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Cablegate: Turkish-U.S. Business Council Plans Agressive Push

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet distribution.
This message was coordinated with Embassy Ankara.

1. (SBU) Summary: Turkish-U.S. Business Council (TUSBC)
leaders outlined an agressive push to expand both their
business promotion work and their public relations activities
in support of the bilateral relationship in a March 14
breakfast with Consul General. Incoming President Yilmaz
Arguden, who was elected at the council's February 23 General
Assembly, noted that these plans include an improved web
portal, monthly outreach visits to Anatolian cities to
promote U.S. trade, and delegation to individual executive
committee members of responsibility for specific sectors. In
addition, arguing that Turks' negative attitudes toward the
United States stem from a narrow focus on Iraq-related
issues, Arguden said the council will attempt to highlight
the breadth and depth of the relationship by organizing
monthly programs that focus on success stories elsewhere
within it. These varied initiatives will lead up to two main
anniversary activities: a June 2 conference in Istanbul with
the participation of Members of Congress and other
dignitaries and participation in the annual American Turkish
Conference June 5-7. End Summary.

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2. (SBU) A New Team: Arguden was elected President of the
Council at its General Assembly meeting in February, taking
over the reins from Petrol Ofisi Chairman Vural Akisik, who
resigned two years before his term would normally have
expired. According to some contacts in the Foreign Economic
Relations Board (of which TUSBC is a part), Akisik had become
discouraged by the "deteriorating bilateral relationship." In
his conversations with us, however, Akisik, who has also
scaled back his business activities, stressed only that it is
time for the younger generation to take over, noting that he
is one of only two executive council members who had served
since its inception 20 years ago. (Note: Vice Chairman Serif
Egeli is the other.) Arguden, a leading Istanbul consultant,
has previously served several terms as council Vice Chairman
and has been a leading spokesman for the council for years.

3. (SBU) Ambitious Plans: In our March 14 meeting, Arguden,
who was joined by two of his three deputies, Serif Egeli and
Ali Koc, and Council Coordinator Basak Kizildemir, outlined a
full program of activities. Most notably, he said that in
contrast to the recent past, when the council was content to
focus on business activities and leave the "lobbying" in
favor of the bilateral relationship to other organizations
such as TUSIAD, it no longer feels that it has that luxury,
given negative public sentiment towards the United States.
He blamed that sentiment on specific policy differences
related to the war in Iraq, particularly vis-a-vis the PKK,
and argued that what is needed is a "positive news flow" to
balance these negative stories. The council, he said, will
seek to contribute to that flow in two ways: by organizing
monthly conferences with media participation that focus on
success stories elsewhere in the relationship (he cited
Hikmet Cetin speaking on U.S.-Turkish cooperation in
Afghanistan or a Turkish NBA star sharing his experiences in
the U.S. as examples of the types of programs he has in
mind). Secondly, it will commission papers for U.S. and
Turkish opinion leaders that seek to put controversial issues
in broader perspective. He suggested, for instance, that an
initial paper may tackle the issue of the groundswell of
anti-U.S. sentiment in Turkey and attempt to put it in
broader context.

4. (SBU) Business Activities: Arguden's business agenda is
equally ambitious. In addition to a newly enhanced web
portal, which aims to be a first stop for all those
interested in U.S.-Turkish trade, and which will highlight
new business success stories each month, Arguden has also
attempted to put the council on more of a business footing.
Each vice Chairman will take responsibility for specific
sectors and oversee four-five board members who are
responsible for specific areas such as IT, food, retail,
construction, etc. Each board member is charged with setting
goals to improve trade relations in their area, through
participation in trade fairs, visits to the U.S., or
informational programs. Already, for instance, Sabanci Food
and Retailing Division Chief Haluk Dincer, who handles the
food sector for the board, has raised with us the possibility
of arranging an FDA visit to Turkey to enhance understanding
of U.S. phyto-sanitary standards. In addition, the council
is organizing a visit to a different city in Anatolia each
month, targeting small to medium-sized businesses with
information about how they can do business with the United
5. (U) June Festivities: These regular activities are
designed to enhance TUSBC's effectiveness as it closes in on
its 20th anniversary celebration at the beginning of June.
In addition to its participation in the annual ATC gathering
in Washington June 5-7, the council is also organizing an
anniversary event on June 2 in Istanbul, with the
participation of a delegation headed by Congressman Ed
Whitfield, head of the Turkey Caucus, and other ranking U.S.

6. (SBU) Comment: A polished and articulate figure who has
long been a close Consulate contact, Arguden appears
determined to bring a new and more businesslike approach to
the council's business promotion activities. He has
assembled an excellent team around him, including
representatives from Koc and Sabanci and other leading
Istanbul-based groups. How those Istanbul groups' outreach
will play in Anatolia is an open question, but certainly many
companies have extensive operations throughout the country
and the effort is one that needs to be made. The council's
willingness to again speak up for the relationship and
highlight its breadth and depth is also welcome, particularly
given its desire for the message to come from leading Turkish
voices. As Arguden noted, while it is not possible to
"eliminate negative news," it is possible to try to shift
some attention to the positive, and thus seek to separate
those who have concerns about specific U.S. policies from
those who are seeking to exploit the situation to divide the
two sides. We made clear our appreciation for the council's
work and our openness to cooperation, including through
enhanced communication and joint program activities. We will
be meeting with Arguden and selected members of the board
each month just prior to the full board meeting, in order to
coordinate views and activities. End comment.

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