Turks Dislike Obama’s Pick of Biden As Running Mate

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–As the ANCA and “Armenia’s for Obama” welcomed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate on Saturday, a number of Turkish daily newspapers Sunday covered Obama’s selection of Senator Biden, with headlines expressing displeasure and caution at Obama’s choice.

The Associated Press commented that Obama’s selection of Biden was designed to blunt criticism from Republican nominee John McCain, who was drawing virtually even in the polls by attacking the Illinois senator as an inexperienced elitist not ready for the White House.

In Turkey, the Sunday editions of newspapers covering Obama’s selection focused on Biden’s policies related to Turkey and a considerable part of which are not in line with those of Ankara.

"[Obama] made ‘inconsiderate’ Biden his right-hand man," Hurriyet said on its front page, reminding readers of a 1999 conversation between Biden, who is close to both Greek and Armenian lobbies, and late Bulent Ecevit, then prime minister of Turkey.

"If you do not solve the Cyprus problem, then I will not approve the financial aid package of $5 billion which you expect from us, from the Congress," Biden was then reported to have told Ecevit in a bid to put pressure on the Turkish government.

Hurriyet said following the conversation between Biden and Ecevit, Turkish media labeled the US politician as "inconsiderate."

Biden’s call two years ago to divide Iraq into autonomous regions along sectarian and ethnic lines was another factor highlighted by the Turkish media. The call completely contradicted Ankara’s firm policy focusing on protection of territorial integrity and political unity of the neighboring country.

Biden proposed in a 2006 op-ed article in The New York Times that Iraq should be divided into separate Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni regions to defuse the wave of sectarian violence sweeping the country then. In the 2006 article, Biden and co-author Leslie Gelb said the proposal was aimed at maintaining "a united Iraq by decentralizing it" so that each major sectarian and ethnic group would have "room to run its own affairs." Nevertheless, Iraq has a long history as a centralized state, and concepts such as federalism and regional autonomy have proven a hard sell, as AP noted.

"Separatist partner for Obama," Star daily said in its title, referring to Biden’s call for division of Iraq, while it also reminded its readers of the fact that Biden has been a keen supporter of Armenian lobby efforts at the US Congress for official recognition of the killings of Anatolian Armenia’s during the early 20th century as genocide.

"Obama’s right-hand man had divided Iraq into three," Yeni Safak daily said, also referring to Biden’s proposal for dividing Iraq. Milliyet, meanwhile, covered Obama’s choice of Biden with a headline saying "Obama chose Greek Cypriot-Armenian lobbyists."

In first months of the 2007, following the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January, a sentence in a preliminary draft drawn up by Biden, chairman of Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said, "Mr. Dink underwent prosecution under Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code, as he spoke about the Armenian genocide." Following an objection by Republican Richard Lugar, the sentence was changed to "Legal measures were taken about Mr. Dink, as he regarded the events that happened in 1915 as genocide."

Retired Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir, speaking with Milliyet, said, "Biden has so far been involved in all kinds of movemen’s which are against Turkey," and that "Biden’s anti-Turkey manner has ossified," apparently hinting that Biden’s attitude would not change even when he takes on responsibilities as vice president. Biden was among a delegation of US senators who visited Ankara in February this year, when they also met with both President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Then, Biden, along with John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, spoke with Gul and Erdogan, praising both the relations between their country and Turkey and Ankara’s support in restive parts of the world such as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Their visit to Ankara was part of a tour that included stops in India and Pakistan. Speaking to reporters after a one-hour meeting with Erdogan, Biden then said Turkey and the United States shared strategic interests and objectives.

Amid concerns within domestic public opinion over US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s selection of Senate colleague Joe Biden as his running mate since Biden is well known for his policies that run against the interests of Ankara, a leading deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is considering visiting the United States in October.

Suat Kiniklioglu, the AK Party’s Cankiri deputy, told Today’s Zaman Sunday that he has been planning to meet with figures from both the campaigns of Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain and Obama when he travels to the United States in October.

"I must say that I’m surprised with Obama’s selection of Biden. It is not easy to be happy with this selection when looking from Turkey and considering Biden’s almost two-decade-long firm support of the Armenian disapora’s efforts for recognition of their allegations of a genocide," Kiniklioglu, who was head of the German Marshall Fund’s Turkey office before being elected to Parliament in July 2007, said when reminded of the fact that a considerable number of Turkish daily newspapers yesterday disapproved of Obama’s selection of Biden as a running mate.

"The only thing we can do now as citizens of Turkey is to wish Obama and Biden luck, although this combination is not very hope-inspiring from Turkey’s perspective. However, the most important duty for nongovernmental organizations and the media as well as politicians is to thoroughly inform the Obama camp about Turkey’s policies and understanding on certain issues. We should engage both the McCain and Obama camps before one of them is elected, not after the election is over," Kiniklioglu said.

"I believe domestic public opinion will follow McCain’s strategies during the electioneering more closely than before given the disappointment over Biden’s selection," he, nonetheless, added.

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