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Barçın Yinanç

Solution in Cyprus could deter a crisis with EU

19 Aralık 2008

The sound of drums is sweetest from afar. Most probably the sound of the alarm bells have not reached Foreign Minister Ali Babacan who was preparing to hold an official visit to Mexico during bayram.

Indeed, he made an official visit to Mexico during bayram to underline the importance his government is giving to this country.

Probably, the Mexicans were a little bit puzzled because the message the visit carries contradicts the fact that the government has left the post of the Turkish ambassador vacant for the past six months; certainly not a sign of a country who pretends to attach importance to the bilateral relations. It seems that the minister preferred to go all the way across the Atlantic "to win the hearts of Mexicans," instead of going at pains of issuing the ambassadorial degree which is long overdue.

At any rate, while our sensitive minister was packing his bags for a long touristÑ oopsÑ official visit to Mexico, a group of EU experts were busy trying to figure out what should be done so that Turkish-EU relations won’t hit the wall next year, in two separate meetings, one organized by the support of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, or TEPAV and the Open Society Institute, and the other by Sabancı University.

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The French do it again

6 Aralık 2008

Apparently the French were quietly decided on opening two chapters under their presidency to avoid criticism from Turkey and its friends in Europe, that they reflected President Sarkozy’s objection to Ankara’s EU bid. It seems that the French presidency did not have to deal with any problems as far as the chapter on media and information society is concerned.

The same however is not true of the free circulation of capital chapter. Turkey’s strategy on how it will deal with money laundering did not in the beginning satisfy Brussels. The Greek Cypriots also, as usual, did not refrain from creating an obstruction. As it was just becoming difficult to overcome the problems, the French have even started to mull the idea of opening another chapter, the one on energy for instance.

But the Greek Cypriots have backed down, the Turkish side has offered some more clarification on the fight against money laundering and finally everything is set to start negotiations on two chapters by mid-December.

Apparently Brussels has accepted Turkey’s request for a 12-year transition period on the acquisition of land and property by foreigners. It is the first time Turkey has asked for a transition period. This way, EU rules and regulations for the acquisition of land and property by foreigners will not be valid for at least 12 years after Turkey becomes a member. The same transition period has been granted to new member countries like Poland for instance.

After providing all this information, I was about to begin writing on how France kept its word that it will have an objective presidency as far as Turkey is concerned and that it will not use it as an opportunity to obstruct Turkish negotiation process. But news coming from Brussels changed the direction of my commentary.

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Cold breeze inside Foreign Ministry

28 Kasım 2008
Actually, after long and meticulous interviews with candidates, he rejected them all. Then one day, a young diplomat came knocking on the door of the minister. A short while later he started working as the private secretary of Babacan. His deputy as well as his new advisor were said to have been appointed by a similar process.

I do not think there is a big problem so far. Everyone would like to work with their own team. Members of the top administration in the ministry, starting from the undersecretary down in echelons to the head of departments, everyone lobbies the personnel department to pick those with whom they would like to work with. Sometimes they get what they want and sometimes they will have to contend with the appointments of the personnel.

Obviously the choices in these cases are based on the fact that there is a personal acquaintance, the experience of working together previously. To give a different example; Gürcan Türkoğlu, who is the current advisor to President Abdullah Gül, also worked closely with him when he was the foreign minister. We all know that Gül has known Türkoğlu for a very long time. Did Babacan personally know the members of the team with which he will work day and night? Or did he get a reference from somewhere? That is unknown to me. What I know is that, the unease in the ministry bureaucracy is not limited to the fact that Babacan preferred to bring his close entourage people who perhaps share the same "life style and vision," with him.

Actually, the real cause of concern is about the delay on certain appointments. The top five posts at the ministry have been empty for months. The delay in appointments to foreign missions has reached a record time. Initially no one was able to provide a reason behind the delays. Now there is only one remark resonating in the ministry corridors, "Babacan does not trust the ministry’s bureaucracy. He is looking for names close to his own ideology." In other words, Babacan is criticized for endorsing the attitude of classifying every one, as "one of us, one of them," an understanding that reflects the general reflex of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

The recent controversy over the Turkish representative at the United Nations mission seems to have upset many in the ministry. Whereas, ambassadors serving in Wellington, Mexico, Yemen and Dublin were all called back due to the 65-year age limit, the same rule was not applied to the Turkish representative in New York, Baki İlkin, who turned 65 as of last month. Many believe that his appointment as the president’s advisor in order to bypass the age limitation is legally controversial. This has, furthermore, led to speculations that the government is also preparing the way to enable those outside of the ministry bureaucracy to be appointed as ambassadors. So far the ministry has been immune to cronyism. But now some openly voice the fear that the AKP mentality is trying to get hold of the ministry. There are rumors that the number of those going to prayer on Fridays has increased among the young bureaucrats, something unheard of before. While the ministry’s undersecretary is under heavy criticism for just watching and doing nothing, there is also serious anger toward Ambassador İlkin for having accepted a procedure which is a first in the ministry’s history.
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Turkey-US: Back to Clinton times

7 Kasım 2008

Obama’s election victory has no doubt led to a wave of optimism in every corner of the world, leading at times to euphoria. Independent of the candidate himself, any democratic victory would have been greeted with joy by those outside of America, after suffering from Bush’s eight-year long administration which has given so much damage to peace.

It would be wrong however to tie the optimism to the joy of getting finally rid of a Republican administration, alone. Obama’s foreign policy vision also feeds the optimism prevailing in the world, an optimism that is also relevant for the future of Turkish-American relations.

The general conviction is that both sides have enjoyed better relations under republican administrations than democratic administrations. But the world changed, so did the United States and Turkey. In the recent past, while Turkish-American relations witnessed one of its brightest periods under the democratic Clinton administration, it has seen many serious crises under the republican Bush administration.

If Obama is able to put his vision into force and obviously if Ankara will be able to read that vision properly, then by the first quarter of the Obama administration, relations could reach a level of strategic partnership based on mutual interest and cooperation.

Obama’s foreign policy priorities cover a geography to which Turkey is adjacent. In addition, Obama’s vision to be part of the solution rather than the problem, using peaceful means rather than the threat of the use of force, overlaps with Turkey’s own regional vision. No doubt the new administration will listen more carefully to what Turkey has to say, since it has to cooperate with it in order to overcome deadlock on the world’s most imminent headaches, Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama will undoubtedly be more sympathetic to Iraqi Kurds’ aspirations and demands. But an administration seeking to leave Iraq as soon as possible will soon realize it cannot fulfil that aim by alienating Turks and Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites.

Obviously there will be problems that will upset conservative circles in Turkey. The new administration will have less tolerance for human rights violations, be it torture or limitations on freedom of expression. Minorities’ rights with particular attention to the Greek community’s request to open the Halki seminary school, will be back on the agenda of bilateral relations.

We will start hearing messages calling for humanitarian efforts to reconcile the local population rather than reverting to military measures, when it comes to the Kurdish problem. All of these were on the table during Clinton times, but have not obstructed the strategic partnership.

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