ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)—The US Ambassador to Turkey Wednesday sought to downplay Turkey’s growing alienation with the West, arguing that Ankara has not shifted in its orientation and is much a part of Europe as it is the Middle East.
“Turkey is a different country, and it is because Western observers do not act in a way that recognizes the valuable qualities of ‘difference’ that this question of shifting keeps coming up,” James Jeffrey said in an interview with daily Sabah held at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.
Jeffrey highlighted that questions about Turkey moving away from the West could have equally been asked 27 years ago. “When I first came to Turkey in 1983, democracy was on a temporary halt as a result of military interference. Turkey was under a military government that made the decision to drop the level of their relations with Israel, a decision that temporarily went through to the governments of [Suleyman] Demirel and [Bulent] Ecevit. I believe this question of a shift could have also been asked back then,” Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey explained that today Turkey has a democratic system similar to that of western Europe, and is in no way moving away from the West. “The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim and therefore certain religious and cultural values connect it with the East; however, equally Turkey has connections with the West, especially through its historic and cultural connections with Southeast Europe,” Jeffrey said, adding that the U.S supports Turkey’s accession process into the European Union.
In response to a question asking if Turkey is working on strengthening ties with the Arab word as an alternative to the EU, Jeffrey answered that both Turkey and the United States have strong relations with the Arab world but this is not to say either are moving from the West. “The United States has strong security ties with the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but we are not questioned about shifting from the West,” Jeffrey said.
On the subject of Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, Jeffrey was asked if Erdogan’s ever-growing popularity in the Arab world could lead to him becoming the next Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Nasser was extremely unsuccessful, Erdogan, however, is an intelligent enough politician to not follow in the footsteps as someone this unsuccessful,” Jeffrey said.
According to Jeffrey, all the questions and speculations about Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and whether Turkey is shifting toward Islam, toward Europe or toward the East are all questions that have been around ever since the Republic was established. “These questions are not new; they could have been asked in the 1930s or the 1950s equally,” Jeffrey said.