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Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

F. STEPHEN LARRABEE:  Well, good morning.  Let me welcome you to the last session before lunch.  I’m Steve Larrabee from the RAND Corporation.  We’re going to focus, in this session, on geopolitics.  What are the key geopolitical trends in the Black Sea area?  How are they likely to affect the political-economic developments in the region?  And look a little bit at the external actors and forces that may also be important.

We have three very distinguished panelists to help us answer these questions.  The first – and this is in the order in which they will speak – is Ibrahim Kalin who’s the foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan and also the founding director of the SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research. 

Second, Ambassador Richard Burt who’s had a distinguished career both in journalism as national-security correspondent for The New York Times, in government where he’s served as a political director of military, political and military affairs in the State Department.  Was also assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs.  Was ambassador to Germany and also, rather relevant right at this moment, the head of the strategic-arms limitation – START talks. 

And finally Joost Hiltermann who is with the International Crisis Group, which has done a lot of very important and good work, analytically, on the situation in Iraq.  He’s a specialist, particularly on Iraq, but the Middle East as well. 

I’d like to start – before I start, actually, to emphasize that we want to focus here on questions and discussion.  The speakers, I will ask them really to speak only for five or six minutes in order to get a dialogue.  I ask, also, from the floor, no long speeches but questions.  We’ll have a discussion here among ourselves first.  And then halfway through, I’ll open it up for questions to the audience.

Let me begin with you, Ibrahim, if I may.  I’d like you to say a few words about the key trends that you see in the area.  And what are Turkey’s interests?  Particularly, could you address the questions regarding Turkey’s foreign policy in a broader sense as well?  What are the key goals and objectives of Turkey’s new activism in the region and beyond the region? 

How does Turkey’s focus on the Middle East and Central Asia and the Caucasus – does it represent, as some observers and critics claim, an Islamization of Turkish foreign policy?  Is that what’s happening?  Does it represent, as others claim, a sort of return to something similar to Neo-Ottomanism?  And is Turkey, as many people are beginning to sense, really drifting away from the West?

IBRAHIM KALIN:  In five minutes?  (Laughter.)

MR. LARRABEE:  I’m sure you can do it.  (Laughter.) 

MR. KALIN:  Well, let me begin by thanking the Atlantic Council for this great event and for the invitation.  These questions have been on the agenda, obviously, among the policymakers and analysts for some time, as a result of Turkey’s active foreign policy.  But this activism comes in many different forms, obviously. 

It’s not only a new activism but also it’s a politification (sic) of areas of interest for Turkish foreign policy.  And the way we see it is it’s a natural result and extension of the multinational world or multidimensional world in which we live now.  And we have to respond to the realities of the 21st century. 

One, I think, underlying current in this kind of thinking is the attempt – maybe not successful at all times – but a steady attempt to overcome what we inherited as oppositional identities.  There’s rigid divisions between East and West Islamic world and Europe, between the Middle East and Europe, et cetera.

And you see this, in fact, in all sectors of Turkish life, Turkish society.  It’s not only in foreign policy.  The thinking is that we don’t see any contradiction between Turkey trying to become a full member in the European Union and maintaining its trans-Atlantic partnership and relationship with the United States.  But also, at the same time, expanding into areas of what I call our national geography.  That is the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. 

And we don’t see any contradiction between these different approaches to regional issues.  Turkey remains a committed ally in the NATO.  Turkey considers EU membership as a strategic goal.  And I mentioned the trans-Atlantic relations.  But also, we have vital interests:  Economic, energy and security interests, obviously, in the Caucasus, in the Balkans and in the Middle East.

And in that regard, there is a convergence of what I call ideology and realpolitik – that is on the one hand there is a new thinking, obviously, as we look at world events from a different point of view because the Cold War is over.  We no longer live in this bipolar world.  There is a new geographic imagination. 

The ideas of graphical continuity, especially, in the context of Eurasia that you are discussing, the Black Sea region, et cetera, there is that natural connection, obviously, with the Balkans, with the Middle East, with the Caucasus.  But also there is an element of realpolitik – that is, Turkey’s vital economic-security interests to give you just one example. 

For example:  We’ve been dealing with the PKK issue for the last quarter of a century.  And we have to deal with our neighbors, that is, with Iran, with Syria, with Iraq.  We had major problems in the past. 

You know, going back about 10 years ago or so you remember in ‘99, we came to the brink of war with – (audio break) – over the PKK issue because the Beqaa Valley at that time, you know, was a training camp for PKK along with many other terrorist organizations.  And we have to deal with that with Iran, with Iraq, et cetera.

So the best way to secure our borders to our east was to engage its neighbors.  And this is what we did over the last seven, eight years – but economically also.  Turkish economy is growing.  That’s been, you know, the big story despite the financial crisis. 

And we have vital interests.  Economic interests with Iran, with Syria, with Iraq, with other neighbors in the region, the Caucasus, with our neighbors and in Greece.  And our energy needs – that’s another highlight of this conference for example.  As Turkish economy grows, our demand for energy also grows.  And we have to get this energy, natural gas, oil from somewhere. 

And sometimes, you know, we hear this criticism of having these successful economic relations with Iran for example.  I mean, why is a NATO ally having that kind of relationship with Iran economically speaking?  Well, the reason for the $20 billion trade volume with Iran is simply our energy needs. 

