ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)—Turkish officials have angrily denied a news report that President Barack Obama has personally warned Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey stands little chance of buying weapons from the US unless it changes its stance on Iran and Israel.
“No country can issue warnings against Turkey. No one, particularly, can talk to the prime minister in such a tone,” said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of the report, which appeared in the Financial Times on Sunday. Citing an anonymous US official, the daily reported that Obama has told Erdogan that some of Turkey’s actions have “caused questions to be raised” in Congress and thus Turkey’s weapon requests could be harder to move through Congress.
The warning came during a meeting between the two leaders’ on the sidelines of a G-20 gathering in Toronto in late June, according to the report.
“The president has said to Erdogan that some of the actions that Turkey has taken have caused questions to be raised in Congress about whether we can have confidence in Turkey as an ally. That means that some of the requests Turkey has made of us, for example in providing some of the weaponry that it would like to use to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), will be harder for us to approve through Congress,” a senior US administration official told the daily.
Davutoglu, however, said the meeting in Toronto was a “friendly” one, befitting the good ties between the two allies. “It was a conversation between leaders of perfectly equal countries. Thus, there was no warning and these claims are completely unfounded,” Davutoglu said during a visit to the southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş.
The government says ties with US are strong, particularly at a time when the two countries expand discussions to stabilize Afghanistan and ensure a smooth US withdrawal from Iraq. However, there are those in the US administration that are troubled about the problem free appearance of the relationship between the US administration and the Turkish government and want the unease felt in Washington over Turkey’s stance on Iran and Israel. Weeks before the Toronto meeting, Turkey voted against sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council, “disappointing” the US. Turkey’s ties with Israel took a deteriorated after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship trying to break a blockade in Gaza on May 31.
Nevertheless, the White House appears to be focused more on the ongoing cooperation with Turkey, rather than disagreements on Iran and Israel. “I really don’t know where they would have deduced that from,” Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told journalists on Monday aboard Air Force One when asked about the Financial Times report. “The president and Erdogan did speak about 10 days ago and they talked about Iran and the flotilla and other issues related to that. But we obviously have an ongoing dialogue with them. But no such ultimatum was issued.”
Speaking late on Monday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that ties with the US are at a “historic peak” although he appeared to agree that some in Congress are not happy with Turkey’s policies and this could affect the US actions regarding Turkey. “There might be difficulties in arms trade, such issues are internal issues for any country,” Erdogan said, emphasizing that the Turkish government might also change course due to the opinions in Parliament. “This is natural,” he said, and added that Turkey is now capable of producing many of the weapons it needs.
The Financial Times report had said Turkey could lose the chance to buy reapers, which are missile-bearing drone aircrafts, due to skepticism in Congress. Turkey, which has been seeking to expand its influence in world politics as a major player in the Middle East, has also recently unveiled its own drone aircraft. Erdogan also defended the new activism in Turkish foreign policy, saying an expansion in ties with neighbors is necessary to maintain growth in the economy. “We will further deepen our relations with our neighbors on the north, south, east and west of Turkey,” he said. Erdogan said there was pressure from the US when Turkey, together with Brazil, brokered an agreement with Iran on nuclear fuel swap, “but not anymore.”
Earlier in the day, President Abdullah Gul also denied any warning from Obama and said some were disturbed by Turkey’s new activism in foreign policy. “There is no problem in our relations with the US. Turkey has been pursuing a constructive policy in every field. But, for some, the Turkey that they were used to no longer exists. Instead, there is a Turkey that plays an active role in many processes. This is puzzling for some.”