Sunday, December 04, 2011

Mr. Biden goes to Ankara

After his trip marking the beginning of Iraq and the United States’ postwar relationship, Vice President Joe Biden visited Turkey this weekend to discuss a list of diplomatic and security issues. Violence in neighboring Syria and sanctions on Iran were the top issues on the agenda, though there were also friendly, relationship-building discussions about political freedom and economic power.

Speaking at an international forum for entrepreneurs, Biden told the audience that a free political climate that protects religion, the press, and innovation is the "truest shield" against the type of internal chaos that has swept the Middle East over the past year. He praised Turkey for its recent economic growth, and Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan touted his country as an example of Islam and democracy's peaceful coexistence. A different account of that same meeting, however, paints a different and more awkward account of the interaction: Mr. Babacan over-confidently declared that Turkey's strong government could solve Europe's leadership and financial crises, Vice President Biden edited his speech on the spot to re-assert America's own economic prowess. The incident ended on a friendly note.

The US and Turkey also successfully produced a unified front against President Bashar Al-Assad’s crackdown on his citizens in Syria, both calling for the President to step down and agreeing to impose sanctions on his country as long as the violence continues. Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu went so far as to propose instituting a safety zone across the Syrian border, though that issue was not officially discussed with Vice President Biden during his visit.

The issue that caused some friction during Biden’s visit was the proposal of tightening sanctions on Iran, as a result of that country’s continued work on its alleged nuclear program. Turkey continues to hold out for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but the Vice President emphasized that sanctions would, at the minimum, prompt significant and much-needed discussion within Iran. He reiterated that Iran's increased isolation is due to that country's own dubious actions, including the foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and this week's attack on the British embassy in Tehran.

In all, interactions between Biden and the Turkish leadership were friendly and productive. The same cannot be said for Biden's reception by factions of the Turkish public. In this video from Reuters, Islamist groups protest the Vice President's visit to Turkey and, by extension, US interference in their regional issues. "The US is rising through imperialism and exploitation," one protestor says. "We are telling the US that our hatred is due to its policies. We're calling on the US to return to its continent." That such protests were permitted to be held during the Vice President's visit is perhaps a promising sign for the type of political freedom advocate in his speech. Considering the imminent drawback of troops in Iraq, unity facing the Syria issue, and constructive dialogue on Iranian sanctions, the relationship between Turkey and the US is posed to continue to develop. Turkish and American citizens don't have to agree with everything that happens in Ankara between Washington, as long as our countries' constructive dialogue can continue.

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