And if there isn’t any other market in any other place from which we can buy this natural gas, we will go and buy it if it is cost efficient, et cetera.  But it’s a part of what we call the realpolitik of our world.  So in that regard, Turkish foreign policy is moving in multiple directions.  And we don’t see this as giving priority to one region or one set of issues over others. 

In fact we are simply, I think, catching up in many ways with what we have neglected, you know, during the Cold War.  And these were the necessities of the Cold War.  But now, I think we live in a much different world.  It’s a much more interconnected world.  And these relations, obviously, create new relations of interdependence.  It’s not a one-way street. 

And that interdependence is becoming a global reality across the globe now.  Interdependence between the United States and China economically speaking.  Interdependence between Asian economies and Europe.  Interdependence in regional areas.  And that, as I said, you know, you can see across the board.  And this is a reality in which we live in Turkey, also. 

And one last point before the chair cuts me off.  So I’ll just stop –

MR. LARRABEE:  How did you know?  (Laughter.)

MR. KALIN:  – is that we try to develop and nourish relations of mutual empowerment.  That is, when we believe we prosper economically, we grow economically and we secure our region from a security point of view that will benefit our partners – our immediate neighbors but also our, kind of, second-tier neighbors in the Black Sea region, in the Balkans and other areas.

That is, it’s in our interest to have, for example, a stable Iraq.  It’s in our interest to have a successfully – economically successful Syria.  It’s in our interests, economic interests, energy interests, security interests to have all of our neighbors to reach a certain degree of political stability and economic growth because that will benefit at the end, us.  But that’s not a selfish point of view.  In fact, at the end of the day, that’s a contribution to regional peace and in turn, obviously, to global peace.

And when we move in this multidimensional world, it’s not only moving or emphasizing our relations with Middle Eastern countries.  But if you look at, for example, our immediate neighbors again, we have come a long way in our relationship with Greece, you know, over the last decade or so.

You know, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, our constant issue on our foreign-policy agenda was our relationship with Greece.  You know, the islands and you know all the issues, Cyprus, et cetera, that we had with Greece.  But now, that horizon has been widened quite considerably with Bulgaria.  Fifteen years ago, you know, thousands of – close to, I think, 250,000 Turks were forced to flee, for example, Bulgaria, because of cultural isolation and oppression that they faced there. 

And we let them in.  Thousands of them came.  Some of them returned.  But many of them stayed here.  And now, we have excellent working relationship with Bulgaria.  And so I mean this goes through the entire region.  With Armenia, probably, will come up in our discussions. 

You know, we started an initiative here hoping it will reach a certain degree of completion.  And we will have a normalized relation with Armenia at some point, hopefully.  So from our point of view, this is moving in multiple directions.  And we believe that, that’s in our interest but also in the interest of the region.  I’ll stop here.

MR. LARRABEE:  Okay, thank you.  That’s a good segue into the next topic.  I’d like to ask Ambassador Richard Burt to kind of comment on this, both on the question of interdependent, multinational interests and so forth.  Say a little bit about how this looks from the U.S. perspective and particularly how Turkey’s greater regional activism is seen in Washington.  What are the dangers?  What are the obstacles?  And finally, maybe, if you could say a word about the role of other powers, particularly Russia and Europe.  Rick? 

RICHARD BURT:  Thanks, Steve.  I’d like to really start out by complimenting Ibrahim in really providing a very succinct but I think a pretty comprehensive treatment of where Turkish policy is going.  And I think my only regret is I don’t think this is sufficiently understood or appreciated in Washington. 

I have to say I’m very impressed with the dynamism that the Turkish government has pursued a new set of relationships – continuing to emphasize its links to Europe, its desire for a good working relationship with Washington but at the same time developing its ties into Central Asia, into the Arab world.  And I thought it was interesting – Ibrahim you didn’t say this.  But earlier this morning, someone talked about Turkish soft power. 

People haven’t traditionally equated Turkey with soft power.  But I think under the AKP government, I think we’ve seen a pretty vivid demonstration of that.  I think there are some issues, as far as the United States is concerned, I think that, as I said, this isn’t fully appreciated.  There’s a lack of understanding of where Turkey is moving.  I think there’s just a traditional level of comfort with Turkey’s traditional role as the loyal ally on the southern flank.

And I think you quite correctly described how that concept for Turkey doesn’t fit with a post-Cold War world.  And also what I would phrase a G20 world where it’s not just multipolarity, it’s really a polycentric world where it isn’t just a question of three-or-four brick countries.  It’s really a larger group of countries like Turkey that are taking on greater responsibility. 

And it’s a world that, maybe in this region, is becoming slightly less geopolitical and more geoeconomic.  And where, clearly, energy, the big subject in this forum, is an integrated factor in thinking about the Black Sea and Central Asia.  One reason I think that maybe the United States is having some adjustment problems to a more active Turkish foreign policy and a different Turkish foreign policy is that in terms of this broader region, the United States has been distracted. 

I mean, clearly we’re in the process of trying to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq.  You’ve got the major problem of Af-Pak – of Afghanistan and Pakistan continuing to not only eat up American resources but, sort of, dominating the foreign policy and national security discussion in Washington. 

