Cablegate: Istanbul Business to U/S Burns: Now Is the Time

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P 261227Z SEP 07




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Sensitive But Unclassified; Please Protect Accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: In a broad-ranging dinner conversation
with two recently-elected AKP members of parliament and four
senior business leaders Undersecretary Burns discussed
constitutional reform, prospects for resolving conflict with
Armenia, the treatment of minorities in Turkey, Turkish press
and public opinion of the United States as well as Northern
Iraq and the PKK. On the eve of his September 19 visit to
Ankara, U/S Burns explained that his trip was a demonstration
of the strength of the U.S.-Turkish relationship and of the
United States' commitment to work with Turkey to resolve
issues of mutual concern in the Middle East and surrounding
regions. The group agreed the new Justice and Development
Party (AKP)-controlled government was positioned to move
forward on these and other difficult issues. End summary.


2. (SBU) On September 18 the consul general hosted an iftar
dinner in honor of visiting Undersecretary for Political
Affairs Nicholas Burns. Turkish guests included Nursuna
Memecan, a recently elected AKP member of parliament, who
returned to Turkey from the United States to stand for office
in the July elections and Canan Kalsin, a recently elected
AKP member of parliament with a background in the automotive
and construction business. Arzuhan Yalcindag, head of the
Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association
(TUSIAD), social activist and prominent Jewish industrialist
Ishak Alaton, Murat Yalcintas, chairman of the Istanbul
Chamber of Commerce, and BP General Manager and Chairman of
the Foreign Investors Association (YASED) Tahir Uysal
represented diverse views in the Istanbul business community.

U.S. View

3. (SBU) U/S Burns described Turkey as our most important
ally in the Middle East. Turkey is uniquely influential in
the region which will be the most important focus for the
United States throughout the 21st century. He argued that it
is time to put the problems that plagued U.S-Turkish
relations from 2002 through 2005 behind us and focus on a
future where we work together on the important issues facing
both of our countries in the Middle East and neighboring
regions. Secretary Rice will visit Turkey in late October
for the Iraq Neighbors meeting. We hope that PM Erdogan and
President Gul will be able to visit the United States soon
for high-level meetings. Turkey faces a series of important
challenges - constitutional reform, how to deal with Section
301 of the penal code, as well as the Armenia issue.

Civil Rights, Free Speech and Minorities

4. (SBU) Burns reviewed his Istanbul meetings - Robert
College, TESEV, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Sulemaniye
Mosque - highlighting the importance the United States places
upon the Ecumenical Patriarch as a man of peace and an
advocate for dialog. In his Ankara meetings he will
encourage the Turkish government (GOT) to support the
Ecumenical Patriarch and re-open the Halki Seminary after 36
years. Alaton noted that the Ecumenical Patriarch suffers a
problem felt by all minorities, they are "less equal" than
others. President Sezer refused to sign the draft Foundation
Law because it gave "too many rights" to minority
foundations, he explained. Yalcindag noted that she and
TUSIAD board member Guler Sabanci had met earlier in the day
with President Gul to press the government to amend Article
301 and approve a new Foundation Law before beginning the
constitutional reform process, which is sure to require
lengthy debate. In particular amending 301 is an important
symbol for the EU, she argued. Memecan agreed Article 301
should be amended, but argued it should be changed not as a
gesture to the EU but because "it is the right thing to do."


5. (SBU) Burns explained the Administration is opposed to an
Armenia Genocide Resolution (AGR) in Congress. Yalcindag
argued the genocide debate hampered progress on a variety of
issues, including the border. The Turkish and Armenian
foreign ministers have a close relationship, but she claimed
both are reluctant to let this relationship become public.
Most participants agreed that the genocide debate backed
Turkey into a corner. Uysal argued the Nagorno-Karabkh issue
must be resolved before the GOT could act. Alaton described

ISTANBUL 00000872 002 OF 003

his personal efforts to bring both sides together prior to
the Nagorno-Karabkh crisis, which derailed reconciliation
efforts. Memecan thought a key GOT goal should be changing
the diaspora focus from hatred and punitive actions, such as
the genocide resolution, to the promotion of Armenian
cultural heritage in Turkey. Burns noted it takes time for
diaspora communities in the United States and elsewhere to
move beyond historic grievances and focus on positive results
-- this is as true for Irish-Americans as it is for
Armenian-Americans. Memecan described the historical
commission idea promoted by PM Erodgan and explained that the
U.S. could play a useful role as a catalyst and liaison by
bringing the two sides together and keeping the focus on
facts not rhetoric.


6. (SBU) Uysal explained that in the minds of the Turkish
public the EU accession and AGR issues were linked; both
problems were viewed as external forces placing constantly
changing demands upon Turkey. He acknowledged this
perception was not entirely accurate, but most agreed that at
least in the case of the EU Turkey had legitimate complaints.


7. (SBU) Alaton asked for U/S Burns' view of recent French
government statements regarding Iran. The Sarkozy government
is very tough on Iran, U/S Burns explained, they are pressing
for Europe to continue with the current UN sanctions, but
believe the EU might need to implement even tougher
sanctions. This is an area where the U.S. differs from the
GOT: the USG believes it is a mistake to conclude a
multibillion dollar gas deal when Iran is subject to a UN
sanctions regime. Kalsin stressed Turkey's national interest
in keeping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons technology. She
also noted Turkey would never support a war against Iran.
Uysal explained pursuing Iranian gas could preclude fully
exploiting Turkmen and Azeri gas. Central Asian gas does not
need to come to Turkey through Iran, and the Southern
Corridor needs strong Turkish support, he argued. Burns
underscored US support for the Southern Corridor explaining
it helps prevent a Russian monopoly and is in all of our

Northern Iraq

8. (SBU) U/S Burns asked whether public pressure on the GOT
in support of a cross border operation (CBO) had lessened
over the past year. Both Yalcindag and Alaton strongly
agreed, although Alaton noted pro-CBO rhetoric remains
heated. Yalcintas explained the delicate balancing act the
Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO) plays with regard to trade
with and investment in Northern Iraq. In light of the
security situation he is unwilling to lead delegations of ITO
members, primarily small and medium business owners, to
Northern Iraq. However, ITO has hosted a number of
delegations of Iraqi businessmen, some organized by the USG,
in Istanbul. A large number of Iraqi businessmen have opened
companies in Istanbul to conduct business with Northern Iraq;
these are fully functioning Turkish companies and ITO
members. ITO strongly encourages this type of commercial
interaction, he explained.

Public Opinion and Future Actions

9. (SBU) Memecan described the sense of kinship she felt for
the Iraqi people when coalition forces entered Iraq in 2003.
This pan-Muslim sense of solidarity helps explain recent
negative public opinion toward the United States. Uysal
described Turkish public opinion as emotional and fickle, a
characterization with which all the Turkish guests agreed.
The CG explained that politicians had two options when
confronting strong public opinion: to be led by public
opinion or to attempt to shape public opinion. U/S Burns
asked whether the recent electoral mandate had given the GOT
the standing it needed to take hard decisions and reach out
to Armenians and Kurds. Yalcindag expressed her belief that
the new government was committed to moving forward on a host
of difficult issues including economic and constitutional
reform as well as foreign policy issues. Memecan described
the GOT's aim as being better friends with its neighbors and
the world. Alaton asked whether this would include inviting
Iraqi President Talabani to Ankara on an official visit, but
she declined to reply.

ISTANBUL 00000872 003 OF 003

10. U/S Burns cleared this message.

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