Ambassador Resigns as US Turkey Relations Sour

ISN SECURITY WATCH–The US ambassador to Turkey–Erik Edelman–has resigned from his position at a time when a series of incidents have led to a souring of US-Turkish relations.

In a statement to the press–Edelman’said his resignation was not related to the current problems facing US-Turkish relations–saying that his move was prompted by private reasons. But Turkish media had been stepping up their criticism of Edelman for months.

During a visit to Turkey in February–US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly instructed Edelman to do more to calm perceived anti-Americanism in the Turkish media. She was greeted with massive anti-US demonstrations.

Many Turks are deeply suspicious over US intentions in northern Iraq–where Kurds control an autonomous area. Turkey fears that Iraqi Kurds could push for independence–which could inspire Kurds in Turkey to step up their own separatist activities. Kurdish rebels have been battling the Turkish army since 1984. Some 37,000 have been killed in the conflict.

Edelman had come under serious criticism from major Turkish newspapers–and one Turkish website claimed to have collected 5,000 signatures calling for him to be expelled from the country. Edelman arrived in Turkey in August 2003–only months after the US-led invasion of Iraq.

In March 2003–the Turkish parliament had rejected a US request to stage troops in Turkey for a second front against Iraq–straining relations between the two countries. Relations continued to sour when the US military detained Turkish special forces troops in northern Iran in July that year–accusing them of plotting to assassinate a Kurdish official in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Relations were further undermined at the weekend by commen’s from US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld–who said that Turkey had allowed the insurgency in Iraq to "flourish" by blocking US efforts to get into Iraq from the north in 2003.

The issue of Syria’s occupation of Lebanon has also led to further rifts between the NATO allies. Washington expressed dissatisfaction over Turkey’s failure to urge a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon–as other US allies had done. US diplomats led by Edelman also criticized Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s announcement that he would visit Damascus in an official capacity in April.

Edelman had urged Turkey to join the international community’s call for Syria to quit Lebanon–but said in the end the decision was Turkey’s alone. Local media jumped on his remarks–describing them as interfering in the country’s internal affairs and prompting some politicians to label him a persona non grata.

Still–some Turkish media have suggested that Edelman’s resignation had nothing to do with souring US-Turkish relations–saying instead that the US ambassador had resigned to assume a high-ranking post at the US Defense Department or the National Security Council.

Regardless of the reasons behind Edelman’s resignation–his departure comes at a time when the US is losing footing with its NATO ally and when the Turkish public is becoming increasingly disillusioned with US foreign policy. In a public poll conducted by the International Strategic Research Organization’s in February–less then 1 per cent of 1’200 Turkish citizens questioned said they supported US President George Bush’s foreign policy–while 91 per cent said they disapproved.

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