Turkish Premier's US Visit Signals New Tone to Relations

PRIME Minister Suleyman Demirel is to meet with President Bush in Washington today, hoping to put United States-Turkish relations on a new and sounder basis.

Turkish diplomats call the new relationship Mr. Demirel envisages an "enhanced partnership." Recent major changes in the region and the world, Demirel says, have created a favorable ground for the two allied nations to work together closely.

"The main purpose of my visit is to explain the importance of Turkey," Demirel said in an interview. "I am not going to the US to ask for anything.... The recent developments in the world have made Turkey an important country in our region, just as Germany is in Central Europe."

According to the prime minister, Turkey is now in a unique position in the Balkans, Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and offers "a model of democracy, secularism, and free market economy."

The message to Washington, Demirel says, will be to establish a new partnership in the political, economic, and other fields. He sees opportunities for joint political action as well as joint economic ventures in a vast area stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia.

US diplomats here say the idea of "enhanced partnership" will receive warm support from Mr. Bush. "There is a growing awareness in Washington of Turkey's growing importance in the region," a US official in Washington says. "There is a great deal we can do together."

Turkey has started to play a leading role in the region as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ankara was the first to recognize the newly independent republics and to establish diplomatic ties with the six Turkic or Muslim countries. Turkey is promoting economic, commercial, and cultural ties with these countries, which look to it as a "model" and source of support.

Demirel is now trying to use this new card, replacing the strategic or NATO card of the cold-war years, as a centerpiece of his foreign policy. In his recent address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he offered Turkey as a base from which foreign investors and businessmen could operate in the former Soviet republics. He also called on the West to encourage the Muslim republics in Asia to adopt the "Turkish model" rather than the Iranian and Arab models.

The Turks feel that recent developments in the region and Ankara's active role in establishing new ties (last week Istanbul hosted a meeting of the newly established Black Sea Economic Cooperation group) have boosted Demirel's stature.

"In the past any Turkish leader visiting Washington would present a shopping list and plea for more military and economic assistance," says Sukru Elekdag, former ambassador to Washington. "Mr. Demirel's visit is taking place under different world conditions, which are favorable to Turkey.... Turkey is now the bearer of a respectable and influential business card."

Turkish officials already see the first steps of the new "enhanced partnership": Yesterday Turkey was to join the US in starting "Operation Provide Hope a campaign of humanitarian assistance for the various former Soviet republics that is being carried out by US transport planes. Turkey is providing airport facilities, logistics, and aid.

"This is the kind of partnership we can establish, to face the new challenges" a senior Turkish official says. "All we need now is to institutionalize our relationship."

The Turks see no major topic of differences that might emerge during these talks. The Cyprus issue has been in the past an irritant in the bilateral relations, but at present efforts are being made by the United Nations, actively supported by the US to reach a solution. At Davos earlier this month, Demirel met the Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and agreed to start a dialogue on various differences. They also decided to work on a treaty of friendship and cooperation, which is expected to be s igned next spring during Mr. Mitsotakis's visit to Ankara.

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