And you of course, you’ve got the slow-motion crisis of Iran and what to do about the potential nuclearization of Iran.  And you’ve got the Israeli-Palestinian issue and trying there to kind of give that very difficult process some real life.  And I don’t think, as a result, Turkey’s growing role in the region has received enough attention.

I have to say, too, to make a critique of Europeans:  I think they fall in the same category.  The Europeans are of course focused on their economic problems, trying to salvage the Eurozone and low-growth economies with some important exceptions like Germany.  But it’s clear that those problems have made Turkish accession and discussions between Turkey and the European Union more difficult rather than less difficult.

I was glad to hear you say that this continues to be a goal of Turkish policy.  And I hope indeed that it does.  And I think, as you know very well, the United States, sometimes quietly, sometimes not so quietly, has supported this effort.  And I think it’s important that we do – (audio break) – in a way that’s productive rather than counterproductive. 

But the two key countries here really remain opposed.  And that’s France and Germany.  But the EU needs to also recognize the opportunities of a more dynamic and more influential role for Turkey in the region. 

If I would point to one issue though that I think is of some concern in Washington and I think in parts of Europe:  And that is, not the question of necessarily Turkey’s broader regional role, although there will be some hiccups and I think, actually, the joint Brazilian-Turkish initiative on Iran – you knew I had to praise that. 

I think it meant well but I don’t think its timing in the course of the broader discussion with the West and Iran, I don’t think it necessarily was a wise initiative.  But more importantly is it’s the domestic situation here in Turkey.  Turkey has been a great economic success.  The AKP government has reformed not only the Turkish economy but is looking to streamline the political system. 

But there clearly is a very deep rift within Turkey between the old, secular establishment and the AKP.  And it manifests itself from time to time, if you will.  And there are different ways to talk about it.  But there is a kind of persistence of the sort of deep state in Turkey.  And this has posed certain problems for U.S. policy. 

I think by and large, as a reformer, the United States has been supportive of Prime Minister Erdogan.  But there’s also though, a great decider that the secular traditions of Turkey also be sustained.  And so we will watch this process work itself out because as much as somebody last night said that confidence was really critical for Turkey – a critical factor in Turkey’s rise in this region, I would argue stability is even more important. 

And so the ability of the secularists and the AKP to work out some kind of consensus on the shape of a secular state in an Islamic culture is a really, I think, long-run critical challenge facing Turkey and its friends.  Now, Steve asked me to also say something about the other, sort of, power – regional power, if I can call it that.  And that’s of course Russia.

And here, too, I think there’s a very interesting kind of debate unfolding.  We just had this week, this very important development where President Medvedev has dismissed Mayor Luzhkov.  This, I think, is the tip of an iceberg. 

Where I think there is a kind of growing debate within Russia between the modernizers, if you will, the integrationists and I think President Medvedev is pursuing a strategy of seeing if Russia can diversify beyond simply its extracted industries, its energy sector to become a more modern economy and to deal with the persistent problems of corruption and a gradual, real democratization. 

The debate between that group and what you might want to call the traditionalists around Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, who are more skeptical of this approach and who would probably like to pursue a more traditional approach in the extension of Russian influence in the so-called post-Soviet space.  The resolution of that issue will have an important impact on this region. 

We see that as almost a case study in terms of Russian-Ukrainian relations.  And the Ukrainians were able to profit off of a Russian desire to maintain their naval capability in the Black Sea with the extension of their lease in the Crimean Sea.  So how that issue works itself out – I would hope to see the Russians pursue a course similar to Turkey.  And that is a more integrationist approach – a soft-power approach to the region. 

And that will have, I think, important consequences not only for the Black Sea but into Central Asia.  And one other point on the Russian role – President Medvedev now has proposed a new framework for thinking about European security which would extend into this region and into Central Asia. 

He talks about a new security architecture.  Clearly, the key role here is to try to deemphasize the role of NATO.  That’s clear.  But I’m wondering if we shouldn’t look a little more closely at the Medvedev proposal, particularly, as it applies to the Black Sea and to Central Asia for the very reason of being able to foster a broader discussion and debate about economic development in the region and about democratization and human rights. 

I think in Washington there’s been a resistance to kind of taking up this idea for understandable reasons but I think just as the old CSCE process actually, in my view, worked in our favor in terms of promoting an openness and greater liberalism in Eastern Europe.  This Medvedev proposal might also serve the same function in dealing with democratization, liberalization and greater economic integration and cooperation in Central Asia and the Black Sea area. 

Talking about geopolitics and I’ll end here.  I think we sometimes forget why we talk integration.  We also need to think about some of the forces of disintegration in the area.  Sub-national, I mentioned some of the strains within Turkey.  But we do need to focus, I think, on issues like corruption. 

We do need to look at issues that are in this broader region like the problem of drugs, illegal drugs.  We do need to look at issues of the illegal transfer of sensitive technologies, particularly nuclear technologies.  This is another set of issues that need to be addressed in some kind of regional framework where both the United States, I think, and the Europeans could play a very constructive function. 

MR. LARRABEE:  Thanks, Rick.  I think you’ve both given us a very broad and wide perspective here – a framework for looking at some of these other issues.  I’d like now to turn to Joost and actually ask him about a specific issue which is likely to have an important impact on the region and particularly on Turkey as well as the United States and that’s Iraq. 

