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Cablegate: Turkish President Gul: Risks, Challenges,

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OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHAK #2234/01 2411448
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 291448Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3579
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//J-3/J-5// PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEUITH/TLO ANKARA TU PRIORITY
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 002234

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2022
TAGS: PGOV PREL MARR TU
SUBJECT: TURKISH PRESIDENT GUL: RISKS, CHALLENGES,
OPPORTUNITIES

REF: A. ANKARA 2223
B. ANKARA 2213 AND PREVIOUS

Classified By: Ambassador Ross Wilson, reasons 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) Summary: Abdullah Gul comes to office as Turkey's
president already experienced on the international scene.
His victory is one of personal and political tenacity; many
had written him off after the military's e-memorandum
derailed the attempt to elect him president in April.
Looking ahead, Gul's greatest challenges will lie at home,
where he must consolidate his leadership, especially with a
highly skeptical military, in order to pursue his agenda of
normalization and moderation. End summary.

From the Jaws of Defeat and Crisis
----------------------------------

2. (C) One has to blink twice to be sure it really happened.
Abdullah Gul's August 28 election and installation as
Turkey's 11th president mark a victory for his Justice and
Development Party (AKP), and for grit and determination in
Turkish politics. It is also an amazing personal victory for
Gul himself, snatched from the jaws of crisis, defeat and
humiliation last April when many here wrote him off. It was
widely thought that PM Erdogan would eventually opt for a
"consensus" candidate for president. There was even talk
that a dispirited Gul would resign from politics rather that
reprise his role as foreign minister. But just as he
insisted on his presidential candidacy in April if it was not
to be Erdogan, so he insisted upon it again now ... and won.

3. (C) In hindsight, Gul appears to have maintained his
resolve throughout: For much of the general election
campaign, Gul was paired with Erdogan as a star attraction.
The undemocratic interruption of the presidential election
was an AKP campaign centerpiece. Gul personified AKP
determination to stand up to the Turkish General Staff (TGS)
and overcame a concerted military/Republican People's Party
(CHP) assault on democracy and representative political
institutions. Despite the old elite's efforts to define the
debate as secularism versus Sharia, Gul (and AKP)
successfully framed the issue as one of democracy and
stability versus militarism and the past.

Who is Abdullah Gul?
--------------------

4. (C) Prior to entering national politics, Gul earned
degrees in economics from Istanbul University and studied in
the UK. He taught university-level economics in the early
1980s and gained international experience as an economist for
the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah from 1983-1991. First
elected an MP in 1991 with Necmettin Erbakan's pro-Islam
Welfare Party, he was re-elected in 1995, and served as state
minister and government spokesman in Erbakan's short-lived
government. One of AKP's founding members in August 2001,
Gul has been both Erdogan's closest political partner and
rival. His humble family origins and energetic rise in
politics reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of his central
Anatolian hometown, Kayseri. Gul is personable and
understands how to talk about things in a way he thinks will
get listened to.

5. (C) Gul's brief stint as prime minister -- from December
2002 until March 2003 when Erdogan took over the AKP
government reins -- faltered when he miscalculated the March
1 vote to authorize a US invasion of Iraq from the north.
Since then, as foreign minister, Gul has generally valued his
relationship with the US, worked hard to communicate
regularly and built an effective partnership with Secretary
Rice. He has been a leading proponent of the political
reforms needed to pursue EU accession, the case for which his
August 28 inaugural remarks reasserted. When thorny issues
have arisen over the past four years, Gul has approached them
calmly and pragmatically, at times in stark contrast to PM
Erdogan's more off-the-cuff, emotional style. But he can
deliver the tough messages, too. He sees himself as a
problem solver.

And What Does He Bring to the Presidency?
-----------------------------------------


ANKARA 00002234 002 OF 002


6. (C) Gul brings to the presidency a good international
reputation, including friendships and acquaintances with a
wide range of world leaders. He brings English language
skills that his predecessor and Erdogan himself have lacked,
an activist inclination, and the support of the government
(which his predecessor also lacked). President Gul will act
more like Turgut Ozal or Suleyman Demirel on the world stage
and back stage at home. His world role will bolster his
credibility and help protect himself vis-a-vis secularists,
the military and others who do not wish him well. He will
supplement and work in tandem with Erdogan; in some cases, he
may eclipse his friend the PM.

7. (C) On issues that matter to the US, Gul will be an
important partner. He wants to be helpful on Iraq, a
portfolio on which he was active as FM. He will likely
extend the invitation to Iraqi President Talabani that
predecessor refused to provide. Gul has made clear his
personal interest in helping broker Middle East peace, and
his associations in the region and status as a pro-US
president can be positive factors; he will look to the US for
guidance. One of Gul's early forays is likely to be to
Islamabad. Gul has also been helpful on the Iran nuclear
issue, and his new presidential status may give him new
opportunities in this effort, as well. To be most effective,
his relationship with his just-announced successor as FM, Ali
Babacan, will be key.

8. (C) The domestic side will be more of a tightrope as Gul
seeks -- in a still contentious atmosphere -- to help
normalize Turkey and Turkish life, including on issues like
the role and status of religion (Islam, but Christianity as
well); Turkey's diversity and minorities (including Kurds);
the role of the military and proper civil-military relations;
and the judiciary and judicial reform, which is key to
strengthening the rule of law in this country. Any one of
these sets of issues is problematic; in combination, they are
a big challenge and potentially dangerous for Gul and for
Turkey's future.

9. (C) Gul's new role as part of Turkey's national security
triumvirate will be key. The president can be an influential
player, along with the National Security Council and the TGS.
President Demirel played this behind-the-scenes role well;
President Sezer did not. Gul's first challenge will be to
consolidate his leadership, especially with the military.
The TGS boycott of his swearing-in, virtually an act of
insubordination, was a bad start, as was CHOD Buyukanit's
strongly-worded Victory Day statement (ref B) a day before
the final round of presidential voting. The next test will
come at the August 30 Victory Day ceremonies. As foreign
minister, Gul enjoyed a respectful relationship with the
military, but it will not be easy to overcome the TGS
revulsion with what it regards as an Islamist in the
presidential palace.

10. (C) The new president, who now lacks the parliamentary
immunity he enjoyed for years, may also confront judicial
challenges, particularly from prickly secularist prosecutors.
He will need to re-calibrate his relationship with PM
Erdogan and balance fulfillment of his transformational
ambitions for Turkey with the need to avoid a harsh reaction
from the secularist street, the military and Kemalist
hard-liners who could still bring the reform Turkey project
crashing down.

11. (C) Gul, Erdogan and to some extent Turkey as a whole
have taken an enormous risk with a Gul presidency. But
progress rarely comes without risk. Gul's rise represents a
watershed. The opportunity is in the new president and AKP's
hands to move toward the more equal and tolerant society
Gul,s inaugural remarks called for and toward the final end
of the "deep state." If the reformers succeed, their success
will belong to them and the Turkish people. Failure will
rest on their shoulders alone.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/ankara/

WILSON

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