Regional Conflicts on US-Turkey Agenda

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

TURKISH Prime Minister Tansu Ciller arrives in Washington today on her first official visit, seeking a new phase in relations with the United States at a pivotal time in the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Middle East.

Officials here hope Mrs. Ciller's meeting with President Clinton tomorrow will strengthen coordination of post-cold-war strategic and economic policies.

The US and Turkey had common strategic interests during the cold war, but conditions have changed. Turkey is now more directly affected by regional matters such as Russia's political unrest, conflicts in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and war in the Balkans.

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``These are new problems on which Turkey's views might differ from those of the US,'' says Seyfi Tashan, director of the Turkish Political Institute in Ankara. ``A major purpose of Ciller's visit will be to try to harmonize these views with the US administration.''

On Russia's political turmoil, the Turkish government, like the Clinton administration, sees President Boris Yeltsin as the best hope for a democratic and stable country. But the Turks are concerned about Mr. Yeltsin's ``near abroad'' policy and Russia's intervention in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Turkish officials worry that Moscow considers the republics of the former Soviet Union as within its ``zone of influence.''

``This presents a security threat for Turkey, particularly since President Yeltsin has also demanded a change in the accord on the Conventional Forces in Europe, to allow an increased military presence in the Caucasus,'' says Sukru Elekdag, former Turkish ambassador to Washington.

Turkish officials say the US should take the lead in stopping Russia from intervening in the newly independent states in the Caucasus and Central Asia. ``The West should follow a new policy of containment'' one official says. ``Mr. Yeltsin should be helped, but he should also be told that Russian expansionism will not be tolerated.''

The Turks are also sensitive about the occupation by Armenian forces of 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, and Ciller is expected to seek greater US pressure against Armenia. On Bosnia, the prime minister, officials say, will reassert Turkey's view that the US should install a military presence - coupled with NATO forces - in the former Yugoslav republic.

Ciller is also expected to raise the issue of United Nations-imposed sanctions against Iraq, which are having an adverse impact on Turkey's economy. The prime minister will refrain from asking for an easing of the embargo, but will explore the possibility of using crude oil in the pipeline through Turkey and future opening of the pipeline. Turkish officials recently visited Baghdad to urge Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to abide by UN resolutions.

As in the US, public opinion in Turkey has been shifting toward withdrawing Turkish troops from Somalia. The military is said to be pressing for an early removal of its 350 troops and Gen. Cevik Bir, commander of the UN peacekeeping force there.

Closer to home, Ciller is expected to emphasize trade and economic cooperation. She will be accompanied by a large group of Turkish businessmen, showing a growing interest in more trade and joint ventures.

``The days when we used to ask for more assistance and to quarrel with Congress are left behind,'' one senior official says. ``Aid is no problem anymore. What we ask now is for more diversified relations, with economic cooperation as its backbone.''

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