WASHINGTON–DC (AFP)–The United States must strive to repair and redefine its relationship with Turkey–a key partner in the Muslim world it can’t afford to alienate–said a report released by an independent think tank.
"The growing schism between the West and the Islamic world is one of the primary challenges confronting American foreign policy and defense policymakers," said the blueprint–issued by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)–an independent think tank based in New York.
"As a consequence–the relationship between the United States and Turkey–a Western-oriented–democratizing Muslim country–is strategically more important than ever."
Steven Cook–a fellow at CFR who co-authored the report–said that although both countries have engaged in diplomatic niceties since their fallout over the Iraq war in 2003–they have yet to seriously sit down together to chart a new course for the future.
The CFR report came ahead of a July 5 visit to the US by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul–during which he is to meet with his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice.
US officials said Gul and Rice will finalize a so-called Strategic Vision document that both agreed on in principle during a visit to Turkey by the top US diplomat in April.
US-Turkish relations took a nosedive in 2003 after Turkey refused to allow US troops access to its territory to open a northern front in the war in Iraq.
The decision was a slap in the face for the US government with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying he believes it probably adversely affected the course of the Iraq war.
Apart from Iraq–the United States and Turkey have also diverged on a number of other important foreign policy issues–including Syria–Iran–and Israel.
"Coinciding with these differences has been a sharp increase in anti-Americanism in Turkey and marked dissatisfaction with Turkey in Washington," the CFR report said.
Another sore point for Ankara has been the twin issues of Kurdish independence and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey wants the United States to take a tougher stand on both issues–but that is unlikely to happen given the relative stability of the mainly Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
"The problem is that on the issue that divides us the most–Iraq–Turkey wants things from the US that at present the US is in no position to deliver," Cook said.
He said Washington needs to work with its main European partners to ensure Ankara remains anchored in the West through membership in the European Union (EU) and strong bilateral ties–Cook said.
"Our concern is a Turkey unmoored in the international system," he said. "That’s not to say that if Turkey does not join the EU it would become an Islamist nation.
"But it could then seek partners such as Russia and China and from the American perspective–it is important to keep Turkey in the West."