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US midterm elections reset lobby dynamics for Turkey

US midterm elections reset lobby dynamics for Turkey

A more Republican-leaning Congress brought by Tuesday's midterm elections in the United States is a mixed blessing for the future of the US-Turkish relationship, diplomats and analysts said Thursday. The changes affecting Turkey mirrored the trend across the country, as Tuesday's midterm elections dealt a massive upset to Democratic President Barack Obama, with the opposition Republicans regaining the control of the House of Representatives, Congress' lower chamber. The Democrats managed to keep their control in the Senate, Congress' upper chamber, but their formerly comfortable majority diminished. For Turkey, however, the so-called Armenian lobby remains strong in both houses of Congress. In the 1990s, Turkish diplomats dealing with the United States had a motto: "Democratic presidents and Republican Congresses." The situation in Turkey, however, has changed in the last 15 years or so. Whereas Turkey was once a loyal ally of the United States, it now has its own independent foreign policies and initiatives, particularly in the Middle East, including rapidly improving ties with Iran and Syria and a worsening relationship with Israel. As such, many US conservatives, especially in the Republican Party, are upset with Turkey. The new Congress to be elected Tuesday will take office Jan. 3, and any congressional sessions between now and the New Year are called "lame duck" sessions. There is a slight chance two important things could happen for Turkey during the lame-duck sessions. First, there has been no US ambassador in Ankara for more than three months. Obama's ambassadorial nominee for Ankara, Frank Ricciardone, has so far failed to win Senate confirmation as prominent Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has effectively blocked Ricciardone’s nomination. Ricciardone can at best be confirmed in the Senate's lame-duck sessions beginning in mid-November on the condition that Brownback lifts his veto. Brownback was elected governor of Kansas on Tuesday and will leave his Senate job at the end of the year. If Brownback were to lift his hold on Ricciardone – despite there being no sign of such intent – and the Senate confirmed Ricciardone, the latter could take his job in Ankara. However, if Brownsback does not lift his veto and the Congress does not vote for Ricciardone, the Ankara envoy’s seat will remain vacant at least until the new Congress is convened in January. Secondly, Turkey is also concerned about a vote on the "Armenian genocide" resolution pending in the House of Representatives during the lame-duck season. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs narrowly approved the "genocide" bill in March, and the resolution is awaiting a possible vote on the House floor. US Armenians are seeking a vote on the resolution in one of the lame-duck sessions, but Obama's administration is standing resolutely against this bill. Many Republicans are ultimately angry about Ankara's rapprochement with Iran and the new hostile relationship between Turkey and Israel; if this situation continues, they could take hostile action against Turkey. Moreover, if pro-Armenian deputies do not bring forth a "genocide" resolution bill during the lame-duck sessions, they could conceivably reintroduce such a bill after Jan. 3. Many Republicans, angry with Turkey, could back these bills.

 

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