The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Relationship
Saturday, 15 September 2007, 2:49 am
Speech: US State Department
R. Nicholas Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Remarks at the Atlantic Council of the United States (ACUS)
September 13, 2007
The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Relationship – Remarks at the Atlantic
Council of the United States
I am pleased to be back at the Atlantic Council to discuss what is one
of the most critical relationships for America in the world today —
the relationship between the United States and Turkey. Fred, thank you
for hosting me tonight. I appreciate the invitation by Fred Kempe and
the Atlantic Council Board to be here.
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Thank you to Henry Catto, Chairman emeritus of the Atlantic
Council. Thanks to Ambassador Marc Grossman for his warm
introduction. It is a pleasure to see the Ambassador of Turkey, Nabi
Sensoy, the Ambassador of Armenia, Tatoul Markarian, Ambassador Mark
Parris and Jim Holmes here tonight.
This is an important moment for the relationship between the United
States and Turkey. Turkey has just elected a new government. Our
countries now need to enter into a new era of our relationship and to
commit to a revival of our very close friendship and alliance.
I will visit Ankara and Istanbul soon to bring a strong and clear
message from our leadership — the United States is committed to
revitalize this critical partnership. Restoring a sense of strategic
partnership in the broad range of U.S.-Turkish relations — extending
beyond government-to-government cooperation to a flowering of private
sector ties between our people — will be a major priority for the
United States in the coming months. It is indeed time to rejuvenate
and restore America’s relationship with Turkey.
The Turkish people have just concluded important, even historic
elections. These elections demonstrated the strong health of Turkey’s
democracy, the most impressive in the Moslem world. The result was a
decisive and Turkey can now expect a period of renewal and growth at
home and responsibility and challenge in its foreign policy. The
United States government looks forward to a very close relationship
with President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan.
President Bush and Secretary Rice respect both of these men. We have
worked very well and productively with them in years past and know
that will continue in the years to come. We would like to agree with
the newly-elected Turkish leadership on a period in the coming months
of high-level visits, discussions and joint commitment to face
together the challenges of stability and peace in the Middle East.
Turkey, after all, has been one of our closest friends for over 50
years, dating back to the Truman Doctrine and the Korean War, and
anchored by our Alliance in NATO. Throughout this long period, Turkey
has always been among the United States’ most dependable and important
allies in an otherwise turbulent region. We look to Turkey, with its
160-year legacy of modernizing reform, as the most successful example
in the world today of a secular democracy within a Muslim society that
can inspire reformers in the greater Middle East and beyond.
Turkey’s importance to the United States is even more pronounced at a
time when the Middle East in the 21st century has replaced Europe in
the 20th century as the most critical region for America’s core
national security interests. Turkey is the only country in the region
that can work effectively with all of the others in the Middle
East. Turkey’s influence is substantial and unique. In this very
important sense, Turkey is an indispensable partner to the United
States in the Middle East.
Our history of close relations, shared interests, and common values
makes Turkey one of the most important Allies of the United States
anywhere in the world. That is not to say that our relationship has
been perfect: we have certainly endured our share of difficulties,
misunderstandings, and miscommunications in recent years.
>From our perspective, 2002-2005 were particularly difficult, but we
believe we have turned the corner together with the Turkish
leadership. We now have a moment of opportunity to build stronger ties
at all levels between our governments. For the past two years,
especially, our leaders have worked with considerable energy to revive
the relationship and to address more effectively the common challenges
and opportunities before us.
One glance at the map demonstrates why it is so important to
strengthen the ties between our two countries. Turkey is influential
in the Balkans, in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and in the greater
Middle East. In this vitally important arc of countries where so much
of our foreign policy attention now lies, Turkey is the vital link for
the United States and our European allies in addressing common
economic, security, and political challenges and opportunities in
these critical regions.
On perhaps the most dynamic international issue of 2007 — energy —
we share a common interest with the Turks. Turkey is the gateway for
exports of oil and natural gas from the Caspian region and Iraq to
Europe. Building on our successful cooperation in the 1990’s to
develop the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus
gas pipeline, we now seek to expand this critical energy
infrastructure into a Southern Corridor to help our European allies —
Greece, Italy and into Western Europe — create a free market for
energy supplies in Europe.
