Pax Ottomana? The Mixed Success of Turkey’s New Foreign Policy

Turkey does not fit neatly into anyone’s conception of the world order. For centuries, people have debated or fought over whether it is part of Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, or Eurasia. Some see its current government as careening toward “Islamist fascism”; others believe it is integrating into a basically pluralistic, secular, globalized international order. Does its fast-growing economy, the 17th largest in the world, make it a rising international power on a par with Brazil, China, India, and Russia? Or is it a minor player that is overextending itself? Although Turkey has an important secondary role to play in many major areas of U.S. concern, such as stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, it is essential to none. In short, Turkey is unusually vulnerable to being misunderstood, particularly since the Turks themselves often seem unsure about what exactly they want their country to be.
This past summer, Turkey trod on two hot-button U.S. policy interests, Iran and Israel, thus putting its new “zero-problem” foreign policy in an uncomfortable spotlight. As soon as the Turkish government was seen as having stepped outside the U.S.-led agenda, commentaries about its new orientation spread in major U.S., European, and Middle Eastern newspapers and journals. “It isn’t Ottoman Islam that these Islamist Turks seek to revive,” Harold Rhode, a former longtime U.S. Department of Defense official, wrote in one of the Jerusalem Issue Briefs series in May. “Their Islam is more in tune with the fanatically anti-Western principles of Saudi Wahhabi Islam.” Articles in the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph and Canada’s Globe and Mail expressed similar concerns. The New York Times ran an article with the headline “Turkey Goes From Pliable Ally to Thorn for U.S.,” and its columnist Thomas Friedman, describing a recent trip to Istanbul, found “Turkey’s Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the European Union but the Arab League — no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel. . . . I exaggerate, but not that much.” A new round of the “Who Lost Turkey?” debate got under way between U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso: Gates blamed Brussels for discouraging Turkey in its negotiations over joining the EU; Barroso blamed Washington for turning Turkish public opinion against the West with the invasion of Iraq.
HUGH POPE is Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for the International Crisis Group and the author of Dining With al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East.

Caspian countries agree on draft cooperation agreement in maritime security

Trend reports, that the Caspian littoral countries are agreeing on a draft cooperation agreement in maritime security.
Today, Baku is hosting the fourth meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral countries to agree on a draft agreement on security cooperation in the Caspian Sea.
In November 2003, the Caspian countries signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea.
In July 1998, Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the delimitation of the northern part of the Caspian Sea in order to exercise sovereign rights for subsoil use.
On Nov. 29, 2001 and Feb.27, 2003, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on the delimitation of the Caspian Sea.
Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia signed an agreement on the delimitation of adjacent sections of the Caspian Sea on May 14, 2003.

Turkey welcomes joint declaration by Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Sunday, “we welcome those Azerbaijani and Armenian leadersIlham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan agreed on several humanitarian issues during the Astrakhan summit.”
Astrakhan hosted the trilateral meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia on Oct.27. The parties have signed a declaration, which envisages the return of prisoners of war and takes a humanitarian nature, Medvedev said on Wednesday after the trilateral meeting.
“Turkey hopes that the Astrakhan Summit will make positive contributions to the solution process by adding momentum to the efforts to resolve the Nagrno-Karabakh dispute. We also wish that steps to be taken on humanitarian issues will be supported with concrete initiatives in other areas. Turkey is determined to fully support initiatives that will serve creation of a ground for compromise between the parties,” the Ministry added.
Turkey’s political leaders have repeatedly stated that the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations directly depends on the settlement of Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
Earlier the declaration was welcomed by the France’s Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department. France and U.S. co-chair, along with Russia, the OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
A conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994.
The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France, and the U.S. – are currently holding negotiations to resolve the dispute.
Armenia has failed to implement UN Security Council resolutions stipulating the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions.

Minister: Iran to reduce price of gas exported to Turkey

Legal proceedings between Turkey and Iran over gas prices continues, and Iran is likely to reduce the price of gas exported to Turkey, the The Lira newspaper quotes Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz as saying on Monday.

As Trend reports, Yildiz said that Iran offered certain discount in gas price, but it did not suit Turkey, and the country seeks to achieve the price that itself defined. Yildiz also expressed confidence that if Iran does not agree to a major discount in price, International Arbitration Court will resolve this case in favor of Turkey. In 1996, Iran and Turkey signed an agreement to supply 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey annually (30 million cubic meters per day).

Torture of prisoners was the work of Saakashvili and Ivanishvili: Shalva Natelashvili

The leader of the Labour party accuses Mikheil Saakashvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili in torturing prisoners.
Today at a press conference Natelashvili said that the torture and murder of prisoners in Georgian prisons takes place for decades, and this system has two creators – Saakashvili and Ivanishvili, who are trying to gain political points through tribulations of prisoners.
He reported that in 2010 the Labour Party made a claim to the Hague Tribunal for the fact that with a gross violation of international norms Mikheil Saakashvili leads mass persecution, arrest and torture of political opponents.
“We appeal to all prisoners and their families for regime change, and if we come to power, we will review all illegal sentences, “- said Natelashvili.
According to him, it is surprising that this horrific footage Ivanishvili kept in secret several months by giving the criminals continue to torture prisoners.
The leader of the Labour party called for international organizations to send monitors to Georgian prisons.

Georgian government to have state employment minister position

Official sources inform that the state employment minister position will appear in Bidzina Ivanishvili’s future government and Kakha Sakandelidze’s candidacy has been introduced for the approval of the Georgian Parliament.

Ivanishvili noted earlier the annihilation of the post.
Irina Imerlishvili, chairperson for procedures of the parliamentary committee, said that Sakandelidze will hold this post for impermanent period, as after the reorganization of the Cabinet of Ministers, he will take the post of first deputy labor minister.

