Washington, 17 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz arrives today on an official visit to the United States that both sides would like to make a resounding public success. But several major issues on the U.S.-Turkish agenda, involving other nations have no easy or quick solutions.
Yilmaz lands in New York tonight still smarting from the European Union's rejection of Turkey's candidacy for EU membership. He declared angrily in Ankara earlier this week that Turkey would have no further political contacts with Western Europeans and will seek to strengthen a strategic partnership with the United States.
Washington analysts say Turkey badly needs assurances of U.S. support and friendship after being shunned twice in one week -- first at the Islamic summit in Tehran and then by the EU summit in Luxembourg.
The U.S. is likely to be generous in public praise but is expected to want some give in return from Turkey on Cyprus, Armenia and other longstanding points of international tension.
President Bill Clinton set the tone at a Washington press conference yesterday, calling Turkey "a good ally." He said the U.S. and Europeans should do everything they reasonably can to strengthen Turkey's ties to the West.
Clinton stressed that Turkey's secular Islamic government is a dependable NATO ally and spoke of the country's geostrategic significance. Turkey's armed forces are the largest in NATO after the United States, and it serves as the alliance's vital eastern anchor. Thousands of U.S. troops are stationed at a major airbase and several other NATO military installations in the country.
Clinton pointed out that Turkey's size and location give it power over international developments. "Look at what it could block and what it could open doors to," Clinton said, adding "it is terribly important" to keep Turkey in the West.
Earlier this year, some Turkish officials threatened to veto NATO expansion if Turkey was denied full EU membership. That did not happen at yesterday's ceremonial signing of NATO protocols of accession in Brussels. But it was only the first formal step toward NATO membership for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Now, the legislatures of NATO's 16 member-states will be asked to approve the protocols to NATO's founding treaty and at least one Turkish parliamentarian has warned of problems ahead.
Kamuran Inan, a deputy of the ruling Motherland Party and member of a parliamentary commission on NATO has said that Turkish legislators have been skeptical about enlarging the alliance and will be more so after the EU rebuff, "Now they have seen the real face of the West, it will be even more difficult to convince them on NATO expansion," he said.
But top Turkish government officials have reaffirmed a commitment to NATO expansion and U.S. officials confidently say they anticipate no problems on this issue.
When Clinton and Yilmaz meet Friday at the White House for their first formal bilateral session since Yilmaz became Prime Minister in June, the U.S. focus will be on Turkey's relations with another NATO ally -- Greece,
Their 23-year dispute over the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and other territorial differences, flared again recently into a near military confrontation.
Clinton said Tuesday that he wants a resolution of the Cyprus question "very badly." He urged Turkey and Greece to "take off their blinders about each other" and look at all the opportunities for economic development political cooperation and security they are missing because of their quarrel. It is a grave error to allow this potential to founder on the rocks of territorial dispute, Clinton said.
The U.S. would also like to move Turkey to improve relations with neighboring Armenia, another long-standing problem that is rarely mentioned publicly by U.S. officials but is a key to advancing major U.S. interests in the region.
Washington experts point out that an open border with Turkey would give Armenia more flexibility to reach a compromise settlement with Azerbaijan on their ethnic and territorial conflict and ultimately enhance prospects for developing and transporting Caspian Sea oil reserves. Turkey's position, offering an alternative to pipelines leading through Iran, give it a key role in development projects.
A State Department spokesman confirmed to RFE/RL that pipeline plans will figure prominently on the U.S.-Turkish agenda but gave no details. He said only that Yilmaz and his delegation are scheduled to discuss pipeline projects with U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena.
Yilmaz is expected to travel to Washington from New York on Thursday for two days packed with official meetings. He is to have separate talks also with the U.S. Defense and Treasury Secretaries, top officials of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and American business leaders.