Turkish Officials in Washington to Address Tension in Ties

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)—Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and his two deputies are holding talks in Washington to discuss ways to overcome tensions in US-Turkish ties following Turkey’s vote against US-led sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council and its condemnation of a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla carrying aid to Gaza.

Sinirlioglu and deputy undersecretaries TacanIİldem and Selim Yenel began talks in Washington on Monday with a meeting with US Undersecretary for Political Affairs William Burns.

They also held meetings with National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Richard Armitage, who heads the American-Turkish Council (ATC), the Anatolia news agency reported.

The delegation was to meet with Special Envoy of the Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar and his advisor, Mark Parris, on Tuesday. They were also due to have talks with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. They were also scheduled to address a closed session at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Turkish Ambassador in Washington Namik Tan is also attending the talks.

The talks cover every issue on agenda of the Turkish-American relations, Anatolia quoted diplomatic sources as saying, adding that the meetings “were going well.”

Observers say Turkey’s vote against the sanctions on Iran and the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli ties have affected the Congress the most, where many question Ankara’s reliability as an ally, while the administration remains keen to deepen cooperation, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Financial Times, citing a senior administration official, reported earlier this month that President Barack Obama personally warned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey risks not getting the weapons it seeks to buy from the US unless it changes its position on Iran and Israel.

Both Turkish and US officials denied the report, saying there was no ultimatum issued to Ankara. But observers say the lack of an ultimatum from the administration does not mean that the atmosphere in Congress is favorable for Turkey. One signal of more troubles ahead came when it emerged this month that appointment of Obama’s nominee for US envoy to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, is facing objections in Congress, raised by some Republican congressmen seeking an ambassador with a more hawkish tone toward Ankara.

Congress is expected to discuss Ricciardone’s appointment in September, when it returns from recess. Critics say Ricciardone tends to work too much in harmony with the governments of the countries to which he is appointed.

How Turkey is planning to address the negative views in Congress remains unclear at this stage. Earlier reports said the Turkish delegation would ask the administration to persuade the congressmen of the importance of maintaining good ties with Turkey, but experts say this indirect approach is unlikely to produce desired changes due to the atmosphere in Congress.

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