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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Dec. 9-10 Washington Visit of Ak Party Chairman R. Tayyip Erdogan

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 008852


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/04/2012

B. ANKARA 8252
C. ANKARA 7683
D. ANKARA 8448
E. ANKARA 8382

(U) Classified by Ambassador W.R. Pearson; reasons: 1.5 (b,d).

1. (C) Summary: As Turkey's strongest politician Tayyip
Erdogan is key to our ability to influence the AK Party
government and public opinion on Iraq and other strategic
U.S. interests. His heightened sense of pride is
undiminished, indeed boosted, by the Kemalist State's
continuing attempts to spike his return to full public life;
treating him as if he were already head of government will
thus pay enormous dividends for U.S. influence in Turkey and
underscore to the EU our strong support for a date for
Turkish accession talks from the Copenhagen summit. End

2. (C) Coming off a smashing electoral victory by his AK
(Justice and Development) Party and a tour of 14 EU capitals
where he was welcomed like a head of government, unelected
Tayyip Erdogan is the new colossus in Turkish politics. What
gave Erdogan's party its victory on Nov. 3 were his
reputation as a responsive mayor of Istanbul, his advocacy of
fair and just reforms, and his political magnetism across
Anatolia, a magnetism enhanced by the State's controversial
decision to rule him ineligible to stand for election (ref
A). Erdogan is now determined to parlay his victory and new
national stature into a restoration of his political rights
so he may enter Parliament and assume the prime ministership
by late winter or early spring.

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3. (C) Despite his popularity in urban sprawls and across
Anatolia, Erdogan is far from being universally liked.
Indeed, he is loathed by most of the Establishment. The
Establishment prefers to portray him as a mediocrely
educated, local tough guy made (too) good, a charismatic but
dangerous preacher-politician who will lead Turkey to the
Sharia. Many political and bureaucratic insiders tell us
that, for this reason, the Deep State (ref B) will do all in
its power through legal maneuver or provocations to try to
keep Erdogan permanently off balance.

4. (C) In this context Erdogan's visit to Washington is an
excellent opportunity to promote core U.S. interests by (1)
demonstrating that we respect the democratic election results
in Turkey and the AK government's commitment to further
democratization; (2) strengthening our influence with AK and
Erdogan as the paramount politician in Turkey today; and (3)
convincing Erdogan, the one politician who can deliver Turkey
at this stage, to make the right decisions on Iraq, Cyprus,
and domestic political and economic reform.

Erdogan The Man

5. (C) Erdogan's charisma, defensiveness, strong intuition,
commanding (even authoritarian) presence, common touch --
rare among Turkish politicians -- and slight swagger come
from having to make his way as a youth in the gritty Istanbul
neighborhood of Kasimpasa, attending a preacher (imam-hatip)
high school, and playing professional soccer. He is both
prone to emotional reactions and cool in wielding political
power. He has a huge self-image and heightened sense of
pride, both easily wounded when he thinks he is not being
shown due respect, and reacts badly to criticism. Yet he has
proved he has a strong pragmatic streak as mayor of the 12
million-strong Istanbul, in trying to break out of sclerotic
approaches to Cyprus, and in having a well-tuned (if
acquired) sense of timing on when to push and when to hold
back on sensitive questions like the headscarf issue.

6. (C) Not knowing any foreign language and lacking a strong,
well-rounded education, Erdogan relies on his intuitions,
presence, and ability to bond to manage meetings with foreign
interlocutors. He will listen intently and expects his
interlocutors to treat him and the subject seriously, even
earnestly. At the same time, he is open to the well-timed
joke or lighter comment. In the latter regard, Erdogan is a
passionate fan of Fenerbahce, nicknamed the Yellow Canary,
one of the big three Istanbul (and Turkish) soccer clubs; a
gift with a yellow or yellow and blue motif would be a hit,
especially if accompanied by a comment relating to his
passion for soccer. Erdogan's style is to make his points
initially softly and laconically; if he meets resistance he
ratchets up his second response, becoming more stern with
each exchange on the topic. He reacts badly to overt
pressure or implied threats. The best way to convince him to
take a tough decision is to appeal calmly but man-to-man to
his sense of destiny as Turkey's leader.

Erdogan's Party

7. (C) Ref (C) lays out AK's strengths and challenges as they
may affect U.S. interests. In the latter regard, we are
seeing a post-election differentiation, and thus more of an
opening for intra-party tension, in two areas. First,
between the party's parliamentary group (which just elected a
more religiously conservative set of whips than P.M. Gul
expected) and party leadership (which is more weighted to the
pragmatic group around Erdogan and Gul). Second, between
fiery parliamentary Speaker Arinc and the calmer Gul (ref D).
Erdogan will have his hands full keeping the party together
as the strains of governing and legislating and outside
pressures from the Establishment, public opinion, and foreign
policy demands play on the fractions and fissures already
extant in this conglomerate party. Many of our contacts from
left to center-right predict that AK will split within a
year. Perhaps this assessment is wishful thinking tinged
with envy, but AK indeed faces marked internal stresses going

Erdogan's Government

8. (C) Erdogan is not yet in the government, but by
dominating the news he has ensured that everyone here and
abroad recognizes him as de facto -- and future de jure --
head of government. Gul's cabinet (ref E), formed under
Erdogan's guidance, mixes men with experience dealing with
the Deep State or bureaucracy -- Defense (DefMin Gonul is
respected by President Sezer, who is otherwise wary of the
new government), Interior, MFA, Education -- with insiders
from Erdogan's Istanbul municipal administration and some
with wheeler-dealer business connections.

9. (C) Gul will rapidly shepherd through Parliament
EU-related democratic reforms and the constitutional changes
designed to open the door for Erdogan's assumption of the
prime ministership, perhaps in mid- to late winter. A large
question remains whether AK has a skillful enough pool of
talent to staff the Undersecretary levels and below. We thus
share Turkish observers' questions about how well AK will be
able (a) to respond pragmatically on foreign policy; (b) to
maintain credible economic reform and banking supervisory
standards; and (c) to carry out its intended strong reform
and anti-corruption drives when faced with deeply entrenched
interests and practices.

How to Influence Erdogan

10. (C) Given Erdogan's wariness toward the Turkish
bureaucracy, it will be key to draw Erdogan aside from his
bureaucratic minders to elicit his true thinking on sensitive
topics. At the same time, U.S. interlocutors can enhance the
impact of their message if they have aides cultivate his
closest advisors, especially Erdogan's closest foreign policy
advisor Omer Celik. In the wake of the Dec. 3
Wolfowitz-Grossman visit, we suggest the following approach
to Erdogan on four key questions:

--Iraq: emphasize the benefits to Turkey of full cooperation
in coalition preparations for a possible military operation
and convince Erdogan he can sell maximum cooperation as not
letting foreigners control Turkey's future: "if you don't
play the game you don't make the rules."

--EU and reform: in reiterating the strength of our support
for Turkey's candidacy, give Erdogan our latest information
on EU member states' stance (as we have been doing regularly
in Ankara) to prepare him for his lobbying in Copenhagen,
emphasize the crucial impact of further reform, and urge him
to portray the Summit decision on Turkey positively.

--Cyprus: urge Erdogan to get Denktas to reach a settlement

--Economic reform, anti-corruption, anti-torture measures,
and open government: note that Erdogan's party will be
measured at home most by these four yardsticks, note the
centrality of maintaining reform momentum and strong, clean
banking regulation for the government's image and for
preserving market confidence (Erdogan is coming under the
sway of corrupt and failed bank owners).

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