10/06 Zaman: US image to suffer if resolution passes

US image to suffer if resolution passes

The passage of a resolution in the US Congress supporting Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire will irreparably damage the image of the United States and make the Jewish population a target of criticism in Turkey, Foreign Minister and Chief EU Negotiator Ali Babacan has said.

"If it is passed, relations with the United States will undoubtedly be affected very negatively," Babacan told Today's Zaman in an interview while en route to Turkey from a visit to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) on Thursday evening. "It will further damage the US image in Turkey. We, as the government, can't prevent it no matter what we do."

The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs is due to vote on the non-binding resolution on Wednesday. The resolution is widely expected to clear the committee and chances are very high that it will be approved in the House of Representatives if it is brought to the floor by speaker Nancy Pelosi. Eight former US secretaries of state wrote a letter last week to Pelosi, who backs the genocide claims, to block the vote. The US administration is also opposed to the measure.

An influential US Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), recently reversed its longtime position and declared killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia during the World War I years to be genocide. The ADL says it remains opposed to the Congress resolution because history should be left to historians and not politicians.

However, the ADL’s decision to support the genocide charges has proven to be a major boost for Armenian efforts to win international recognition for the genocide claims.

Babacan said if the resolution is passed in Congress, the Jewish population will inevitably be the target of public anger in Turkey. He said Turkish officials have told the ADL and other US Jewish groups in recent talks that the widespread perception in Turkey would be that “Armenian and Jewish lobbies unite forces against Turks.” He said: “We have told them that we cannot explain it to the public in Turkey if a road accident happens. We have told them that we cannot keep the Jewish people out of this.”

Turkey categorically rejects Armenian claims of genocide and says both Turks and Armenians died when Armenians took up arms against the Ottoman Empire in collaboration with the invading Russian army in hope of creating an independent state.

Babacan said there was a “problem of empathy” that prevents Western countries from understanding why the issue is a sensitive matter for Turkey. “They do not understand that this is execution without trial. They do not understand that 1915 is not a very old date and that they accuse the grandfathers of dozens of people in Turkey by supporting these allegations,” he said.

No rush for Article 301

Responding to a question on prospects for the removal of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), Babacan said Turkey was not in a rush to amend the article before the European Union releases a progress report in early November. “We are going to take our steps according to our own schedule,” he said.

The EU wants Turkey to remove Article 301, which has been used in prosecuting several human rights activists and intellectuals, including Nobel Prize winner and writer Orhan Pamuk and slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, for “insulting Turkishness.”

Babacan reiterated that Article 301 has turned into a kind of “trademark” because it is so often criticized by the EU, but added that the Turkish government was pursuing efforts to achieve a more radical transformation to ensure respect for freedoms, apparently referring to ongoing efforts to rewrite Turkey’s Constitution that was introduced following the military coup in 1980.

“There is an impression that removal of Article 301 will resolve all problems. We are in a broader effort to turn Turkey into a real democracy that respects the rule of law,” he said.

Babacan also played down a December decision by the EU to suspend negotiations on eight of the 35 negotiating chapters with Turkey because of its refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus, saying Turkey was continuing with its accession talks process as if no such decision had been made.

The foreign minister denied there was opposition from the military to the government’s reform efforts and said a military commander simply noted that Turkey should enact reforms according to its own schedule at a recent meeting chaired by him and attended by bureaucrats from different state institutions. He was responding to a report in the Turkish press which said that the commander told the government to go slow on the reforms.

Following the EU decision to partially suspend accession negotiations, Turkey’s bid to join the EU faced more obstacles when conservative politician Nicolas Sarkozy, a firm opponent of Turkey’s membership in the EU, was elected French president earlier this year. Babacan was optimistic on Sarkozy’s stance, saying his decision to allow opening of talks on two new chapters was a sign of his political will for the continuation of Turkey’s accession negotiations.

On Cyprus, Babacan said EU mediation in the island’s decades-old division was no longer acceptable because it had allowed Greek Cyprus to join as a full member. “But the UN, non-EU European countries or the United States may step in,” he said. He also reiterated that Turkey had no intention to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus unless the EU keeps its promises to lift a trade embargo on Turkish Cypriots.

‘Iran an alternative in energy’

Asked to comment on Turkey’s plans to cooperate with neighboring Iran in the field of energy, Babacan explained there was only a preliminary deal to explore alternatives of cooperation with Iran and no agreement and emphasized looking for alternatives like Iran was a necessity. “Turkey’s dependence on natural gas has increased tremendously. We use natural gas to obtain half of our energy needs; 49 provinces have joined the national gas distribution network. We both need to reduce that dependence and diversify our sources. This is why we look to Iran as an alternative,” he said.

On the problem of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq, Babacan said a counterterrorism agreement signed last month with Iraq stipulated that further talks will be held on a Turkish request to have the right to chase PKK terrorists across the common border. And the fact that the current version of the agreement does not include any provision on the right to “hot pursuit” does not mean Turkey can’t use its rights under international law if necessary, he added.

Babacan says negotiator experience helpful

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Ali Babacan responded to a question inquiring whether he was closely monitoring the economy, his responsibility area as a state minister in the previous government, by saying: “Sometimes financial indicators do catch my eye. I try to follow the economy, but not like I used to,” adding that it was in the hands of “very competent people.”

He also noted that a country’s economic success most certainly increases the prestige it has in the eyes of the international community. The minister admits that foreign affairs and the economy are two very different spheres, but recalling that he worked as Turkey’s chief negotiator for EU talks for two years, he said he had grown familiar with most of the key files in international politics.



Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.do?load=detay&link=124082