US dismayed by threat to Nato's growth

Click to follow
The Independent Online
"We very respectfully submit to our European friends that they must strategically think of Turkey as a European country and not send negative signals to Turkey."

Last Tuesday, a State Department statement affirmed US support for Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Unfortunately for Turkish Europhiles, friendly Nicholas Burns, who delivered the message, speaks for a nation with no clout in Brussels and no seats in Strasbourg.

The United States is unhappy with the way things are going for Turkey in Europe. Washington dislikes the shallow philosophising of EU members who want the Turks to keep their distance. "Cultural differences", is how Jean-Claud Juncker, Luxembourg's Prime Minister, put it. Other Europeans speak of a "civilisation" in which Turkey has no place.

Such talk has united Europhile and Islamist Turks to decry the Europeans. It has also galvanised US officials into interceding on Turkey's behalf,earning accusations of meddling. Why should the US upset friends within the EU, and a Greek-American lobby of 4 million, for a hopeless cause?

The simplest reason is gratitude. For almost half a century, Turkey has made sacrifices in the name of American ideals. More than 700 Turks lost their lives in the Korean war. The Turks then provided Nato, which was more pragmatic about "cultural differences", with a vital first line of defence against the Soviet Union.

During the Gulf War, the Turks aroused Arab anger when US jets bombed Iraq from Turkey. Even now, Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's Islamic Prime Minister, allows the US Air Force to patrol Northern Iraq from a Turkish base.

But American gratitude is not all that arouses support for Turkey's European aspirations. The US, despite protestations, appears to have accepted the practical existence of a link between Nato and the EU.

The EU says this link does not exist. It was raised by the Turks themselves, who threatened to scupper Nato enlargement unless they got good news on Europe. The Americansthen delivered a threat of their own; according to one US official, the Turks face "a major collision," should they veto the Alliance's enlargement. On the other hand, the Turks now have the US lobbying on their behalf.

A satisfactory response from the EU is far from guaranteed. Europe and the US look at Turkey in different ways. The US has a strategic interest in Turkey, because it borders the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Middle East.

Washington's mediation does not mean all is well between the Americans and the Turks. One source of worry is Mr Erbakan's Welfare Party, whose members incline to Tehran. Last year, Mr Erbakan signed a pounds 23bn natural gas deal with Iran.

The ties of friendship have also been tested by the Greek lobby in the US, which has blocked big arms sales to Turkey. The Americans have also begun toughening up their attitude towards human rights, now the Soviet divisions are no longer on the Turkish border.

In the short term, however, the Americans want Turkey's blessing for Nato's enlargement. The EU wants the same thing, though European sympathy for US methods may be less forthcoming.