And I’d like to draw on your Iraqi experience and so forth and just ask you what are the key factors that you think are likely to influence Iraq’s political evolution after the U.S. withdrawal?  What do you expect will happen as a result of the withdrawal?  What are the kind of key dangers?  And finally, what impact and what’s the role for Turkey?

JOOST HILTERMANN:  Well, thank you very much Stephen.  I wanted to thank also the Atlantic Council for giving me the opportunity to address this audience.  Some of you know I was living in Istanbul until a year ago.  And I didn’t really want to leave but – so I take any opportunity to come back and this is a particularly good one. 

But in answer to your questions I’ll just sort of give you a quick overview of the current state in Iraq because it will determine what may happen after the U.S. troop withdrawal at the end of next year and talk about the Turkish role as well.  Ambassador Burt mentioned the importance of stability in the region.

And I think, first of all, there are three conflicts in the region that have a high potential of destabilizing the entire region and of course Turkey will be very much affected.  The first one is the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Second one is the Iran nuclear issue.  And the third one is, clearly, Iraq. 

And you have – you know that until now, there is no government in Iraq.  And I would like to throw an interesting statistic at you.  As of tomorrow, Iraq will be the country that has been longer without government as a parliamentary democracy than any other country.  It will be more than the Netherlands, my own country, as of tomorrow. 

Of course, the Netherlands also is without a government today so maybe it’s trying to beat Iraq in the end.  But for now – but there’s a huge difference between the Netherlands and Iraq, as you can imagine.  We have governing institutions, we have a caretaker government that can continue to function and take decisions; there will be continuous service delivery. 

All of these things in Iraq are highly problematic at this time.  There are only fragile institutions which often lack independence that are under constant threat, still, from violence and groups that intimidate judges for example.  And there is no real service delivery without decision-makers ready to take decisions. 

And because of an enduring climate of distrust and fear because of the past conflicts, many senior officials will not want to take any decisions because they are afraid that the next government – the leadership of the next government may not be favorable to them and they may lose their positions if not worse, again, because there is no real independent judiciary until now. 

And so we don’t have a government.  And this situation has lasted now for almost seven months.  And it could – I would predict at least last until January, maybe longer.  And it’s a very unsettling situation.  We’ve seen violence, maybe, clearly not as much as during the worst years of sectarian fighting in Baghdad in 2005 to 2007.  Violence has been sort of sporadic, lethal, but not too frequent.  And certainly not in a way that brings the whole house down. 

If you see The New York Times today, you’ll see that what has increased in the last month is the number of rocket attacks on the Green Zone, the international zone in central Baghdad.  But otherwise, things have been stable.  The spoilers out there, which very much exist, are trying to exploit the current political stalemate for their own ends.  But they have not succeeded in triggering greater, broader more systematic violence.  And this is a blessing.  But the question is how long will this be able to continue? 

So there’s two ways forward.  One is without a government.  And in that case, there could be a real threat of a return to civil war.  This is a very bad scenario and I think all actors in the region, including the United States and inside Iraq, are trying to prevent that.  They are working very hard to prevent it.  But they just haven’t found a way out of the governmental crisis. 

And the second way forward is obviously to form a government.  And there are different scenarios there and I don’t want to bore you with it.  But at the moment, none of the three scenarios seems to be moving forward.  And so what this means is that for the time being, no decisions can be made.  But even when a government is formed, it will be very difficult for that government to govern. 

This is going to count after the American troop withdrawal.  And this is because the next government, if it is going to be formed, is going to have to be broadly inclusive.  A coalition government between the largest lists – maybe three, even parts of a fourth list.  This is necessary for stability.  The alternative is civil war.  So we know that this is the way forward. 

But as you know, it is very difficult to take decisions when everybody is sitting around a table and everybody has to be part of it.  And so governance is not going to be the hallmark of the next government just as it wasn’t of the previous one.  I think Iraq is going to face, still, a very difficult period forward of sort of much, much less than optimal conditions. 

Now, some of the decisions that need to be taken are really critically important.  One of them is about the oil law, the hydrocarbons law, as well as an oil-revenue sharing law.  We have had no progress on these matters since 2007 and it’s questionable whether the next government can decide on that.  But an oil law is going to be critical to tie Iraq together back together as a country. 

And especially to alleviate some of the real tensions that exist between the Iraq’s sort of majority Arab population and the minority Kurdish population and between the political representatives of these two communities in Baghdad and Arbil.  This brings me to the matter of Turkey.  Turkey is keenly aware of what is going on in Iraq and keenly concerned, as it should be. 

And it has, in my view, played a very intelligent game so far.  And it is driven by three major concerns I would say.  One is that – and that’s the overriding one – is that Turkey supports the territorial integrity of Iraq.  It doesn’t want Iraq in any way to fall apart, to be threatened in its borders.  And that means – that relates to any kind of civil war situation but especially Kurdish irredentism, an attempt by the Kurds of Iraq secede or to support the Kurds of Turkey through the PKK to undertake actions in Turkey which would have a mutual impact on the two countries. 

Secondly, Turkey is deeply concerned about what it sees as the spreading influence of Iran in the region.  Turkey has good relations with Iran and wants to keep these.  At the same time, it is concerned about Turkey’s – about Iran’s, rather, nuclear program and about the influence Iran has been able to exert in Iraq after 2003.  And I would like to dam this in, in a way by the use of soft power.  It certainly is not seeking any form of confrontation. 

