Turkey's plans to host Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir – who faces an international arrest warrant for war crimes in Darfur – at an Islamic conference is intensifying the critical light already shining on Turkey and Sudan.
It is also prompting calls for President Obama to get tough with Turkey and with other international partners, including China, that have disregarded the criminal charges against Mr. Bashir and maintained close economic ties to Sudan.
Bashir is scheduled to arrive Sunday in Turkey for a Monday summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The planned visit has prompted the European Union to ask Turkey to revoke its invitation to Bashir, who was indicted in March by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.
Human rights and Darfur advocacy groups in the United States are pressing the Obama administration to encourage Turkey, a US ally in NATO, to arrest Bashir if he carries through with his trip. The Save Darfur Coalition is planning a protest Monday outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington, at which the coalition will try to deliver to the embassy a pair of handcuffs with which to arrest Bashir.
Turkey "should align itself with its European friends" and those in other parts of the world "and dissuade Bashir from coming," says Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. "If he insists on coming, Turkey should arrest him."
That seems unlikely to happen. Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, responded to the EU's request by telling his European neighbors to mind their own business. "What are they interfering for?" Mr. Gul told reporters, according to Reuters. "This is a meeting [of the OIC]; it is not a bilateral meeting."
The tone underscores the rising tensions between Turkey and the EU over Turkey's drawn-out candidacy for EU membership. With the EU sending few encouraging signs to Ankara about its membership prospects, Turkey's government has turned increasingly to other partners for political and economic ties, including Iran and Sudan.
Mr. Obama hailed Turkey as a modern Muslim country and as a bridge between East and West in a speech in Ankara in April. But Turkey has taken other steps recently that have alarmed US officials and others, prompting speculation that Turkey is turning its back on the West.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was all smiles during an October trip to Iran, during which he promoted stronger economic ties between the two countries and chided the West for pressuring Tehran on what the Iranians claim is a peaceful nuclear program. Turkey has also thrown its once close ties to Israel into deep freeze over last winter's Israeli offensive into Gaza.
Now some countries and human rights organizations are questioning Turkey's willingness to receive an alleged war criminal on its soil. But the planned visit is also raising fresh concerns about the Obama administration's determination to be tough with Sudan over Darfur.
"President Bashir's trip to Turkey tests the administration's resolve on Sudan," says Mr. Fowler of Save Darfur. "If top officials do nothing, Khartoum will get the message that the US is not serious about multilateral leadership."
The Obama administration recently outlined a new Sudan policy of "carrots and sticks" in which the US would play a leading international role to press Sudan on the dire conditions in Darfur and other parts of the country.
Another test of Obama's Sudan policy, rights groups say, will come later in the month when Obama visits China – another major Khartoum client.
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