Published by Hurriyet Daily News | June/02/2014

MEHMET ÖĞÜTÇÜ, PAUL MICHAEL WIHBEY


For both Washington and Ankara, the stakes are high, possibly higher than many experts and officials in the two capitals realize. Not only is a new Eurasian economic partnership of significant proportions emerging to the north and east of Turkey’s borders, but the shift in the global balance of power emanating from this new energy-driven partnership could send powerful and consequential reverberations into the Caspian and Middle East petroleum-rich regions. 

The Middle East and the Gulf region are in no state of stability – the “Arab awakening” brewing and spreading, as well as the prospect of Iran’s re-engagement with the West are processes, of which will not be concluded soon. They will likely keep our agenda busy over the next decade or so.
The implications for both the U.S. and Turkey could not be clearer.

The manner by which both countries recognize and treat these sets of new circumstances will determine how well their regional interests and objectives will be protected and sustained. These include commercial, energy and security matters of the highest priority.

Clearly, both countries can act unilaterally, but as recent history has demonstrated, such actions can end up being counter-productive and spawn the worst of political and economic consequences, both domestically and internationally.

Rather, at this critical junction in the affairs of Central Asia, the Middle East, Black Sea, and eastern Mediterranean regions, we suggest that both Turkey and the U.S. should invest in a systemic and time-framed comprehensive re-evaluation of their multi-tiered relationship.

The purpose would be to lay the foundation for a more robust engagement of common interests and common goals that would greatly assist in crafting a new economic and security architecture that would have real influence and capacity in these four critical sub-regions adjacent to Turkey’s borders.

In the new era ahead of us there are opportunities, giving substance to President Obama’s 2009 “model partnership,” beyond the outmoded Cold War-era “transactional” relationship that shapes our agenda today. 

One immediate step is to include Turkey in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations without delay – otherwise, Turkey would either have to accept less favorable access to these markets or would have to adopt the standards laid down by these two partnerships, a huge disadvantage for a Trans-Atlantic partner. 

The energy partnership, carrying serious geopolitical caveats, is another area of mutually beneficial engagements that Ankara and Washington should consider in the context of the changing world energy dynamics. 

We believe there is a need for both sides to commit to a serious Energy Security Dialogue at both the ministerial level, chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Energy and the Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and at senior business leaders’ level. Ankara and Washington should focus on energy trade, investment in domestic energy production, clean technologies, efficiency, carbon emissions, and market liberalization. 

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There are also a number of serious flashpoints in the region concerning energy and geopolitical tensions that require closer Turkish-U.S. partnership including:

– Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity,

– The Southern Gas Corridor intended to transport natural gas from the Caspian Sea and Middle East to Europe without crossing Russia, 

– the U.S. partnering with Iran and Turkey, say in the next decade, to create a “powerful triangle” whose activities would promote regional stability and energy flows including from Iran and Turkmenistan, 

– Ankara and Washington working together on a diplomatic and business level to find a solution to share the oil and gas production in the eastern Mediterranean region with due regard to Turkey’s legitimate concerns and interests in the region.

All in all, we are calling for the resumption of the American-Turkish discussions and negotiations aimed at hammering out a tangible, “special relationship” between the two countries. 

Such an engagement would provide both states with invaluable diplomatic and economic “strategic depth” in one of the most volatile and dangerous areas of the globe. This, in turn, would allow for the consolidation of a regional balance of power permitting all countries to pursue economic development and traditional partnerships in a peaceful environment, while maintaining national aspirations and dignity.

With a diversified and dynamic economy, regional energy hub status, a strong member of NATO and with a functioning democracy, Turkey’s extraordinary standing as the key regional play-maker during this period of flux of should not be disregarded or under-estimated by Washington policy-makers and politicians. 

The world is rapidly changing and evolving, leaning forward to meet current and unexpected challenges in a re-defined U.S.-Turkish strategic partnership awaits, but not necessarily for long.