31st Mar 2020

US blames EU for Turkey foreign policy 'drift'

  • Hundreds of Turks protested in Brussels last week against the Israeli attack (Photo: Valentina Pop)

US defence minister Robert Gates said that the EU's refusal to accept Turkey as a member is partly to blame for Ankara's deteriorating relations with Israel and for pushing the country into the arms of Islamic states, a suggestion firmly rejected by Brussels.

"The deterioration in the relationship between Turkey and Israel over the past year or so is a matter of concern," Mr Gates told reporters in London.

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The conservative Turkish government, whose relations with neighbouring Islamic states such as Syria and Iran have grown closer, has meanwhile put on freeze relations with its former regional ally Israel after nine of its citizens were killed by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza.

"I personally think that if there is anything to the notion that Turkey is, if you will, moving eastward, it is, in my view, in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought," he argued.

Traditionally a strong US ally and the only Muslim member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation since 1952, Turkey has consistently enjoyed Washington's support in its bid EU membership, for which it applied in 1987.

Formal accession negotiations began in 2005, but progress has been slow and Germany and France continue to speak of the alternative of a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership at the end of the process.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton rejected Mr Gates' suggestion that there is any link between the EU membership negotiations and Turkey's strained relations with Israel.

"The EU has very good relations with both Turkey and Israel. Turkey is an EU candidate country and Israel an important partner. The bilateral relations between these two countries are not linked with the bilateral relations between the EU and each of these countries," Maja Kocijancic, Ms Ashton's spokeswoman told this website.

"As far as Turkey is concerned, progress in accession negotiations depends on the progress in reforms taking place in Turkey," she added.

Ties between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated in recent years, especially after Tel Aviv's 2008 bombardment of the Gaza Strip that killed some 1,400 civilians and the recent killing of the nine Turkish activists, which prompted Ankara to recall its ambassador, scrap joint military drills and say its relations "will never be as before."

But Turkey's relations with the US itself have also worsened over the last decade, particularly after its refusal to open its skies to international troops bound for Iraq.

Turkish foreign policy chief Ahmet Davutoglu also openly expressed his disappointment at Washington's reaction over the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla, which did not assign blame to the Jewish state and resulted in a watered down reaction from the UN Security Council.

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