And thirdly, Turkey is quite eager to gain access to Iraq’s vast oil and gas reserves.  And it has worked very hard in the last couple of years to accomplish this.  Now, this raises the question of the relationship between Baghdad and Arbil and how Turkey has dealt with – Turkey has dealt with it after 2003, I would say not very well. 

But in the last three years, it has followed a very smart policy of dealing with both Baghdad and Arbil in trying to bring the two sides together, which is going to be really critical to the stability of Iraq and therefore would be to the benefit of Turkey. 

MR. LARRABEE:  Can I just interject?  I’d like to come back.  I want to open it up for questions.  But I’d like to give both Ibrahim and Rick a chance to comment just slightly on this because what we want to look at is the geopolitical consequences of what’s happening in Iraq. 

And there I’d like to just ask Ibrahim, can you address exactly the issue that Joost has raised regarding, in particular, the Kurdish issue and Turkey’s relations with the KRG?  How do you see that evolving?  And how do you think that – what effect that will have on the future evolution of Iraq?

MR. KALIN:  As Joost pointed out, we have come a long way in our relations with the KRG in the last two or three years –

(Audio break.)

MR. KALIN:  (In progress) – knew what Iraq was going to be like.  A new constitution was being drafted.  But I mean, who had a hand in it?  And it was, you know, practically I think the factor written by a group of American constitutionalists. 

And I mean, the Iraqis were involved but I mean, the result is – (audio break) – have now in terms of the federal structure of Iraq which is causing, obviously, Iraq a lot of problems because you can keep the territorial integrity of Iraq.  But how are we going to maintain or secure the political unity of Iraq with this kind of system?  That remains to be seen, obviously, in the Iraqi system. 

But over the last two years or so, we have improved our relations with KRG.  I should say we normalized our relationship with them because it’s not that we didn’t have any relationship with them before.  As Cengiz Çandar, one of our most prominent journalists once commented, Mr. Talabani, who is the president of Iraq now and Mr. Barzani, who is the president of the Kurdistan region, KRG, in fact know the kebab houses in Ankara and Istanbul better than we do because they lived in Istanbul and Ankara for many, many years. 

They have still have offices here, et cetera.  So we had this in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  We had this very close relationship with them.  And now, we have – I think we are back to that normal level of relationship.   But of course now, you know, one is the president of Iraq, the other one is the president of the KRG.  And we respect that.  We deal with them as who they are. 

Now, regarding our own Kurdish issue – of course that’s Turkey’s issue.  The Kurdish issue as a regional issue, obviously, is related to the four countries that have the Kurdish population in them:  Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, no doubt.  But our Kurdish issue is our own issue with some links, obviously, in northern Iraq and other places.  But that’s a whole different set of issues.  I don’t want to mix up the two. 

But I think in terms of maintaining or securing Iraq’s territorial integrity and political stability, we try our best to play a constructive role there.  But that is sometimes limited.  Our ability to do so is sometimes limited by the realities of internal Iraqi politics.  Tensions between Arbil and Baghdad and, you know, many other issues.  So that sometimes limits our ability and the ability of other countries in the region. 

And regarding Joost’s point about Turkey’s relationship with Iran and regional balance of power, our approach is, is that there should be a balance of power in the key regional issues.  No single country should or I should say can really control the regional dynamics by itself.  We live in such an integrated, such an interrelated region that all issues are interrelated, interdependent.  And there must be – and this reality must be reflected in the policies that we follow. 

MR. LARRABEE:  Let me ask Rick, from the American perspective does the withdrawal of the troops – what will be the impact domestically in the United States?  How will that play out?  And what role would you expect the United States to play in the region after the withdrawal?

MR. BURT:  Well, I mean the simple answer to that question is, is what are the consequences of what happens in Iraq as U.S. forces are drawn down and leave?  If we see an intensified civil war, if that spills over and you get regional intervention, say the Iranians begin to play a stronger role, a more obvious role.  If other countries find – you know, have excuses for intervention.  If this leads to a potential talk in northern Iraq about Kurdish succession, then you could have a broader regional crisis. 

And on the other hand, if the different parties are able to work out a solution to governance in Baghdad, if the Kurds and the Iraqi-Arabs, as the Kurds call them, are able to work out an agreement on energy, for example, and the growing development of northern Iraq and figure out a revenue sharing approach, then I think there will be this important stability that I talked about earlier. 

And you can get the kind of forces of economic integration that Ibrahim talked about.  So it’s really hard to say.  I think there will be some important issues, though, that will relate to U.S. policy.  One is, what happens with Iran?  I mean, needless to say, if there is some form of conflict with Iran that could involve whether it’s Israeli or U.S. use of military force in the region, I think that would be highly, in my judgment, highly destabilizing. 

It will certainly polarize opinion in the region.  It will be strongly opposed here in Turkey.  And it will weaken efforts by the United States to strengthen relations with countries in the region and that could have very adverse consequences for the Palestinian-Israeli process. 

Alternatively, if the United States can finally succeed in having some sort of broad dialogue with the Iranians, not just focus on the question of enrichment of uranium, but a broader dialogue about Iran’s security requirements, its role in the region, that could have a very positive impact, I think, on the region as a whole and the U.S. position in the region.

