Representatives of the US Congress have said in Washington, D.C., that the partnership between Turkey and the United States is getting stronger as the Turkish democracy is a “shining model of strength” earned by basic freedoms and democracy at a time of Arab awakening.
Speaking at the “2011 Annual Congress, New Challenges-New Opportunities” co-hosted by the Turkic American Alliance (TAA) and the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said on Wednesday that Turkey’s economy and regional leadership brought benefits not only to the Turkish people but also to the countries going through the Arab Spring and Turkey’s ally, the United States.
Turkey’s great leap forward took place with strong internal policies and by its membership in the G-20. Turkish-US trade volume in the first eight months of 2011 increased 50 percent when compared to the same period of last year, Gillibrand was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying.
According to the senator, the “deep partnership” between Turkey and the United States gets stronger with every passing day.
Meanwhile, Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek said at the same event, where seven US senators and 57 members of the US Congress were present, that Turkey and the United States were not just strategic partners but also natural allies.
Şimşek said Turkey and the United States had made efforts to facilitate peace and democracy in the Middle East. In addition, he said Turkey and the United States fight against global terror and radicalism, support a united Iraq that does not shelter terrorists, and hope the Arab peoples reach better democratic standards.
“Turkey strongly supports the United States’ fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. We are pleased with the US support to Turkey in the fight against the terrorist PKK organization [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. We appreciate the latest steps taken by the US as such steps make Turkey’s fight against the PKK more effective, Şimşek said.
“As members of the G-20, Turkey and the US work together so that the global economy performs better. Our two countries share values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Şimşek said.
The minister also called on the US business community to work with their Turkish counterparts in diverse fields, including renewable energy, infrastructure, tourism and biotechnology.
On Turkey’s accession process to the European Union, Şimşek said Turkish membership in the EU would prevent the clash of civilizations and facilitate the alliance of civilizations.
On the discussions regarding Turkey’s place in the EU, Zaman daily’s Abülhamit Bilici said he did not agree with the criticisms that reforms in Turkey were the result of a top-down process, noting that the reforms had been adopted in response to demands from the people. He advised the participants to examine country reports on Turkey by the EU.
Additionally, Şimşek talked about the eurozone crisis, which could trigger another global financial crisis and worldwide recession, and asserted that the Turkish economy has tools for diverting the effects of a possible crisis.
The minister also noted that the world is watching Turkey’s increased ties with its neighborhood with more interest and added that some countries saw Turkey’s moves in the region as a threatening factor but that recent events showed Turkey’s increased influence in the region presents opportunities both for its allies and the people of the region.
Highlighting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speech in Egypt in which he said a practicing Muslim could rule a secular state and that secularism does not mean anti-religion, Şimşek said that as Turkey consolidates its democracy, it can also be an inspiration for others in the region for peace and stability.
Regarding Turkey-US relations, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bilateral relations of the two countries now go beyond a “regional security partnership” and have a “global strategic importance.”
She noted that even though many allies in the transatlantic community have decreased defense investments, Turkey has contributed to the NATO alliance in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. She also mentioned deployment of a NATO early-warning radar system in Turkey “despite threats from Iran” and its contribution to security in the region.
According to the congresswoman, as a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), Turkey contributes to security. She said this year Turkish police arrested 85 people connected with Hizbullah and al-Qaeda, 15 of whom were planning to attack the US Embassy in Ankara.
Both Şimşek and the congresswoman talked about economic relations between the two countries, which have a trade volume of $15 billion. Şimşek said he expects a rise in that figure, and especially an increase in exports from Turkey to the United States.
Ros-Lehtinen also voiced her concerns about the dismal state of Turkish-Israeli relations and said that she considers the earthquake in the eastern Turkish province of Van and Israel’s offer to provide aid as opportunities to improve the two counties’ relations.
In addition, the congresswoman mentioned the events of 1915 and said that it is not up to the US Congress to define the events, but that Turkey and Armenia can handle the issue.
Armenians claim up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I in a systematic genocide campaign at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey categorically rejects the charges, saying the death toll is inflated and that Turks were also killed as Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire in collaboration with Russian forces for an independent state in Eastern Anatolia. The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Parliament recently passed resolutions endorsing the Armenian version of that period of history, angering Turkey.
As US representatives at the annual meeting generally expressed “better than ever” ties between Turkey and the United States, the agenda of the congress also included developments in the Middle East.
James Zogby of the Arab American Institute (AAI) said Turkey is the most popular country in the Arab world, while the approval rating of the United States in the Middle East is at its lowest point. He also noted that Iran’s popularity in the region has been on a decline. Mentioning Turkey’s move on the side of the people of Gaza, Zogby said Turkey did the right thing in the Middle East, but the US did not.
Robert Wexler, former member of Congress from the Democratic Party and currently president of the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, said Turkey had gains from Israel following the infamous Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 in which Israel raided a Turkish-owned aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters, resulting in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American. The Turkish prime minister declared that Israel’s move was a “cause for war,” but Turkey acted “calmly” and only imposed sanctions on Israel after it refused to apologize for the killings. Turkey also expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended military agreements with Israel.
Wexler said Israel softened its blockade of Gaza after the Mavi Marmara incident. He also added that Turkey and Israel should find a middle ground to solve their problems.
Congress members attracted to cultural corner
In the cultural section of the “2011 Annual Congress, New Challenges-New Opportunities” co-hosted by the Turkic American Alliance (TAA) and the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), US Congress members had Turkish coffee, tried on traditional Turkish attire and had their names written by Turkish calligraphy artists.
Jim McDermott, a US Democratic representative from Washington’s 7th congressional district, showed off the Turkish Beşiktaş soccer team’s jersey that he bought when he visited Turkey.
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, known for his support for Armenian-Americans, expressed his joy to be at the event. He said there is a great Turkish community of businesspeople and professionals in New Jersey contributing to the society.
Another Congress member, Republican Peter King, who is the US Representative from New York’s 3rd congressional, said the Turkish community brings together all party, religious and ethnic community members together. King had been criticized by Muslims living in the United States in recent months because of a conference he organized regarding the “radicalism” of Muslims.
David Vitter, a junior US senator from Louisiana and a member of the Republican Party, said it was one of the “most special events” in Washington, D.C. He also said that he and his wife love to visit Turkey.
Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes said Turkey can be trusted by the US, and Turkey can always trust the US.
Indiana Sen. Dan Coats expressed his appreciation for the Turkish members’ contribution to American society.
Meanwhile, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress and a representative from Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, said the number of members at the event shows the respect that Turkey has in Congress.
In addition, Indiana’s 7th congressional district representative, Andre Carson, the second Muslim in Congress, said there is a need for a Turkish representative in Congress.
İstanbul Today’s Zaman
01 December 2011, Thursday / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL