On January 11 and 17, GMF hosted Senior Transatlantic Fellow Dr. Ian Lesser in Istanbul and Ankara for events on "U.S.-Turkish relations at a time of internal and external crises: Will Obama make a difference?"
In his presentations in both cities, Dr. Lesser said the new U.S. administration's top priority will be the economy. Obama's tone and style will be considerably different from his predecessor, and this is expected to have a positive impact on the relations with Turkey. That said, another difference will be the approach, as Obama will put more emphasis on human rights instead of democracy promotion.
On the foreign policy side, Obama is expected to take concrete initiatives in the Middle East such as closing the Guantanamo Detention Center and starting talks with Iran. Turkey's stance on the attacks on Gaza and Prime Minister Erdogan's rhetoric led to serious concern in the United States, especially in Congress. This might cause a disadvantage for Turkey in dealing with Washington in the future. Structural problems in Turkish-American relations endure. One major problem is that there is too much focus on strategic relations and that there is a need for other components, such as economic relations, cultural relations, and so forth. In the United States, Lesser said there is a tendency to look at relations with Turkey as "a derivative of something else, such as relations with Russia and policies in Middle East," but Turkey is not alone in this.
The Gaza issue and Palestinian question have a sentimental aspect in Turkey. Use of disproportionate force by Israel created resentment in Turkey, which was also disappointed as it was attempting to broker a peace between Syria and Israel. A prompt visit by Obama to Turkey will be much praised, especially if Turkey is considered to be a leg for a visit to Europe instead of a visit to Middle East.