ANKARA (Hurriyet)–The sudden resignation of veteran Turkish diplomat Nabi Sensoy before his tenure in Washington was set to expire in early 2010 has spurred questions about a potential rift between the Turkish government and its diplomats. Retired ambassadors contacted by the Daily News say the government has failed to give credit to Sensoy’s nearly four-decade-long diplomatic career.
Sensoy resigned in the wake of a critical summit between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.
“The position taken by the Foreign Ministry is against its ethics and traditions,” Nuzhet Kandemir, Turkey’s former ambassador to Washington, told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
“With his nearly 40-year experience and diplomatic career both in the Foreign Ministry and the Presidency, Mr. Sensoy is a respected personality who knows very well how to organize and implement high-level visits,” Kandemir said.
On Tuesday, Sensoy requested to return to his post in the ministry. His request was immediately accepted, the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement late Wednesday that fell short of clarifying what prompted the top diplomat to resign just a few months before his tenure was due to expire in the first half of 2010.
“Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu should explain to the public the real truths behind the resignation of a veteran ambassador who has been unfairly incriminated,” retired Ambassador Inal Batu told the Daily News.
Behind the scenes, Sensoy’s resignation reportedly came after an argument with Davutoglu, who was offended because he was excluded from the Erdogan-Obama meeting in the White House. The foreign minister is said to have accused Sensoy of not fulfilling the request from Ankara that Davutoglu be part of the meeting.
“I don’t want to make a comment,” Sensoy said when asked by the Turkish Dogan news agency why he had resigned.
Well-placed sources said Davutoglu had requested that the White House meeting be in a four-way format known in diplomatic jargon as “one plus one,” which includes two countries’ leaders and foreign ministers, and told the ambassador to convey that request to the U.S. administration.
The meeting in Washington, however, did not take place in the expected format. The exclusion of foreign ministers from Obama-Erdogan meeting led to an argument between the ambassador and Davutoglu, who asked Sensoy why the meeting was not held in the four-way format. Davutoglu noted that the meeting in Ankara during Obama’s first overseas trip in April included the foreign ministers, Hurriyet said.
According to sources, Sensoy told the minister that the request could not be conveyed and said, “You can dismiss me if you like.”
In the back corridors, there has been speculation that Sensoy was reluctant to stay on as ambassador after the tense dialogue with his minister and asked if he could return to the Foreign Ministry.
Former ambassador Kandemir, who served in Washington between 1989 and 1998, said Sensoy must have conveyed the minister’s request to the U.S. administration, which likely did not accept a last-minute change in the program. “Programs of such high-level meetings are scheduled long before to include even minor details,” he said. “The foreign minister, as far as I can see, asked to attend the meeting in the White House at the last minute, when the U.S. Secretary of State was probably not in the room.”
Another former ambassador, Sukru Elekdag, who served in Washington between 1979 and 1989, declined to comment on Sensoy’s resignation, saying that whatever he could say on the issue would be a mere speculation. He did emphasize that, “The Turkish Embassy in Washington is Turkey’s most important foreign mission abroad.”
Retired Ambassador Batu believes the resignation was not a result of an abrupt and unrestrained reaction on the part of Sensoy, who he called a very experienced, balanced, mature and capable diplomat. “I think the minister’s failure to give credit to his diplomatic expertise became the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when asked about the resignation while in Mexico, said only: “Let’s hope for the best.”
In the past, the prime minister has occasionally been on bad terms with his country’s ambassadors. At a 2006 meeting in Berlin, Erdogan reprimanded former Turkish Ambassador to Germany Mehmet Irtemcelik, asking why headscarf-wearing women were not allowed to receive documents from the embassy.
After his heated words with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum early this year, Erdogan also called retired ambassadors “monsieurs” when they criticized his outburst in Davos.
“I do not come from a diplomatic background. I am a person who came from politics,” he told his party’s group meeting after the Davos crisis. “I don’t know the tradition of those diplomats and especially monsieurs. Indeed, I don’t want to know.”
Born in Istanbul in 1945, Sensoy began serving in the Foreign Ministry in 1970 and worked as private assistant in the Presidency in 1988. In 1990, he was appointed ambassador to Madrid. In 1995, he worked as director-general at the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Policy Planning. He served as the ministry’s deputy undersecretary in 1997 and was then appointed ambassador to Moscow in 1998. Sensoy returned to the ministry in 2002, again working as deputy undersecretary.
He was appointed ambassador to Washington in January 2006. He was recalled to Turkey in October 2007 after the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, but returned to his position shortly afterward. He was serving as ambassador during Erdogan’s meeting with then-U.S. President George W. Bush in November 2007 in Washington.
In a written statement, the Foreign Ministry announced that a new ambassador to replace Sensoy would be appointed in the coming days.
After Sensoy’s return to Ankara, the ministry will be evaluating possible candidates for the country’s leading foreign mission. In January, all of Turkey’s ambassadors abroad are expected to come together in the Turkish capital to discuss the country’s foreign policy. Sensoy is also expected to attend that meeting.
The strongest candidate for the Washington embassy appears to be Ambassador Unal Cevikoz, currently deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry. A specialist in the Caucasus region, Cevikoz is one of the architects of the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process.
According to the decree on appointed ambassadors published in the Official Gazette in September, Cevikoz’s position as deputy undersecretary of the ministry has not changed. He is known to have stayed on that position due to the ongoing normalization process between Turkey and Armenia and was expected to be appointed to one of the leading capitals.