I’ll only say one thing about the U.S.-Turkish relationship on these types of issues.  I think it’s important to remember that with the Obama administration – and I’m not here as a spokesman for the Obama administration – but with the Obama administration, you had a very early visit by the president to Turkey, a very important speech was not simply focused on American-Turkish relations, but America’s relationship with the Muslim world as a whole.

And you’ve had an effort by this administration to extricate itself from Iraq in a stabilizing manner and you’ve had a very determined effort by the U.S. administration to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

There’s a sense – an important sense of Washington that somehow this hasn’t been fully understood or reciprocated by the Turkish government.  And I think there’s a sense that somehow, that the United States and the Turkish government could be stronger partners in the region than they currently are. 

And there’s also a sense in Washington that in some respects, this is held back by Turkish public opinion, that despite these changes in U.S. policy, it somehow hasn’t been fully understood by the Turkish public and the United States is still viewed in a pretty critical or negative fashion by Turkish public opinion.

MR. LARRABEE:  Let me – well, I want to open it up, but let me just make a comment on that because I think you raised, actually, two very good, important points.  One is that Turkish foreign policy is not very well understood in many ways in Washington.  I think that’s less of a problem, as you said, with the administration than it is in Congress.

But on the other hand, it’s also true, I think, that American foreign policy and American relations with Turkey, as you suggested, is not really as well understood here, both, I would add, in the Turkish administration and particularly, among public opinion. 

If you go back to a period under the Bush administration when relations, except at the very end, were really quite bad, Obama came into power and it looked as if there was going to be a kind of realignment of U.S. and Turkish relations.  After all, he was on record as wanting some of the same things that Turkey had always said the U.S. should pursue.

First, an opening of a dialogue to Iran.  Secondly, an opening of a dialogue with Syria and then broader engagement with the Middle East and then with Russia.  All these things, actually, the administration tried to do and one had hoped and thought, particularly with the president going on in his administration to Turkey, which was a highly symbolic move.

After all, it was the first country, really, that he visited within the first two or three months – European country – not counting NATO and EU or its organizations.  And one expected, in fact, that this would bring U.S. and Turkish policy together. 

And it has to an extent, but I’d have to say, as Rick said from Washington, that there’s a little bit of a disappointment in Washington, I think, that it hasn’t jived as well as one had hoped and particularly, obviously, on Iran and on relations with Israel, although obviously, there are real problems that are beyond Turkish control.

But let me open it up now because I’m sure that – you want to say one thing?  Okay.

MR. KALIN:  You’re absolutely right.  President Obama’s visit to Turkey was very much appreciated here.  It was extremely well-received and he himself used a new word to define Turkish-American relationship under his presidency.  He called it model partnership.  And that was well-appreciated here.

And in many ways, it was reciprocated and you see this in our engagement with Iraq, with Syria, in Afghanistan and many other critical areas, energy security, et cetera.  What happened were two things that were separate but somehow got mixed up, especially in Washington.

One is the vote on Iran.  The second one is the Mavi Marmara incident, which led to the current state of affairs between Turkey and Israel.  Now, let me begin with the second one.  It didn’t, of course, just suddenly emerge with the Mavi Marmara incident, the flotilla incident.  The short historical background was the war on Gaza and the role that Turkey played in the Turkish – in the Syrian-Israeli talks.

You know, after five rounds of talks, I mean you all know the story, but I think it’s important to remember so that you see the context.  After five rounds of talks, the prime minister spent about six hours with then the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his residence in Ankara to finalize the talks, which will have led to the open talks between the Syrians and Israelis.

And it really was like 90-some percent completed.  It was a matter of few words, you know, few little things here and there that needed to be finalized and Mr. Olmert, at the time, said, all right, let me go back to Tel Aviv and I’ll call you back in a week to finalize it because I need to consult with my government, et cetera.

That call never came.  The call was the war on Gaza.  Now, of course, there was an element of breach of trust there and the rest.  And of course, the impact of the war on Gaza on the Middle East, on the Palestine issue, on the people of Gaza, et cetera, I need not tell you in detail.

Now, of course, it started building up and the flotilla incident, when it happened, and we explained our position on that issue on many, many occasions, and the prime minister also and president and the foreign minister said this on record many times, but at the end of the day, we lost nine of our citizens, one of whom was an American.

And as if these people didn’t die, as if they committed a crime, as if they attacked someone, as if they destroyed someone’s property or invaded someone’s land, Turkey is suddenly being put on trial now.  Why did you allow these people?  Why did you let this happen?  And I think there is a mix-up there.

MR.    :  Domestic.

MR. KALIN:  No, I mean in Washington, in other places, also, there’s that debate that Turkey’s being accused of, as if it’s responsible for what happened with the flotilla incident.  Now, that’s a separate issue.  While that debate was taking place, the Iran vote came up and there, as Ambassador Burt pointed out, you know, with Brazil, we did something which we thought was the right thing to do given the circumstances.

And the circumstance was that in the Iranian nuclear file, for the last, at least six, seven years, no one has been able to get the Iranians to sign a document to commit themselves to even a position paper.  The Tehran Declaration is still the only remaining, only existing document we have for the nuclear program that is the exchange of enriched uranium that the Iranians have.

Now, we didn’t come up with those numbers or with those mechanisms.  Those numbers, that is 1212 gram of low-enriched uranium that Iran has and the fact that they will be transferred to Turkey and it will be monitored by the Vienna Group and the Iranians will get 120 or 100 kilogram of enriched uranium which they will use for the Tehran reactor – all those details – were put together in consultation with our American friends and with the Europeans’ presence.

