US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says the EU's reluctance to accept Turkey as a member is pushing the country away from the West.
(Wall Street Journal, FT - 10/06/10; Reuters, AFP, BBC, VOA, RFE/RL, Euobserver, Hurriyet, Zaman, Jerusalem Post - 09/06/10)
"We have to think long and hard about why these developments in Turkey [are occurring] and what we might be able to do to counter them," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said. [Getty Images]
The EU's unwillingness to admit Turkey as a full-fledged member is partly to blame for the recent decline in Turkish-Israeli relations, as well as for Ankara's drift from the West, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday (June 9th).
"If there's anything to the notion that Turkey is moving eastwards, it is in no small part because it was pushed, and it was pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought," he said during a visit to London.
Turkey began entry talks with the EU in October 2005, about six years after becoming an official candidate for membership, and nearly five decades after Ankara expressed interest in building closer ties with what was then the European Economic Community.
But the negotiations have been moving slowly due to the predominantly Muslim nation's sluggish reform progress and its refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from EU-member Cyprus. Of all 35 chapters that aspiring countries are required to complete prior to their admission into the Union, Turkey has been able to open only 12; talks on the other 13 have been frozen.
Meanwhile, EU heavy hitters France and Germany have been insisting that an eventual successful conclusion of accession talks with Ankara should not lead to full-fledged membership, rather, some sort of a "privileged partnership".
Amid such discouraging signals, NATO member Turkey has sought to boost its co-operation with Islamic states such as Syria and Iran in recent years. After brokering a controversial nuclear swap deal with Tehran last month, Turkey and Brazil were the only countries to vote against a new round of sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
Gates indicates that the eastward shift in Ankara's foreign policy, particularly the country's increasingly strained ties with Israel is a "matter of concern" for the United States.
"The two had a pretty constructive relationship and one that contributed to stability in the region, and I hope that, over time, that kind of constructive relationship can be re-established," he said. Relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv reached a breaking point last week after an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
"We have to think long and hard about why these developments in Turkey [are occurring] and what we might be able to do to counter them and make the stronger linkages with the West more apparently of interest and value to Turkey's leaders," Gates said.
Stressing that the pace of Turkey's EU accession talks depends on its reform progress, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said the 27-nation bloc is not responsible for Ankara's deteriorating relations with Israel.
"The EU has very good relations with both Turkey and Israel," she told the Euobserver news portal. "Turkey is an EU candidate country and Israel an important partner. The bilateral relations between these two countries are not linked with the bilateral relations between the EU and each of these countries."