As noted in a recent previous post on this blog, despite their interests converging with regards to several significant issues, Turkey and the United States might not quite be in the "golden age" of relations that some folks -- in Ankara, in particular -- have claimed the two allies to be in.
Newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry's current visit to Turkey offers a good indication of the current delicate state of affairs between Ankara and Washington. The fact that Turkey is one of the first countries Kerry is visiting on his maiden voyage abroad as Secretary of State confirms that Ankara remains a crucial ally to the US. But, as Murat Yetkin points out in a column in today's Hurriyet Daily News, Kerry arrives in Turkey bearing a "heavy agenda," with critical and potentially volatile issues relating to Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey-Israel relations where Ankara and Washington are not on the same page.
In a column that appeared the other day on the website of The Hill, Bulent Aras -- a Turkish academic who now directs the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affair's in-house think tank -- and Emirhan Yorulmazlar, a Washington-based analyst, describe the current state of affairs in Turkey-US relations this way:
The Obama administration has developed an unprecedented level of consultation with Erdogan and his government. The Turkish leadership was particularly hopeful about Obama’s second term, envisioning possibly a free reign to overcome traditional U.S. prejudices in regional diplomacy and more importantly an enforced commitment to ending the bloodshed in Syria and, hopefully, a move to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. In Washington, Turkey’s realignment with the U.S. particularly after the employment of the missile radar system and Ankara’s decision to side with the Syrian opposition despite Iranian and Russian objections appeared as good news. Today, with Patriot missiles situated in Turkey and unwavering U.S. support for Turkish
defenses, the security cooperation is at a historical height. Yet, this semblance of increased convergence in relations might prove insufficient to hide the underlying divergences in both countries diplomatic agendas.
With impeccable timing, it was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who stepped in to highlight how one of these underlying divergences, regarding the troubled state of Turkey-Israel relations, could very easily complicate relations between Ankara and Washington. Speaking on Wednesday at the opening of the fifth annual meeting of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Erdogan called Zionism a "crime against humanity," putting in the same category as anti-Semitism and fascism.
In response, Kerry, speaking at a joint press conference in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, called Erdogan's words "objectionable" and found his maiden trip to Turkey -- as Today's Zaman put it -- "overshadowed by the Zionism controversy." A senior US official traveling with Kerry, meanwhile, told reporters that was Erdogan said was "particularly offensive" and that their effect on relations is "corrosive." "To state the obvious, it complicates our ability to do all of the things that we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing," the official said.
Clearly, Kerry had other things to talk about with Davutoglu and Erdogan other than the "Zionism controversy," but this new thorn in the side of the US-Turkey relations was an indication that the heavy agenda the new Secretary of State came to Ankara with is probably even heftier than imagined.