And after negotiations and talks, et cetera and foreign and prime minister went to Tehran on May 17th, the declaration was announced.  But within hours, it was dismissed as if it had no value, it had no meaning.  But from our point of view, it was not only meant or with good intention, but I think we thought it was the right thing to do at the moment.

And the Tehran Declaration is still on the table.  The Iranians have not backed away from that.  And if it can be implemented, we’ll be willing to play the role of transferring, you know, the uranium, et cetera.  Now, these are all the details that need to be kept in mind.  Now, it is against this background that Turkey voted no against the sanctions.  That’s the main context.

But unfortunately, the two issues got mixed up.  And suddenly, especially, I’ll say in May, June, those two months, the perception was that, oh, this model partnership is finished.  You know, they are going apart two countries.  There’s very little trust, et cetera.  But I think now, we are recovering from that. 

Now, there is a better line of communication between the two and you know, this is reflected, as I said, in many other areas because there are those other areas in which we continue to cooperate very closely and the two leaders, you know, speak to one another.  It’s not like you know, suddenly, someone has lost someone else.  The relationship is still there.

MR. LARRABEE:  Let me open it up.  We have time for a few questions.  I think this has been very useful.  You’re so stunned by brilliance?  (Laughter.)  Yes – and please identify yourself and questions – not –

Q:  This is Forgiamin Surun (ph).

MR. LARRABEE:  Pardon?

Q:  (Via translator.)  I will ask in Turkish.  My question is to Richard Burt and my question will be in Turkish.  Mr. Richard Burt, you summarized the relations between America and Turkey.  They’re good.  On the one hand, you said that the American states of America is supporting Turkey but maybe America has some concerns about the secularist practices in Turkey. 

In last few years, the secularist policies in Turkey do not reflect the Jacobean laicist (ph) and secularist policies in French, but they try to reflect the EU secularist policies.  And – (inaudible, background noise) – align our constitution with the EU practices.  So in what way do you think that America has concerns about the secularist practices in Turkey?

MR. BURT:  (Inaudible) – it’s a concern about the details of secularist practices in Turkey.  That’s not – that’s really up to the Turks and to the extent they change as a result of negotiations with the EU, that’s up to Turkey and Brussels.  What we in Washington hear and see is a group of Turkish visitors who come to Washington. 

Some are very concerned about what they view is the creeping Islamization of Turkey and these people talk to American decision-makers and people in the foreign policy community and say you should be much more concerned about what the prime minister and the president and the AKP Party’s doing than you are.  You seem to be too supportive. 

At the same time, we hear from elements within the Turkish government that you know, you are somehow maintaining communications with people in the Turkish military or in the Turkish judiciary, Turkish academics who are not really democratic.  And so what I think Americans are trying to do is to understand this process which is underway in Turkey. 

And I think by and large, what the United States wants to support is a liberal, democratic and secular government.  They want the Turkish people to decide and to have a voice in how their institutions – what their institutions decide and what their institutions do and really leave it at that. 

We do not want to get dragged into this very difficult debate that is clearly underway in Turkey.  And it’s important that we don’t be seen, I think, in Turkey, as taking sides in this process, but supporting instead, the forces of modernization, of liberalization and economic growth.

MR. LARRABEE:  Any other questions?  Yes.  Woman in the back.

Q:  My name’s – (inaudible) – Daily News.  And my question is Mr. Kalin, Mr. Hiltermann talked about the situation in Iraq and he draw some scenarios.  One of the worst scenario was in the event of a no government in Iraq, he said that could be a civil war.  Now, we looked at Turkey’s – has growing ties with Kurdish regional administration and also maintains Iraq’s territorial integrity.  And in the event of civil war in Iraq between Kurds and Arabs, which party will Turkey support?  Arbil or Baghdad?  (Laughter.)

MR.    :  (Chuckles.)  It’s your question.

MR. KALIN:  Sure.  I really – our main effort there is to prevent just that – what you described.  Of course, it’s a possibility.  I mean we have seen a tremendous amount of death and destruction in Iraq and we have to understand that especially – (inaudible) – our friends in Europe and America, I mean the depth of that wound that the Iraq has received from the last seven, eight years.  I mean that’s very, very deep.

It will take several generations to recover from that.  And I’m talking about the actual people who have lost, you know, family members who have been wounded, I mean, close to half a million Iraqis are widows and you know, millions of unemployed Iraqis, Iraqis who have lost their hope about the future of their country, two, 3 million Iraqis who have fled their country who haven’t returned and living in Jordan and Syria and Europe and here and there, et cetera.

I mean it’s really – I mean it’s – the bill is just too costly there.  And not to speak of the reconstruction of Iraq economically.  We have not even started that process yet.  That’s why, you know, forming a government as soon as possible is vital, you know, for rebuilding – for starting the process of rebuilding Iraq.  Economically, we still, for example, don’t have the correct numbers for Iraqi economy, for Iraqi central bank and this and that.

And we always hear, you know, the fight about the energy and hydrocarbon bill, et cetera, but really, I mean, on the ground, you go to Iraq, you go to Baghdad, Arbil and other places, there is so much that needs to be done there and we hope that it doesn’t come to that.  But throughout this whole process, we maintain good relations with all of the groups in Iraq.