The source notes that the Regional Development and Infrastructure Ministry will be annulled.
Candidates for ministers in the new Georgian government have already been proposed by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who intends to become prime minister.

U.S. President congratulates Georgian PM

U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland , told country’s media that U.S. President Barack Obama sent a congratulatory letter to the Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili.

As Norland told reporters after the meeting, it was an honour to convey the congratulatory letter from his president to the Georgian prime minister. He said Obama wished every success to Ivanishvili as head of the government.
Norlad also expressed the hope that the strategic partnership between Georgia and the United States will continue and that the U.S. will further support the country’s aspiration for NATO.

Ivanishvili’s Blunders May Be Very Costly for Georgia

The new Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili appeared quite surprised when he heard criticism from the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Speaking at a press conference in Prague, on November 12, where the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO countries took place, Rasmussen practically accused Ivanishvili’s government of politically motivated arrests.

Rasmussen stated: “We welcome democratic elections in Georgia and the democratic transition of power. Georgia successfully passed the test; however, we are very concerned about recent arrests of political opponents by the new government of the country. I do not hide my concern about what is going on in Georgia, especially, the arrests of the political opponents” (Civil Georgia, November 12)

This statement was made immediately after the NATO secretary general’s meeting with President Saakashvili, which took place two days prior to Rasmussen’s scheduled talk with Ivanishvili in Brussels. Georgian politicians and experts close to the prime minister attributed Rasmussen’s statements to the influence of lobbying firms that Saakashvili had hired to defend his interests in the West. However, NATO is too serious of an organization for its leader to make such tough and unequivocal statements while relying on only one-sided information and without taking into account all available data and possible implications for Georgia.

The detention of the Chief of the Joint Staff of the Georgian armed forces, Georgi Kalandadze is thought to be the immediate cause of Brussels’ irritation. NATO decided to postpone a meeting of the military committee that was scheduled to take place at the end of November in Tbilisi. Ivanishvili’s team explained the postponement as stemming from technical issues. In particular, they said that the Joint Staff was supposed to have provided a venue for the meeting, but holding such a meeting without the Chief of Joint Staff did not make any sense. Perhaps, this played a role. However, the tough statement by NATO’s secretary general finally set the record straight—diplomats in Brussels are not happy with these latest events in Georgia and allude to the Ivanishvili government’s mistakes.

Rasmussen was not the only one to negatively assess the situation in Georgia. On November 13, the head of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, cautiously but openly noted: “In my country, in Germany, ex-ministers are not put under arrest. For the time being I will refrain from making judgments about arrests in Georgia because I want to examine the situation thoroughly.” “My assistants have received orders to explore this situation and will present a report to me, after that I will make my statement,” Schultz said, referring to the arrest of the former Minister of Defense Bacho Akhalaia for the alleged beating of soldiers .

Meanwhile, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso called on the new government of Georgia to avoid incidents of selective justice, because they would “weaken rule of law and damage the country’s image abroad.” Barroso made this statement during a November 12 meeting with the Georgian Prime Minister.

US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland also did not shy away from commenting on the situation. “Whenever somebody is arrested we always wish that the due legal process is conducted according to proper procedures and rule of law. We are watching these processes. For NATO it is important who manages the Georgian armed forces,” the Ambassador wrote in a special statement that was disseminated in Tbilisi on the same day Rasmussen’s comments on the arrests became known.

Finally, during his visit to Georgia on November 16, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon hinted that the West expects from Tbilisi predictability and stability in foreign policy. “I call on both sides to remember: the world, the international community watches you. The US reckons that in order to continue on the continual path of integration with the West, Georgia needs to pass this transitional period in a peaceful and democratic fashion,” Gordon said.

After the Assistant Secretary’s visit, Prime Minister Ivanishvili was forced to admit that the unpleasant remarks by US and European politicians were not the result of “successful lobbying” by Saakashvili, but reflected deep discontent in the West with what is occurring in Georgia. “Democratic countries are not used to such excesses as when new authorities detain the ministers of the previous government,” Ivanishvili noted. “I understand their worries. We try to explain in detail to friendly states, in the first place to the US, that all our actions are democratic and they definitely do not constitute political persecution and selective justice,” he concluded while commenting on the wave of Western criticism; civil.ge/eng/article.php.

“Explain” is the key word in Ivanishvili’s statement. It indicates that Bidzina Ivanishvili still believes that insufficient information is the main source of discontent in the West. It is no wonder, therefore, that with such a misperception of the situation by the Georgian Prime Minister the wave of legal prosecutions did not change and has even widened. Just days later, on November 15, the prosecutor generals arrested the former head of the administration at the interior ministry, Shota Khizanishvili, while rumors about possible arrest of the former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili began to reverberate in Tbilisi. Merabishvili is known in the West as the author of radical reform of the police and as an uncompromising fighter of corruption.

Ivanishvili, of course, realizes the risks he faces when his government evokes discontent among Georgia’s Western allies. However, in an interview with Die Presse, he still stated that he did not rule out even impeaching President Saakashvili, saying that it was impossible “to stop justice”.

It appears that the prime minister of Georgia reckons that domestic benefits from satisfying the demands of the “protest electorate” are more important than retaining support of the West, which would like to see a stable and predictable partner in Georgia.

Many in Western capitals were happy to see an election-driven change of government in Georgia, and they will plausibly want to build close relations with Bidzina Ivanishvili just as they did with Mikheil Saakashvili. However, the arrests of political rivals, a financial audit of the public broadcaster of Georgia as well as xenophobic statements of some people that are close to the prime minister feed doubts that the new authorities are able to adhere to a pro-Western political course. These mistakes may have high costs not only personally for Ivanishvili, but also for all of Georgia—a country that continues to strive for integration with the West, while still combatting pressure from neighboring Russia.