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Op-Ed: Obama Visits Turkey-Pluses and Minuses
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: C. Franciscos Economides
May 1, 2009—No. 33 (202) 785-8430

Op-Ed: Obama Visits Turkey-Pluses and Minuses

WASHINGTON, DC—The following Op-Ed appeared in the National Herald 04-25-09, the Greek News 04-27-09, and the Hellenic Voice, 04-29-08.

Obama Visits Turkey-Pluses and Minuses

By Gene Rossides

April 14, 2009

President Obama’s decision to visit Turkey and speak to the Turkish Parliament should be analyzed from the perspective of what he wanted to accomplish in his first overseas trip.

In that eight day trip from April 1 through April 8, Obama attended the G-20 meeting in London to deal with the global economic crisis; the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France to commemorate the 60th anniversary of NATO; the European Union (EU) summit in Prague on April 5 and then to Ankara on April 6 where he spoke to the Turkish Parliaments and to Istanbul on April 7 where he met with university students. He ended his trip with a surprise trip to Camp Victory near Baghdad where he spoke to our troops and received an enthusiastic welcome.

Prior to the opening of the G-20 meeting, President Obama met with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev on at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. That 70 minute meeting was, in my judgment the most important single meeting Obama had during his eight day trip.

Obama and Medvedev in a joint statement said they would work to reduce strategic nuclear arms more than in previous agreements and also pledged to cooperate on the following issues: Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear program, nuclear proliferation and the world economy. Obama will visit Moscow in July. Obama also met on Wednesday, with Chinese President Hu Jintao and will visit China later this year.

At the NATO summit Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan objected to the nomination of the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next NATO secretary-general because he had defended the right of freedom of speech of the Danish cartoonist who published in 2005 unflattering images of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Obama helped broker a deal with Erdogan to support Rasmussen in return for two NATO jobs and a promise to unblock two chapters of its EU accession requirements. Erdogan’s actions were not appreciated by NATO’s EU members.

At the EU summit in Prague, Czech Republic, Obama spoke about nuclear non-proliferation and the elimination of nuclear weapons and reiterated existing U.S. support for Turkey’s accession to the EU.

I believe a key reason Obama included Turkey on his first overseas trip was to address in a Muslim country the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world following 9/11. Turkey was the choice in view of its membership in NATO and proximity to mainland Europe.

I also believe his choice of Turkey was unfortunate in view of Turkey’s anti-Christian and anti-Semitic history; its violation of human rights and crimes against its 20% Kurdish minority; its lack of religious freedom for the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church and illegal taking of its properties; its aggression and occupation in Cyprus and its denial policy of its Armenian Genocide.

Let’s examine the President’s remarks to the Turkish Parliament, It was a wide-ranging speech which dealt with his G-20, NATO and EU meetings, Turkey’s role, Iraq, the al Quaeda threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Iran, and substantial comments on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. He also referred to the following specific issues dealing with Turkey: Turkey and Armenia; Kurds and the PKK; religious freedom and Halki Seminary; and Cyprus.

President Obama is to be commended for raising these specific issues in his speech to the Turkish Parliament and a world-wide audience.

Religious freedom and Halki Seminary

Obama said:

“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthen the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.  An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people.”

The fact that Obama raised the issue of religious freedom is important and a step in the right direction. A statement similar to his October 2008 campaign statement would have been far more preferable. In that statement he said:

“[He was] one of 73 Senators who signed a letter to President Bush in 2006 urging him to press Turkey to restore the full rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Christian Church in Istanbul. [And he had sent] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a personal letter on the same matter. [He called on] Turkey to respect the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s rights and freedoms, including its property rights. Turkey should allow the reopening of the Patriarchate’s school of theology on Halki Island and guarantee the right to train clergy of all nationalities, not just Turkish nationals.”

Obama’s October 2008 statement points out the serious issues facing the Ecumenical Patriarchate in addition to Halki, which he should have raised in his speech.

Cyprus

Obama said:

“Advancing peace also includes the disputes that persist in the Eastern Mediterranean. And here there’s a cause for hope. The two Cypriot leaders have an opportunity through their commitment to negotiations under the United Nations Good Offices Mission. The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation.”

Obama is also to be commended for raising the Cyprus issue in his remarks and referring to reunification based on a “bizonal and bicommunal federation.”

However, he equates President Demetrios Christofias, who is internationally recognized as the President of the Republic of Cyprus, except by Turkey, with Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the 18% Turkish Cypriot minority in the non-recognized, illegal Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus when he refers to both as the “two Cypriot leaders.”

The president failed to refer to the continuing Turkish occupation on Cyprus as he did in his October 2008 campaign statement as follows:

“…A negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the island’s tragic division while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the entire region.”

Obama, Cyprus and the IMF

Obama said the U.S. is “willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus.” I suggest that Obama can play a major role by recommending to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that no financial aid of whatever nature, including loans, be extended to Turkey until there is a firm commitment with a timetable from Turkey to:

  • demilitarize Cyprus now;
  • withdraw now its 43,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus;
  • return to Turkey the 180,000 illegal settlers/colonists from Turkey in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949;
  • tear down the green line barbed-wire fence across the face of Cyprus which, together with Turkey’s 43,000 occupation forces, is the real cause of the alleged isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied northern part of Cyprus;
  • allow Mr. Talat full authority at the bargaining table; and
  • return Famagusta/Varosha now to the Cyprus government under UN administration for the immediate resettlement of refugees as was promised during the debate on lifting the rule of law arms embargo in the summer of 1978.

Turkey’s illegal occupation costs Turkey upwards of one billion dollars. Advocating these policy decisions would underscore Obama’s support for the rule of law and respect for international law. This would illustrate that the U.S. truly wishes to advance the cause of solving the 35-year-old Cyprus problem. Continuing former failed policies that promote a double standard in applying the rule of law to Turkey and the continuing appeasement of Turkey do not serve U.S. interests.

Community action needed—The IMF

It is important that the President hear from the community—from our organizations and from individuals throughout the nation. Specifically call on the President to follow-up his words regarding Cyprus and religious freedom and Halki Seminary with actions.

Specific mention should be made regarding the current negotiations between the IMF and Turkey. Urge the President to inform the IMF that no financial assistance of any nature should be extended to Turkey until there is a firm commitment and timetable from Turkey to take the actions set forth above and add the requirement to reopen Halki Seminary now and return the 7,000 plus church properties illegally taken.

Contact the President as follows:

President Barack Obama
The White House 
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20500 
Tel. 202-456-1111 (Comments)
202-456-1414 (Main Switchboard) 
Fax: 202-456-2461 
E-mail: comments@whitehouse.gov

Copies should be sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Adviser General James Jones, (Ret.).

Gene Rossides, founder of the American Hellenic Institute and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.

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For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.