I mean Ankara and Istanbul receive delegations from Iraq almost every week, whether they are Sunnis or Shiites or Turkmen or Kurd, Christians and Islamists, non-Islamists, secular, whatever.  I think we have a good record of that relationship even like during this government crisis, since the elections.

You know, you had one delegation after another from all groups, not only – (audio break) – Lavi but, you know, many others, from Lamali Batu, Adul Mehdi and – (inaudible) – Barzani and this and that.  So I mean, they all coming and so that’s a reflection of the kind of relationship we have with all the Iraqi groups. 

And that’s the – I think that’s the key for the future of Iraq because when the election results came out, you know, my first reaction was that all right, we have a problem here because no one will be able to form a government.  But on the other hand, it’s an opportunity because that really reflects the realities of Iraq.  That is, not one single group will be able to dominate the political scene.  They will have to learn how to live together, not only socially and culturally, but also politically.

That is, you know, the Kurds will have to now learn to live the – you know – with the realities of Baghdad, you know.  Sunnis will have to form political coalitions with Shiites.  Shiites will have to – et cetera. 

MR. LARRABEE:  Or they won’t.

MR. KALIN:  So in a sense that you know, that is still an opportunity.  They can learn how to live or how to manage, you know, this reality of Iraq.

MR. LARRABEE:  We have time for one last question.

Q:  Thank you very much.  My question goes to –

MR. LARRABEE:  And identify yourself –

Q:  My name is Taha Ozhan.

MR. LARRABEE:  – so that Ibrahim will know who you are.

Q:  (Chuckles.)  My name is Taha Ozhan and my question goes to Hiltermann.  Right after the withdrawal from Iraq, in the U.S. intellectual circles, the idea of what will happen has provocated – (inaudible) – and the main idea I was able to see was the most provocative one – should be what – how would another example of South Vietnam, South Korea, et cetera. 

Wolkowitz (ph) openly mentioned about this South Korea example and Vietnam example.  And they needed, what, a northern threat for that.  And he said that it’s their Iran.  So they’re going to, what, use that example, it will happen or not. 

And since we do have a what, Joe Biden over there, who had a plan just five years ago to divide Iran three parts and right now, he’s leading the groups to bring them together – (inaudible).  If that’s the idea, the South Korea example and South Korea was able to get some kind of stability just what, early 1990s?  How do you see – (inaudible)?

MR. HILTERMANN:  Well, thank you for the question.  I have to say, I sat with Dr. Taha yesterday for an hour yesterday for an hour to do a television interview.  And at the end, we said, there’s so much more.  And so he’s taking the opportunity to ask the next question. 

But you know, the United States – when the Obama administration came into office, it came on the promise of first drawing down troops by this last month, a month ago, and then to withdraw troops completely by the end of 2011, which was also something, of course the Bush administration had already negotiated with the Iraqi government. 

And the question always was, then, and President Obama mentioned it in his speech in February, 2009, you know, there’s going to be withdrawal.  What kind of withdrawal is it going to be?  Is it a responsible – is there a responsible exit strategy?  And I think that we are concerned that the exit – there’s an exit.  There’s a deadline but where’s the strategy? 

And what the United States is saying – what the administration is saying is that we’re trying to build up Iraqi institutions sufficiently before our departure that they will survive our absence, one, and two, that we’re not really leaving, that while we’re withdrawing all of our troops, we will continue to have a major diplomatic engagement with Iraq through the strategic forces agreement that was signed by the Bush administration – the Strategic Framework Agreement that was signed by the Bush administration. 

So we’re not leaving.  We are there.  So don’t compare it with other cases where, you know, U.S. troops were pulled out and the place collapsed.  This is not our interest.  And I think it would be, actually, fatal, if this were the thinking because I don’t think Iraq is ready yet to stand up on its own feet. 

And the current government crisis is just a very clear demonstration of that.  Now, there’s one question and I was just in northern Iraq.  I was in Kirkuk a few days ago.  And when I talked to people there, they say, oh, U.S. troops are not leaving by the end of 2011.  They’re staying.  And I said, well, I live in Washington.  That is not what I hear there. 

And when I talk to Ibrahim a few days ago, I was sort of in between.  It’s like, well, the United States cannot really afford to leave so there’s going to be an ongoing presence.  And of course, this goes to the nature of the presence, whether it’s actually troops on the ground or it is sort of a very strong diplomatic engagement and also military relationship through sales and training.  And this is, to me, the open question. 

The United States, as Ambassador Burt said, is distracted by other conflicts, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Korean Peninsula, the Iran question and so it is very hard to get anyone’s attention in Washington right now on the Iraq question.  And I think there’s a real danger there.  We cannot allow to lose our vigilance because Iraq remains so weak. 

And so I will take this opportunity to emphasize the importance for the United States to have a responsible withdrawal, one that is deliberative, includes all the domestic actors in Iraq and the regional actors.  This is really critical; that includes Iran.  Then, I think, there’s a real opportunity for Iraq to emerge from this whole experience in a much better way.

MR. LARRABEE:  I think we’ll have to close there.  We could go on, I’m sure, for another couple of hours.  But lunch is waiting for us.  I’d like to ask you to give our three panelists a welcome applause.  I think that’s – (inaudible, applause).