Rep. Eliot L. Engel, and six other senior members of Congress, today sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern about Turkey's bellicose posture toward its neighbors in the Eastern Mediterranean, and asking for an urgent review of our relations with Turkey.
"I am very seriously concerned about Turkey's drift toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. We need to take a hard look at where Turkey is headed and make sure our policies reflect Turkey's unfortunate new approach," said Rep. Engel, a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
In recent months, Turkey expelled the Israeli Ambassador, and threatened naval warfare against Israel and Cyprus which plan to share nearby natural gas reserves. Turkey has also threatened to freeze Turkish-European relations if the Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member state, takes over the presidency of the EU.
"It is our hope that an intensified and frank dialogue with Turkey can convince Ankara to de-escalate some of its rhetoric and roll back its increasingly destabilizing policies. However, if that cannot be achieved, we look forward to working with your Administration to review the changed environment and develop an approach which better suits the situation," the seven members wrote in the letter to President Obama.
The letter was cosigned by Reps. Eliot L. Engel, Howard L. Berman, Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nita M. Lowey, Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Shelley Berkley, Brad Sherman, Steve Israel, and Adam B. Schiff.
The text of the letter is reprinted below:
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to express our deep concern with the increasingly bellicose rhetoric and policies which the government of Turkey has adopted. Whether we are viewing Turkey's outlook toward the European Union, its continuing occupation of Cyprus, or its aggressive posture toward Israel, it appears that our long-standing ally in Ankara is drifting toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies. In response, the United States needs to undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As you are aware, the Palmer Commission report, which analyzed Israel's and Turkey's actions surrounding last year's flotilla of ships heading for Gaza, ruled that Israel's blockade was legal and enforcement of such a blockade was legal. Rather than see the report as an opportunity to deescalate its crisis with Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an rejected the Palmer Commission report, threw out the Israeli ambassador, and announced it would step up its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Yet, while Turkey was expelling the Israeli Ambassador, next door in Syria, the Assad regime was in the process of killing more than 2000 of its own people. The Syrian Ambassador, however, was never threatened with expulsion. While Turkey has recently stepped up pressure on Syria, it reserved its true ire for Israel, the only real democracy in the Middle East.
Turkey's belligerence against Cyprus is also intensifying. Ankara stations more than 40,000 troops in northern Cyprus, possibly the most militarized occupation in the world. Again, while Turkey condemns Israel (even as it actively seeks a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians), it maintains its perpetual occupation of the Republic of Cyprus, a member-state of the United Nations.
In fact, Turkey is the main obstacle to the UN-sponsored Cypriot peace process. Rather than embrace reconciliation talks, President Erdogan said of negotiations, ""We consider it a disgrace to sit down at the negotiating table with (the Greek Cypriots) at the United Nations. We will not negotiate with a country which we do not recognize."
But Turkey's threats do not end there. President Erdogan is now threatening to freeze relations with our allies in the European Union. He said "if the Greek Cypriot side stalls negotiations and takes over the presidency of the European Union in July 2012, this means not only a deadlock on the island but also a blockage, a freezing point in Turkey-European relations."
Turkey has followed with not-so-vague bellicose threats against Cyprus and Israel, which -- in collaboration with a U.S. energy company -- are seeking to develop newly-found natural gas reservoirs located under the Mediterranean Sea, between the two countries.
And, while Turkey was late to distance itself from the nightmare in Syria and has worked to gloss over the dangers of the Iranian regime, it still refuses to apologize for the Armenian genocide. In that vein, we also recall in May 2010 when Turkey worked to undermine international efforts to impose strong sanctions on Iran in the United Nations Security Council by offering a competing resolution. Fortunately, the Turkish gambit failed, but Ankara's position as an ersatz ally was apparent.
Mr. President, these and other actions are adding up to serious questions about Turkey's strategic posture in the region. As a NATO member, we would have expected Turkey to follow a different course on each and every one of these issues. At this point, though, we must urge the Administration to begin immediately an intensive review of U.S. relations with Turkey to see if a way can be found to reverse the increasingly confrontational approach of the Turkish government toward its neighbors and to look for policy responses to this expanding challenge.
It is our hope that an intensified and frank dialogue with Turkey can convince Ankara to deescalate some of its rhetoric and roll-back its increasingly destabilizing policies. However, if that cannot be achieved, we look forward to working with your Administration to review the changed environment and develop an approach which better suits the situation.