable and irresolvable political enigma.  

 First, he compared the Cyprus enigma with the Israeli-Palestinian problematic as a “double-helix model” because in both cases there are two different and opposing narratives which, despite the fact that dwell side-by-side, are irreconcilable and irresolvable.

Additionally, the speaker provided a historical narrative of the island’s history from September 1571, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Cyprus, up until the mid-20th century, March 1964.

Erdengiz concluded by pointing out that there are two different peoples or communities with the same sovereign rights over the island and that the Cyprus conundrum is a protracted, irreconcilable and irresolvable political issue, which defies and eludes solutions over time. 

In the Q&A session, Erdengiz made it clear that Turkish-Cypriot objection to the natural gas deposit is not an issue of share but “a matter of status and principles” and “a matter of sovereignty.”  He accused the Republic of Cyprus that it rejected the Turkish-Cypriot proposal which had already been accepted by the American government. In addition, in response to a question related to the existence of Turkish troops on the island, Erdengiz stated the Turkish-Cypriot side does not want any kind of military presence in Cyprus. However, he added the Turkish military presence is utterly important for the time being because it provides security to the Turkish-Cypriots due to the deployment of Greek soldiers on the island.

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Brookings Discusses Greece’s Elections, Euro’s Future

AHI attended a policy discussion held at The Brookings Institution titled “Greek Elections and the Future of the Euro,” June 14, 2012.   The panelists included:  Vice President and Director of the Global Economy and Development at Brookings Kemal Dervis, Resident Brookings Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Desmond Lachman, Brookings Fellow Douglas Elliot, and Non-resident Brookings Senior Fellow and former U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Speckhard.  Thomas Wright, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, moderated the panel discussion.

The discussion centered on predictions for the June 17 elections in Greece. Another central topic was the probability of Greece exiting from the euro and the implications that would bring.

“In Greece, there are two views that are irreconcilable. On the one hand the Greeks hate austerity measures in the memorandum; yet on the other hand, the Greeks also don’t want to leave the euro,” said Elliot, who provided introductory statements on the euro topic and the consequences of exiting the eurozone. In his view, the problem is with the banking system that is in place. “Currency is the confidence people put in it, which means that when people [lose confidence and] begin to take euros out of the bank, the European Central Bank (ECB), there will be no euros left and they will need to borrow again. If everyone starts taking money out it will lead to a final summit, where the eurozone goes to its limits.” Elliot believes that Greece should remain in the euro because “strong currencies mutualize the risk” and argues for a “banking union to break the link between material banks and banks in the country.”

Ambassador Speckhard believes Greece is facing “a collapse of its main parties.” The result has been the distribution of votes among new parties and this type of coalition government reduces its overall effectiveness. Speckhard commented on the election of former prime ministers in Greece and the role patron relations has played in their election, noting the recurrence of  last names of prime ministers such as Karamanlis and Papandreou. In essence, this demonstrates the difficulty in changing the political process, the lack of transparency in the government as well as, perhaps, resistance to change. He predicts that parties will continue to stick with the existing memorandum. “Even the centrist parties need to reconstructed, revisited,” he said. “The parliamentarians that are there all want to finalize the path to stay in the Euro.”

Dr. Kemal Dervis, a former minister of economic affairs in the Treasury of Turkey, provided a historical analysis of the conditions that have led to the position Greece is in today.  He also provided insight on the austerity and growth debate and offered an optimistic outlook for the Greeks. According to Dervis “demand is the problem, not supply.” In his view, while external relaxation of austerity measures can be possible but cannot occur at the same time as interior tighter fiscal policies as this is bound to have a spillover economic effect. He also argues that more welfare spending is needed to be politically engineered.   In closing, he drew from a historical comparison between the U.S. debt and Germany productivity levels, saying that “Greece productivity increases at a 10-times faster rate than in Germany,” and “a fast exit is likely and good for Greece.”

Desmond Lachman, deputy director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), concluded the panel.  He reiterated the IMF’s surveillance role in Greece’s balance of payments. He views the issue in Greece is not about liquidity but rather it is a solvency problem. He believes that exiting the euro would in fact be “a good thing for Greece, especially if it is well-managed.” What has happened to Greece has been an “unmitigated disaster … [with a] 50 percent increase in the unemployment rate for youth in Greece, which shows no sign of stopping, [juxtaposed] by a 16 percent decrease in Greece’s GDP. The Troika says this is Greece’s fault, yet France and Germany were the ones that over-lent to Greece.” In terms of lending more money, Lachman believes that spending cuts and similar austerity packages would produce futility and that “relaxation of the [austerity] programs would mean additional financing” something that Germany is not in a position to do. Thus, he concludes that “there is no point in adjusting because you [Greece] are going to get bailed out on an additional basis. What Greece needs is currency flexibility.”


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Israeli Leader Discusses Challenges in the Region

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy hosted a policy forum titled, “The Israeli National Security Strategy in the Expanded Coalition,” June 19, 2012.  The event’s guest speaker was Shaul Mofaz, vice prime minister of the State of Israel and leader of the Kadima Party.

According to Vice Prime Minister Mofaz, the present domestic and regional political situation, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, is a window of opportunity that the Israeli Government needs to take advantage, by making historic political decisions, in order to meet some of its national goals.  That is why, in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian relations, he stated the two sides should be resuming negotiations without any form of precondition.  In his view, it is unrealistic and infeasible to have a one-step agreement between the two sides, hence he proposed that future negotiations should take place incrementally by dealing with one issue at a time.

In reference to Iran, the vice prime minister emphasized that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not solely an Israeli security issue but a problem with regional and global repercussions. In his view, the international community and, particularly, the West needs to impose an array of sanctions (e.g. financial) in order to pressure the Iranian regime to come to the table of negotiations. With regard to the military option against Iran, Vice Prime Minister Mofaz argued that the use of force should be an option of last resort, which should solely be led by the United States and its European allies and not unilaterally by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Ultimately, the regional and international repercussion of an Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons is a red line that should not be crossed.

Furthermore, with regard to the Syrian revolution, Mr. Mofaz dubbed the Syrian leader, President Bashar al-Assad, as a “dictator” who has been massacring his own people. He argued that the Syrian regime cannot last forever and it is utterly important to fall in order to stop the domestic turmoil. To this end, the International Community, and specifically the Western countries, needs to step up and provide humanitarian assistance/support to the non-combatants. 

At the last part of his speech, Vice Prime Minister Mofaz referred to Israel’s political system, which he characterized as an archaic governance system that creates political stalemate. For instance, he mentioned that throughout the 64 years of the history of the modern state of Israel, there have been 32 different governments, thus every two years there is a new administration. That is why, Mr. Mofaz, as the leader of the Kadima Party, decided to support the current government in order to implement consensus-based reforms, including: (1) the creation of a political system that will create political stability and efficient governance; (2) the implementation of a social agenda that will alleviate Israelis’ social issues, such as the rising living-cost; and (3) the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. Ultimately, for Mr. Mofaz, there is a window of opportunity that Israel needs to take advantage in order to tackle some of its major political and security issues.

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