These efforts can also help Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan
bolster their own independence by providing them access to European
We hope it will be possible for Turkey to arrive at a swift agreement
with Azerbaijan on transit terms. Turkey should also strive to find a
pricing formula for future exports to Turkey from the Caspian Sea
natural gas field of Shah Deniz, a necessary step to complete the
inter-governmental agreement for the Turkey-Greece-Italy gas
pipeline. Over the longer term, Turkey should continue to cooperate
with the United States and our friends in Iraq, Turkmenistan, and
Kazakhstan to expand gas production and exports to Turkey and onward
In South Asia, Turkey is helping NATO to bolster regional security in
Afghanistan, having twice commanded the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) and now leading a Provincial Reconstruction
Team (PRT) in Wardak Province. Turkey has been an important arbiter
between Afghanistan and Pakistan, providing a welcoming, neutral venue
for Presidents Karzai and Musharraf to discuss issues of mutual
It is in this area that we feel Turkey could make even more of an
impact. Turkey could offer assistance to repatriated Afghan refugees
from Pakistan, help both sides improve border management and customs
collection, or support the emergence of Afghan-Pakistani
Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, as the U.S. plans to do.
Turkey has also played a key role in Kosovo, where it has 660
personnel in KFOR and took over command of Multinational Task
Force-South in May.
The Turkish government is playing a similarly constructive role in the
extended Black Sea region, where Turkey’s Operation Black Sea Harmony
cooperates with NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean
Sea to deter terrorism and bolster maritime security along NATO’s
southern and eastern flanks.
Turkey should encourage its neighbors to undertake democratic reform,
fight corruption and organized crime, as well as look for ways to
improve market economies in the region. The U.S. would like to work
with Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria to take greater advantage of
opportunities to expand NATO’s activities in the Black Sea region.
And, Turkey is playing a regional leadership role in the Middle
East. Turkey’s common borders with Iraq, Iran, and Syria provide an
opportunity to advance peace and stability, fight proliferation of
nuclear weapons, and defeat terrorists in a region that is now the
epicenter of U.S. foreign policy. Turkey can help deepen our
understanding of strategic trends in the Middle East, while
reinforcing our efforts to advance political and economic freedom and
fight terror to advance peace and prosperity.
It is not only geography and common interests that make Turkey a key
U.S. partner; it is our shared values of democracy, diversity, and
tolerant faith that make us friends and allies. The United States and
Turkey share a deep appreciation for the importance of separating
civic and religious life.
In Turkey, reform movements during the late Ottoman period aimed to
balance the claims that religion makes on personal lives with the
exigencies of a modern state. One of the most famous waves of reforms,
the so-called "Tanzimat" movement of the mid-19th Century was an
attempt to give all residents of the empire the same rights, whether
they were Muslim, Christian or Jewish.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rejuvenated Turkey’s modernizing reforms, as he
granted political rights to women, laid the foundation for Turkey’s
industrial rise, and established the Turkish Republic as a secular
democracy. Turkey’s commitment to secular democracy makes it a natural
ally for the United States.
Turkey may now be at a new historical turning point, with a real
opportunity to invigorate political and economic reforms that will
anchor it in the European Union and bolster its ability to inspire
reformers in the greater Middle East region. Parliamentary elections
on July 22 and the election of Abdullah Gul as president on August 28
demonstrated once again that Turkey is a robust and ever-maturing
democracy, one that is defined by respect for constitutional
processes, with the country’s political future determined by
We welcome Mr. Gul’s election as President. President Bush and
Secretary Rice have good relationships with President Gul, and Prime
Minister Erdogan, and look forward to developing these relationships.
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, now controls the
government, parliament, and presidency. At the same time, Turkish
voters sent a message of moderation during the recent elections. While
the AKP won a resounding victory, opposition parties received over 50
percent of the vote, and with more parties crossing the 10 percent
electoral threshold the new parliament is more representative of
Turkey’s diverse voter sentiment. Turkey’s voters thus appear to have
signaled their desire for Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul to
deepen Turkey’s secular democracy by rejuvenating political and
economic reforms, but in the context of Turkey’s Muslim society.
