WASHINGTON (Today’s Zaman)–Within days of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly linking the normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a senior US State Department official urged Turkey to make progress on normalization efforts without setting preconditions.
Philip H. Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the US State Department, who participated in White House talks between US and Turkish officials, said the two issues should not be linked Wednesday during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
Reiterating US support for the process of normalization between Armenia and Turkey, Gordon added: “We would like to see the protocols ratified. We think this would benefit Turkey and Armenia and help peace and stability throughout the region.”
On Monday Erdogan said: “We have also discussed relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are of great importance. This is important in the context of Turkish-Armenian relations. We have discussed the Minsk Group and what the Minsk Group — the United States, Russia and France — can do to add more impetus to that process. I can say that to have more impetus in the Minsk process is going to have a very positive impact on the overall process, because the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia is very much related to these issues. As the administration in Turkey, we are determined to move forward in this area.”
In response to a question about Erdogan’s call for more momentum in the Minsk process, Gordon said: “We are actively engaged in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Not because we see it linked to the Turkey-Armenia relationship, but because we think it could be also contributing to peace and stability in the region that both Armenia and Azerbaijan would benefit from. [A] Minsk group co-chair is in the region right now because we think this is hugely important. But it has long been hugely important, and it’s hugely important independently of any other issue. It’s something we care [about], and we would like it to succeed. If both of these processes were to succeed, it would really be a historic development for the region.”
Underlining US expectations of seeing a “move forward as quickly as possible,” Gordon said the US has been asking both the Armenian and Turkish governments for the ratification of the protocols “as soon as possible, without preconditions and independently of any other issue.”
Gordon, meanwhile, called what appeared to be the diverging approaches of the two NATO allies toward Iran’s nuclear program “a tactical difference.” Yet, he also noted that the US told Turkey about their “disappointment” over the fact that Turkey had abstained in a vote on a resolution in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), passed on Nov. 27, which censured Iran for covertly constructing a second enrichment plant near the city of Qom, demanding a halt to construction.
There “could be problems” if measures such as sanctions are taken against Iran without seeking a diplomatic solution, Erdogan said on PBS’s “Charlie Rose” show following his meeting with Obama.
Voicing gratitude for Turkey’s support in Afghanistan, Gordon underlined that Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, “cares deeply about the special cooperative relationship” between the US and Turkey in Afghanistan.
Ruling out arguments that Turkey has been drifting away from the West, Gordon said what he has observed is a Turkey that is aspiring to become a full European Union member, a goal supported by the US administration.
When reminded of Washington’s silence on the influence of the military in Turkish politics, Gordon said: “I think we have always made clear that first of all we respect Turkey’s democracy and the need for appropriate civilian-military relations in Turkey. And when the prime minister comes here, we believe he is speaking for Turkey and the Turkish government. And we are satisfied with that relationship.”