We're on the same page, Turkish delegation to tell US officials
A delegation of senior Turkish officials is heading for Washington next week for talks that Turkish policymakers say are important for the future of Turkish-US relations. The delegation, headed by Foreign Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, will tell US officials that Turkey is not in disagreement with the US on key foreign policy objectives, although there might be differences over the ways to reach these objectives. Ankara hopes the message will help ease concerns in Washington about the future of the alliance with Turkey. The two NATO allies cooperate closely in Iraq, where problems in the formation of the government still persist five months after parliamentary elections, and in Afghanistan. But there are visible rifts on two other issues: Iran's nuclear program and the state of Turkish-Israeli relations. The US expressed disappointment after Turkey voted against sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council in June, a move that led many conservatives in Washington to question whether Turkey is still an ally. Turkish criticism of Israel, which intensified after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship in international waters, further deepened concerns about Turkey in Washington. Earlier this month, the State Department made it known to the public that it held a closed-door session on Turkey meant to, in the words of one official, "assess in a free, think-tank sort of way, are we moving in the right direction, are there other areas we can address?" Sinirlioglu, accompanied by his deputies Selim Yenel and Tacan Ildem, will discuss Iran's nuclear program and the sanctions on Tehran, the government formation process in Iraq, Turkish-Israeli relations and the situation in Afghanistan, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday. They will tell their US counterparts that there is no shift in Turkey's axis and explain that Turkey is instead pursuing a more independent course, the sources said. Turkish and US interests converge on Iraq, where both countries want a quick solution to the ongoing political impasse, and Afghanistan, where Turkey is a key Western ally. The Obama administration has made clear that it wants cooperation with Turkey to continue in these two areas, but this may prove to be a difficult task as skeptics begin raising their voices within the US Congress. The Turkish delegation is expected to ask for the administration's help in easing concerns about Turkey in Congress, the sources said, stressing that the administration should better explain ties with Turkey to the congressmen so that Turkish-US ties won't be seriously damaged. While in Washington, Sinirlioglu and other officials will be seeking to unblock the appointment process of Francis Ricciardone, ambassador designate to Turkey, telling US officials that it would be best for Turkish-US ties if Ricciardone begins his job as soon as possible. Some Republican senators are already working to block the appointment. Ricciardone had been expected to be swiftly confirmed in the Senate, but the Senate failed to vote on the nomination this month, automatically postponing his appointment to September, when the Senate is due to return from recess.