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Cablegate: Istanbul Branch of Nationalist Action Party Looks to the West

VZCZCXRO0360
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #0468/01 2410858
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 280858Z AUG 08
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8430
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000468

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TU
SUBJECT: ISTANBUL BRANCH OF NATIONALIST ACTION PARTY LOOKS TO THE WEST

REF: A. ISTANBUL 395
B. 07 ANKARA 2041

1. (SBU) Summary: Ihsan Barutcu, Istanbul chair of the
National Action Party (MHP), along with his deputy -- Nazme
Celenk, and Mithat Melen, MHP MP from Istanbul, all welcomed
greater cooperation with the United States in recent
conversations with us. All three MHP officials stated Turkey
must look west, especially for economic development. Barutcu
appreciated U.S. help in combating the terrorist PKK, which
he described as the greatest problem facing Turkey. Melen, a
self described MHP "maverick," criticized the ruling Justice
and Development Party (AKP) for an ambiguous response to U.S.
requests for support prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq; he
fears AKP is repeating this error today with regard to Iran.
End Summary.

----------------------------
Turkey's Western Orientation
----------------------------

2. (SBU) Ihsan Barutcu, MHP's Istanbul chairman, welcomed
greater cooperation with the United States, pointing out
Turkey's foreign policy interests often coincide with U.S.
policy. Barutcu supports economic sanctions against Iran and
continued pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons
program. Barutcu is also concerned Syria is a "Middle East
problem" that could spill into Turkey. MHP Istanbul deputy
chairman Nazme Celenk stressed the Turkish Republic has
always looked West since its formation in 1923. Eastern
counties such as Russia and China, along with Middle Eastern
countries, should not be the focus of Turkish foreign policy,
he argued. In a separate meeting, Mithat Melen, MHP deputy
for Istanbul's second district, also argued Turkey's future
lies with the West. Melen, professor of economics at Middle
Eastern Technical University and a regular columnist on
economic issues, told us Turkey's future can never be with
the Middle East, since the path to economic prosperity
clearly lies with interacting with the West.

3. (SBU) While Barutcu and Celenk valued Turkey's economic
engagement with the EU, both argued Turkey should not move
toward the EU because "the EU does not want Turkey as a full
member". Celenk suggested instead Turkey should become a
special partner with the EU, a status that would provide
economic benefits while preserving Turkey's sovereignty.
Given hostile comments from some EU leaders, Turkey should
partner instead with the United States, according to Celenk.
Melen was vague on the issue of EU membership, but supports
EU-mandated free market reforms. He praised AKP's earlier
successes with economic reforms, but claimed the party's
focus has turned to social issues, like the headscarf ban.
EU nations are also guilty of ignoring the positive economic
benefits of greater cooperation with Turkey by concentrating
on social problems in Turkey, such as the reopening of Halki
Seminary and the Armenian issue, he argued.

--------------------------------------------
PKK, Iraq, Iran, and Relations with the U.S.
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Separatist terror activity is the greatest threat
facing Turkey today, a threat MHP takes more seriously than
any other party, according to Barutcu. It was MHP's strong
stance against terrorism, particularly against the
PKK, that allowed MHP to cross the 10 percent threshold for
representation in Parliament in the 2007 elections, he
claimed. Barutcu pointed to the ceremony for the victims of
the July 27 Istanbul bombings (reftel A) as underscoring the
tragic results of terrorism. Accepting our condolences for
the victims of the attack, Barutcu said he looked forward to
greater cooperation between Turkey and the U.S. in combating
terrorism.


5. (SBU) Melen pointed to Turkey's failure to support U.S.
operations in Iraq as a significant cause of the poor
relations between the two countries. In 2003, AKP's
inexperience led it to promise Turkey's support, yet it
failed to deliver on the March 1 vote, he explained. An MHP
administration would have been clear where it stood, avoiding
a diplomatic disaster by letting the Americans know
beforehand that Turkey would not serve as a base for

ISTANBUL 00000468 002 OF 002


operations against Iraq. Melen sees a similar problem
occurring with a hypothetical attack on Iran; AKP should be
clear to the United States that Turkish territory is off
limits in any attack on Iran.

---------------
Domestic Issues
---------------

6. (SBU) Barutcu said he was disappointed by the
Constitutional Court's June 5 annulment of constitutional
amendments aimed at lifting the headscarf ban at universities
- legislation MHP joined AKP in supporting. The amendments
represented a good compromise that best reflected all sectors
of Turkish society, Barutcu explained. While the court's
ruling means tensions over the headscarf ban will continue to
simmer, Barutcu said everyone must respect the verdict.

7. (SBU) Barutcu supported the investigation against the
alleged Ergenekon coup plotters, adding there are groups that
would thwart democracy in Turkey for political gain. The
government should take strong actions against those who
instigate a military coup, according to Barutcu. Only the
public should decide their country's leaders, and the
democratic process is the only way to change government, he
argued.

8. (SBU) Barutcu said MHP strength comes from supporting the
traditional roots of Turkey, noting that in the past
the party's core consistency came from central Anatolia; now
the party is strong in Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir
as well. The MHP's true constituencies are middle class,
hard-working Turks with traditional values, Barutcu claimed.

9. (SBU) According to Melen, corruption is the main
distinction between his party and AKP. Melen had great hopes
for AKP when it entered government in 2002, but he now sees
them as corrupt as past governments. In contrast, Melen
claims MHP is lead by an honest leader -- Devlet Bahceli --
who is driven by national pride, not personal gain. Melen
sees greater transparency for all business transactions as a
necessary measure to combat this significant obstacle to
Turkey's development.

10. (SBU) Melen envied the ability of Americans to debate
sensitive issues; "in the United States you can talk about
anything". This is not the case in Turkey, even within
academia, according to Melen. While he did not openly
advocate eliminating one barrier to free speech in Turkey --
Penal Code Article 301 criminalizing insulting Turkishness --
he was frustrated by the law's censoring effect on debating
sensitive issues in Turkey.

-------
Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Comment: Warm support for closer relations with
the U.S. from senior Istanbul-based MHP representatives was
unexpected, reflecting a more positive view of the US than
traditional MHP rhetoric would imply. MHP campaigned on a
strong anti-American platform in the 2007 national elections
(reftel B) and some party members have even accused the US of
supporting PKK terrorism. Being based in Istanbul may
require these MHPrs to moderate their rhetoric; all three
stated their party was not "anti-American" and the media was
to blame for creating this false impression. Melen admitted
his statements in Parliament often draw criticisms from
within the party, but noted Bahceli placed him on top of the
district candidate ticket in 2002 and 2007, a sign Bahceli
is open to descent. MHP's traditional rhetoric is not likely
to shift radically, especially with local elections
approaching, but it was refreshing to hear a more
constructive line from Istanbul representatives.
OUDKIRK

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