As Turkey’s democratic institutions strengthen and as its reforms
proceed, Turkey grows in importance to the U.S. as a strategic
partner. Realizing the full potential of this partnership poses
several immediate challenges to both of our countries. In the Middle
East, Turkey can play a regional leadership role that could help the
U.S. achieve some of its most pressing foreign policy goals, but which
will require careful coordination to prevent our two countries from
operating at cross-purposes.
At the top of the list is Iraq. Our decision to liberate Iraq from
Saddam Hussein’s brutality triggered an unprecedented wave of
anti-Americanism in Turkey. Our official relations have recovered from
the low-point of the Turkish Parliament’s vote on March 1, 2003 to
reject our request to move U.S. forces into Iraq via Turkey. Since
then, Ankara has been a strong supporter of our efforts to stabilize
Iraq, and has asked us not to abandon our goals, particularly
safeguarding Iraq’s territorial integrity. Turkey represents a
critical logistical lifeline for our troops in Iraq and has made
important contributions to Coalition operations there.
Turkey is similarly helpful in diplomatic efforts to bolster support
for Iraq among its neighbors. The United States appreciates Turkey’s
willingness to host the next Extended neighbors ministerial in
October, an important follow-up to the work begun at Sharm el-Sheikh
last May. Secretary Rice announced this week that she plans to attend
this meeting in Istanbul.
Turkey’s willingness to help the international community address Iraq
is all the more appreciated given the difficulties it is suffering as
a result of attacks from PKK terrorists in Iraq. Let me assure you,
the United States condemns the PKK as a vicious terrorist group. We
mourn the loss of innocent Turkish lives in these attacks.
We remain fully committed to working with the Governments of Turkey
and Iraq to counter PKK terrorists, who are headquartered in northern
Iraq. We are making progress in putting in place the mechanisms
required to produce such concrete results against the PKK. We will
also follow up our success in working with Turkey and our other
European partners to interdict PKK terror financiers in Europe and
bring them to justice.
Turkey and the United States also face a challenge in Iran. We have
worked well together to support of the clear international consensus
demanding that Iran cease its nuclear weapons development
programs. Turkey has also proven to be strong partner in countering
Iran’s support for terrorists in the Middle East.
But the United States and Turkey still need to work out some tactical
differences in handling Iran. We understand that Iran is a neighbor of
Turkey and key trading partner, which sends over a million tourists to
Turkey each year. Turkey’s recent conclusion of a memorandum on energy
cooperation with Iran, however, is troubling. Now is not the time for
business as usual with Iran. We urge all of our friends and allies,
including Turkey, to not reward Iran by investing in its oil and gas
sector, while Iran continues to defy the United Nations Security
Council by continuing its nuclear research for a weapons capability
The United States and Turkey share a common interest in working toward
a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. President Bush’s vision is
of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in
peace and security. The Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud
Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is the most capable Palestinian
government since Oslo and is committed to being a partner for peace.
As we work to develop the economy and institutions of governance that
will form the foundation of a Palestinian state, Turkey understandably
can see opportunities to draw on its historical experience from the
Ottoman era and its modern economic might to help restore prosperity
to the Palestinian people, while drawing on its more recent experience
in forging a close security partnership with Israel.
Turkey is unique in its dual identity as both a Middle Eastern and
European country. We thus face important challenges in U.S.-Turkish
relations with regard to deepening Turkey’s integration in
We are among the strongest supporters of Turkey’s EU aspirations. We
call on Europe’s leaders to signal clearly and unambiguously that
Turkey will have a voice in the European Union in the future. We
believe both Turkey and the Euroatlantic community will benefit as
Turkey advances toward EU membership. We wish to see an even more
democratic and prosperous Turkey, which will make Turkey a stronger
partner for the United States in Europe. The prospect of full
membership in the EU is the right goal for Turkey and the future of
the European Union.
