ANKARA (Hurriyet Daily News)—Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has allegedly admitted to being unable to control Turkish military flights that frequently cause tension in the Aegean region between neighbors Turkey and Greece, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy cable from 2004.
The cable, which was recently released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, notes that then-Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot was “disturbed” by Erdogan’s admission to him “that he could not stop the flights because he did not control the military.”
The leaked report from the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands was filed on December 2, 2004 following a meeting with Bot just days before a crucial European Union meeting in which members agreed to permit Turkey to begin negotiations for full EU membership.
According to the leaked cable, Bot asked for U.S. assistance in convincing Turkey to suspend military operations in the Aegean until at least Dec. 17 because the flights were providing a pretext for Greece to agitate against Turkish accession.
The material published by WikiLeaks has yet to be corroborated by evidence.
Relations between the secular Turkish military and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been problematic since Erdogan came to power in late 2002. Apart from disagreements over interpretations of secularism, the military has also opposed the government’s foreign policy, especially on Cypriot and Aegean issues.
Although the Greek and Turkish governments have improved ties in many areas in recent years, they have failed to produce a formula to end the Aegean dispute. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou harshly criticized Turkish jets’ continued flights over residential areas on the Greek islands during a recent meeting in Erzurum with Erdogan and nearly 160 Turkish ambassadors.
The EU meeting on December 17, 2004 assured Turkey that it would be permitted to begin negotiations on November 3, 2005 after the Turkish government agreed to sign the Ankara Protocol that expanded the customs union agreement to southern Cyprus, a EU member that Turkey does not recognize. The signing of the document caused domestic controversy in Turkey, with the opposition claiming that the move could be interpreted as de facto recognition of Cyprus, a claim that was refuted by the government.
Washington, however, also seemed to interpret the signing of the Ankara Protocol as tantamount to Turkey’s recognition of Greek Cyprus. “Bot argued that Turkey must eventually agree to sign the protocol to the Ankara Agreement (effectively recognizing Cyprus),” read the cable, which attributed the words in parenthesis to the U.S. ambassador.
Though Turkey has signed the Ankara Protocol, it has yet to ratify the document in Parliament. If it were to do so, it would be forced to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriots.
Such a move could speed up Turkey’s ongoing accession negotiations as nearly one-third of the chapters are suspended due to Ankara’s intransigence on the Cyprus issue.