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Turkey: Foreign Policy Plan Aims For Pivotal Role In Eurasia

Prague, 13 August 1998 (RFE/RL) - Turkey has embarked on a vast program of reformulating its foreign policy interests.

Last month, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem made public a policy planning report, "Turkey and the World in 2010-2020," that calls for making Turkey one of the five strongest economies in the OECD. Cem said Turkey will seek a "pivotal economic and political role in Eurasia." He also said Turkey is no longer confined to the outskirts of Europe, but is emerging as a power capable of influencing world events.

Cem described Turkey as "the economic and political pioneer of Eurasia" and "the central and determinative country in the emerging Eurasian reality." In his words, "the stars are shining above Turkey. Turkey does not only have the chance to have a determining role in Eurasia concerning politics, history and culture, but also she is a global actor in real terms with her economy, dynamism, growth rate, labor and the organizational talent of investors."

Last week, the Foreign Ministry launched, in cooperation with NGOs and other ministries, a project to improve Turkey's image at home and abroad. The ministry has also begun implementing an economic and political action plan for relations with Africa, following consultations with Turkish ambassadors to the region and business leaders. A similar plan for Latin America is due to be launched next month.

The main reason for this revamping and redirecting of foreign policy was the European Union's rejection last December of Turkey's long-standing desire to become a EU member. Ankara's traditionally good relations with the EU and its member states have since deteriorated. In the view of some Turkish political commentators that leaves the United States and Israel as Turkey's reliable partners, a position they say is not fully satisfactory for a country the size and geopolitical importance of Turkey.

Turkey signed an agreement of association with the European Common Market in 1963. The agreement foresaw full membership within 20 years. But, despite having made tremendous strides economically, Turkey today appears no closer to joining the EU than it was 35 year ago.

The reasons for that are manifold. They include Ankara's poor human rights record, its persecution of human rights activists and its violent suppression of Kurdish separatists. Greece has played a key role in blocking Turkey from gaining EU membership over the Cyprus conflict and tensions in the Aegean Sea.

Last December, EU summit in Luxembourg declined to invite Turkey to start membership talks while inviting Cyprus and five central and East European states to do so. Ankara was taken aback, particularly by the invitation to Cyprus. Turkey temporarily boycotted further talks with the EU and began looking for partners elsewhere.

Ankara suffered yet another shock in May when the French National Assembly recognized Ottoman Turkey's genocide of Armenians in 1915-16. A similar motion is now under discussion in the Italian parliament.

In a recent interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz termed the Luxembourg summit "a great disappointment," "a historic incident," and "a turning point" in his country's relations with Europe. He accused the EU, and especially Germany, of having deceived Turkey for years.

Yilmaz said that although "we feel ourselves European, the Luxembourg summit openly showed that Turkey does not belong in Europe." He said Turkey has to balance its foreign policy, and give greater importance to ties with Russia, the US and Japan. Last May Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit went to China in search of new markets.

In announcing last month the new foreign policy objectives, Foreign Minister Cem declared "we want to be a part of the EU, but our target is much broader. The Balkans, Central Asian and Caucasian countries are launching efforts to open their economies to the world, and Turkey has entered into a new cooperation with these countries as an indispensable partner."

But early this month, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said "Turkey can't be outside of Europe, we hope and expect that this mistake will be corrected. We are hurt by discrimination."

(This is the first of two articles on Turkey's foreign policy.)