U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Ankara on March 7, the last day of her diplomatic tour of the Middle East. Ankara has prepared a number of issues to discuss during the visit—most importantly, Afghanistan, the American withdrawal from Iraq and the role that Turkey will play in the pullout, Iraqi security and terrorism, the Armenian issue, Iran’s nuclear program, and Turkey’s possible contribution to the Middle East peace process.
Ankara supports the U.S. withdrawal plan, and parliament is ready to pass a law to allow foreign troops to use Turkish territory while withdrawing from Iraq. At the same time, however, Ankara does not want to see a security vacuum in Iraq that may end up in a civil war among the Iraqi ethnic and sectarian groups. Ankara’s first priority in a withdrawal plan is to know how and when it will be implemented. Ankara expects that the United States may want to redeploy its troops to Afghanistan through Turkish territory. The ports of Mersin and Iskenderun and Incirlik air base will be used for the withdrawal, and it is likely that Washington will ask for the use of Diyarbakir and Malatya air bases as well (Radikal, February 24). "For Ankara, the most critical issue is how to maintain the security of U.S. weapons and prevent them from ending up in the hands of the wrong people, especially the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants and the Kurdish Peshmerga (Aksam, March 5).
The second topic that Ankara wants to discuss with Clinton is Afghanistan itself. There are two main topics on this subject. First, Ankara would like to see the United States develop a better strategy to address the problems there. Second, it is likely that Turkey may be asked to contribute additional troops to fight terrorism in Afghanistan. Ankara is very well aware of the growing Taliban influence. Ankara will probably press Clinton to revise U.S. policies to include the Taliban in the political process. Foreign Minster Ali Babacan stated that "In order to solve the problems in Afghanistan, we need to find a way to let all groups [including the Taliban] participate" (Hurriyet, March 5). The Karzai government in Kabul also supports this view, but it remains to be seen how the Obama administration will approach the problem. Babacan has not closed the door to the possibility of sending additional troops to Afghanistan but would consider it, if the United States made the request (Hurriyet, March 5).
In addition to these major issues, the Turkish side may remind Clinton that any attempt to recognize the 1915 events as "genocide" would harm both U.S. and Turkish interests. Ankara does not want Obama to use the term "genocide" in his speech on Armenian Memorial Day, April 24.
The United States has its own list of priorities to discuss: the withdrawal from Iraq and Turkey’s role in the U.S. plan, how to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, how to obtain increased support for Afghanistan, and what can be done to curb anti-American sentiment among the Turks.
Hillary Clinton will appear on a women’s TV show, titled "Haydi Gel, Bizimle Ol" (Come and Join Us), the Turkish version of the U.S. TV show "The View," in which four women—a former anchorwoman, a movie actress, a model, and a novelist—discuss various issues (IHA, March 4). It was reported that "the request for Clinton’s appearance on the show came from U.S. Embassy officials in Ankara" (Today’s Zaman, March 5). It seems that Clinton’s TV appearance on a women’s program is designed to reduce anti-Americanism in Turkey. The educated, upper class part of Turkish society especially has been critical of the U.S., circulating anti-American views particularly on these types of television programs. Clinton’s popularity and the new American policies in the region could help improve the United States’ image among the mostly educated women who watch the program.
Overall, Clinton’s visit to Turkey should help create a fresh start in Turkish-U.S. relations, which could produce fruitful results in the region, if the United States abandons the unpopular policies of the Bush administration. This seems likely to happen, given Clinton’s appearance on the TV show. Bill Clinton earned the sympathy of most Turks when he took a baby in his arms and played with it during his visit to earthquake sites. Hillary Clinton could have a similar affect on the Turkish public and help reduce anti-American sentiment if she performs well on Turkish television.