A two-day NATO Summit in Chicago was concluded on May 21. Turkey considered the summit as an opportunity to pursue three major issues: highlight the crisis in Syria, negotiate with the US to buy high-tech American-made Predators drones, and test the waters for President Abdullah Gul’s possible candidacy for the next Secretary General of NATO.
President Gul came to Chicago to explain the problems in Syria and hoped to obtain more support from the NATO members. But his meeting with the western leaders did not satisfy him. “I have to say that the international community as a whole has so far performed poorly in providing an effective response to the crisis at hand… Turkey is doing all it can to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Among others, we are now hosting close to 25,000 Syrians who fled from the [al-Assad] regime’s campaign of violence in the country,” Gul noted (alarabia.net, May 22).
Furthermore, Gul said, “Everyone was appreciative of what Turkey did for Syria. We have reminded our counterparts that the issue of Syria was one concerning the international community and that is why international observers were sent to this country.” “The Kofi Annan Plan on Syria must be fully implemented by the Syrian administration,” Gul stressed. “We warned everyone at the NATO summit to be careful about Syria and the developments there,” Turkey’s President concluded (Sabah, May 23).
The Turkish press reported that NATO refrains from intervening in the Syrian affair because the North Atlantic Alliance considers Syria to be much different from Libya. Thus, in a military operation against the country, NATO would not act to protect Syrian civilians. The Alliance even considers providing arms to the opposition groups as likely to backfire (Taraf, May 22).
Turkey expected to bring NATO into the Syrian crisis. However, Ankara could not succeed in accomplishing that at the Chicago summit. Nevertheless, Turkey’s diplomatic efforts paid off somewhat. Despite some members’ concerns, the Chicago Summit Declaration devoted a specific paragraph to the Syrian crisis (ntvmsnbc.com, May 22). In the declaration, NATO stated, “We are following the evolution of the Syrian crisis with growing concern and we strongly support the efforts of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, including full implementation of the six-point Annan plan, to find a peaceful solution to the crisis” (Chicago Summit Declaration, May 20). Ankara would like to use NATO as leverage to continue putting political pressure on Damascus; devoting a separate paragraph in the NATO Declaration is an effective tool to do that (ntvmsnbc.com, May 22).
At a sideline meeting with US President Barack Obama, President Gul also discussed purchasing US-made drones for use against the PKK. The meeting was especially important for Turkey because in recent days the Wall Street Journal reported that information gathered by a US drone flying over Turkey was used by the Turkish military in a deadly incident, which took place in late December. The Turkish military strike was meant to knock out Kurdish separatist fighters, but instead it killed 34 civilians smuggling gasoline – a tragic blunder in Turkey’s nearly three-decade campaign against the PKK. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan characterized the US media reporting as an attempt to put the Obama administration in a difficult situation (Todayszaman.com, May 18). Erdogan’s remarks sparked a debate in Turkey on whether the US Congress would actually allow the sale of US drones to Turkey at all.
Under these circumstances, during the Chicago meeting, Gul stated that he expected the United States to conclude the drone sales, which would help improve US-Turkish relations. President Obama agreed with his counterpart. However, Obama also asked Turkey to do its part in moving the deal forward, implying the need for Ankara to improve its relations with Israel to ease the US Congress’s resistance to arms sale to Turkey (Milliyet, May 22). Turkish political observers are pessimistic about whether the US Congress will actually allow the Obama administration to sell the drones Turkey wants to buy.
The surprising part of the NATO summit was the level of speculation by the Turkish media over the likely outcome of Turkey’s lobbying for President Gul to become the next Secretary General of NATO. Current Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s term ends in 2013, but the Turkish press suggested that he could stay in office until 2014, when President Abdullah Gul’s term as the President of Turkey ends. It is no secret that Turkey wants Abdullah Gul to have an international profile after he finishes his presidency (Bugun, May 22). State Minister and the EU negotiator Egemen Bagis said President Gul would be the best candidate for NATO’s next head, and the Turkish head of state is well-respected as a decision-maker (aktifhaber.com, May 23).
Time will tell whether President Gul may be chosen as the next Secretary General of NATO. However, Turkey did not leave the NATO summit fully satisfied because of its inability to convince the Allies to do more on Syria. Nevertheless, a separate paragraph in the Summit Declaration on Syria should still be considered a small success for Turkish diplomacy.