U.S.-Turkey Relationship Vital to National Security, Gates Says
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2007 The U.S. relationship with Turkey is “under valued and under appreciated” and the country’s geographical position is vitally important to security challenges facing the U.S., Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today told the American-Turkish Council.
Gates spoke to about 500 attendees at a D.C. luncheon during the council’s annual conference. The ATC is a business association that promotes commercial, defense, technology and cultural relations between the two countries.
In the 20-minute speech, the defense secretary acknowledged that U.S.-Turkey relations have had struggles in recent years, but added, “Our military, economic, political and personal ties remain strong.”
He heralded Turkey’s $175 million role in the Joint Strike Fighter program. The country has agreed to buy 100 of the F-35 Lightning II supersonic stealth fighters in development.
Gates also commended the country for allowing 16 U.S. Navy ships to make port calls there in 2006.
In support of the war on terror, Turkey has commanded two rotations of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan, and has provided the U.S. access to Iraq through an air base in Turkey. Without that access, Gates said, operations in Iraq would be “exceedingly more difficult and vastly more expensive.”
Still, all relationships need work to remain strong, the secretary said.
“The two nations should oppose measures and rhetoric that needlessly and destructively antagonize each other. That includes symbolic resolutions by the United States Congress as well as the type of anti-American and extremist rhetoric that sometimes finds a home in Turkey’s political discourse,” Gates said.
Gates conceded that the war in Iraq is a point of contention for Turkey, as well as many of America’s allies. Adding to the tension is fighting on the Turkey-Iraq border against fighters for the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as PKK.
“The situation on Turkey’s border with Iraq’s Kurdish region is of particular concern,” Gates said. “Every Turkey citizen killed by the PKK is a setback for success in Iraq and a setback in our relationship with Turkey.”
Gates said he has tapped former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston as special envoy for countering the PKK, but acknowledged, “We know more needs to be done.”
Regarding the situation in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the new Multinational Force Iraq commander, is applying “sound counterinsurgency principles” that are aimed at giving the newly established Iraqi government breathing room, Gates said. Coalition forces are securing and holding neighborhoods, and the Iraqi government has committed the forces need to secure its capitol, he added.
He said, though, that Iraq’s disposition will not be finally determined by military action, but by the political influence of its neighbors in the region.
“Whatever disagreements we might have over how we got to this point in Iraq, the consequences of a failed state in Iraq, of chaos there, will adversely affect every member of the Atlantic alliance and none more so than Turkey,” he said.
“Iraq’s neighbors will need to play a constructive role going forward even if they haven’t done so in the past -- especially in encouraging political reconciliation and a reduction in violence within Iraq. This is certainly the case with Syria and Iran. They have not been helpful,” Gates said.
He called recent talks in Baghdad “a good start,” but said that the U.S. is “open to higher level exchanges.”
Finally, Gates called Iraq’s future an interest and a responsibility “that we will not abandon.”
“Abandoning Iraq and leaving regional chaos in the wake clearly would be an offense to our interests as well as our values and a set back for the cause of freedom as well as the goal of stability,” Gates said.
“In this strategic environment we have to be willing to spend the resources, absorb the costs, take the risks and meet the commitments we make to one another. It means having the creditability, ingenuity and skill to dissuade and divide our potential adversaries while reassuring and uniting our friends.”
Gates closed his remarks with the Turkish proverb, “A wise man remembers his friends at all times, a fool only when he has need of them.”
“The United States and Turkey have wisely remembered our friendship at all times,” he said.