Moreover, Europe’s full embrace of a reformed Turkey will send a
powerful signal to Europe’s other Muslim populations that Islam and
democracy are compatible, and that integration into mainstream
European society is possible without surrendering one’s Islamic
This could be a crucial factor in defeating Europe’s extremist
recruiters, who prey on alienated Europe’s Muslim populations. Those
Europeans who oppose Turkish membership in the EU should keep in mind
that it is not the Turkey of today, but an even more democratic Turkey
of tomorrow that would that would join the EU after several more years
To reach this transcendent strategic objective, we hope Turkey will
repeal Article 301 of the Penal Code, which restricts freedom of
expression and has led to outlandish legal cases against private
citizens and global figures such as Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. We
also hope Turkey will help make its own case with the EU by allowing
the Ecumenical Patriarch’s religious school at Halki in Istanbul to
reopen decades after it closed.
We must also work with Turkey to strengthen NATO. Turkey has been a
cornerstone of the Alliance since the 1952, serving as a barrier to
Soviet expansion throughout the Cold War. Several generations of
Turkish military officers enjoyed formative professional experiences
while serving in NATO commands. Today, Turkey is a key NATO partner in
Afghanistan and Kosovo, and is emerging as a critical potential
partner in the vast majority of NATO’s future contingencies, which lie
to the southeast of Europe.
An important focus of Euroatlantic security cooperation is developing
ways for the EU and NATO to work together in bringing their respective
capacities to bear in strengthening stability and security in Kosovo,
Bosnia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We appreciate the difficulties that
such cooperation poses for Turkey given the still-evolving Turkey-EU
relationship, the circumstances of Turkey’s participation in
activities within the European Security and Defense Policy, as well as
the complications resulting from the lack of a Cyprus settlement.
Yet it is vital for all of us, including Turkey, that NATO and the EU
are indeed able to work together in crisis areas around the world. For
this and many other reasons, we call on all relevant parties to
reinvigorate UN-brokered efforts to reach a comprehensive Cyprus
settlement that reunifies the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal
federation. We welcome last week’s meeting of President Papadopoulos
and Mehmet Ali Talat, and look forward to future such meetings to
implement last year’s July 8 agreement.
I intend to travel to Cyprus this autumn and will communicate to the
Cypriot government leadership and the Turkish leadership, as well, the
strong wish of the United States that we might all contribute to a
breakthrough for peace after decades of crisis. The time has come for
the United Nations and all of us to achieve a just solution to the
long-festering problem of Cyprus.
Finally, the U.S. and Turkey face a serious challenge with regard to
Armenia. Each year on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day, President
Bush has issued a public statement lamenting the mass killings and
forced deportations of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman
authorities at the end of World War I.
The United States condemnation of this tragedy is not at issue; the
question is how best to facilitate reconciliation of all concerned
parties with each other and with their painful and shared past. We
believe passage of the U.S. House of Representative’s Resolution 106,
which would make a political determination that the tragedy of 1915
constituted genocide, would undercut voices emerging in Turkey for
dialogue and reconciliations concerning these horrific events. We
therefore have recommended to Congress that it not pass such a
We strongly encourage Turkey to normalize its relations and reopen its
border with Armenia, steps that will help bring peace, prosperity and
cooperation to the Caucasus. Now, in the wake of the AKP’s resounding
electoral victories, is the time for Ankara to make a bold opening
toward Armenia. And we hope that Armenia will respond in kind.
In conclusion, the United States and Turkey have enjoyed a
relationship of Allied friendship for over half a century of enormous
complexity, success, and promise. We have weathered a difficult period
over the past four years. We now stand at the edge of a potentially
new era in Turkish politics that offers a chance to restore a sense of
strategic partnership in U.S.-Turkish relations.
I will be traveling to Ankara soon to bring this message to the new
government personally. The United States is determined to seize this
opportunity to renew and strengthen our strategic partnership with
Turkey. We look forward to working together with Turkish leaders who
share this vision and determination to build this strong, vital and
irreplaceable Turkish-American alliance for the 21st century.