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U.S.-Turkey Relations Seriously Damaged by Iraq War, Finds Council Special Report

Related Bios: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Alliance Relations (on leave)
June 21, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations


Authors Urge Two-Track Approach to Repair and Revitalize Relationship

June 21, 2006—“The growing schism between the West and the Islamic world is one of the primary challenges confronting American foreign and defense policymakers. As a consequence, the relationship between the United States and Turkey—a Western-oriented, democratizing Muslim country—is strategically more important than ever,” asserts a new Council on Foreign Relations Special Report.

While Turkey has the potential to be an invaluable partner as Washington seeks to improve its standing in the Muslim world, U.S.-Turkey relations have been severely damaged by the war in Iraq. “Turks believe that the Bush administration committed two sins.” Before the war, “Washington dismissed Ankara’s warnings about the consequences of invading Iraq.” And now, “Turks believe the United States has not taken sufficient care to address Turkey’s security concerns” about the emergence of an independent Kurdistan, which could stoke nationalist sentiment among Turkey’s Kurdish minority. 

“Time is growing short to build new momentum in the U.S.-Turkey relationship. Over the course of the next two years, both countries will face a series of tough foreign policy questions concerning Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, and Cyprus just as politicians in both capitals are entering election cycles,” says the report, Generating Momentum for a New Era in U.S.-Turkey Relations.

The Council’s Douglas Dillon Fellow Steven A. Cook and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Alliance Relations Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall outline a simultaneous, two-track approach for immediate implementation by the United States and Turkey to rebuild their historically collaborative relationship.

Recommendations of the first track include time-sensitive initiatives to address current problems:

  • Manage the impact of Iraq: “The most urgent issue that links Washington’s interests with Ankara’s is the successful establishment of a unitary Iraqi federal state.” The United States should “launch and lead a trilateral dialogue on Kurdish issues with the Turks and legitimate representatives of the Iraqi Kurds.”
  • Resolve the Cyprus dispute: “Renewed leadership to end the island’s divided status is also required, and the U.S. government is well positioned to provide it.” The United States should appoint a new Special Cyprus Coordinator, urge EU leaders “to use their collective clout to require more constructive behavior from the Cypriot government,” and take concrete political, diplomatic, and economic steps to break Turkish Cypriots from their international isolation.
  • Support EU accession: “A goal of U.S. diplomacy with its principal European partners should be to develop a plan for anchoring Turkey in the West through the EU and strong bilateral ties,” particularly with Germany, which has the largest Turkish Muslim community in Europe.

The second track includes longer-term efforts to create mechanisms for cooperation:

  • The United States should establish a high-level U.S.-Turkish Cooperation Commission that would include a “strategic security dialogue,” the “expansion of economic and commercial ties,” and the “development of cultural exchanges, with emphasis on the expansion of educational opportunities.”

Despite recent problems, the report notes that “the two countries share long-term interests in Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East….The goal should be to anchor Turkey in its partnership with the United States,” conclude Cook and Sherwood-Randall.

Contact: CFR Communications,; 212-434-9888

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