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Ambassador Osman Faruk Logoglu: Turkey Struggles With Iraq, EU Issues
The Washington Diplomat / February 2003

By Larry Luxner

Osman Faruk Logoglu is suddenly popular these days.

As Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Logoglu represents a NATO member country that has long been a U.S. ally, but is now being squeezed in all directions as the Bush administration prepares for war against Iraq.

With the shadow of Saddam Hussein and his chemical, biological and possibly nuclear arsenal as a backdrop, Washington is pressuring Ankara to let it station 80,000 combat troops along Turkey's 250-mile border with Iraq, and is offering huge sums of money as compensation for the economic damage Turkey will likely suffer in the aftermath of another showdown with Baghdad.

The Bush administration has also lobbied the European Union (EU) aggressively to admit Turkey as a member, unsuccessfully so far, in return for Turkish support of U.S. objectives. Even so, the newly elected Turkish parliament is unlikely to make any decision regarding U.S. troops until Jan. 27, when UN weapon inspectors in Iraq issue their long-awaited report to the Security Council.

Logoglu insists that "Turkey's relations with the United States are very healthy and very strong," yet concedes that the relationship is complicated by his country's long-simmering dispute with Greece over the Cyprus issue, its lack of progress on badly needed economic reforms and on its own human-rights record.

In the last few months, however, all those issues have been overshadowed by the likelihood of a U.S.-led war against Iraq a delicate issue because Turkey, despite its NATO membership status and friendship with the United States, also maintains full diplomatic and economic ties with Baghdad.

"We want the best for our neighbors, the Iraqi people. We think they deserve it," Logoglu told The Washington Diplomat in a lengthy interview. "The territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved. Iraq must not under any circumstances be divided or fractured. We also feel that Iraq must comply with the will of the international community, and that this compliance must be full and unconditional."

Yet so far, Turkey hasn't given the Bush administration what it desperately wants: permission to use its air bases as a launching pad for a war against Iraq. That's mainly because Turkey's 67 million inhabitants, 99% of them Muslim, are overwhelmingly against a war with Iraq on its border.

In mid-January, Ankara agreed to allow a 150-person team into the country to inspect 10 Turkish military airports and two or three seaports, but only did so after months of delicate negotiations that exasperated U.S. officials.

"It would not be fair to characterize this as reluctance," says Logoglu, a 61-year-old, no-nonsense career diplomat who speaks impeccable English and chooses his words very carefully. "It is simply a matter of this issue being subject to approval by the Turkish parliament. The stationing of foreign troops of any kind on Turkish soil for any amount of time requires parliamentary approval, and this is a very complex issue for Turkey."

Asked how he feels personally on the issue, Logoglu says "I would rather keep my opinions to myself."

Either way, if Saddam Hussein doesn't comply, war seems inevitable and that will cause untold losses to the Turkish economy, says Logoglu. For that reason, Washington is currently engaged in negotiations to compensate Turkey for such losses.

"Any talk about military action against Iraq has a direct, immediate impact on Turkey," says Logoglu, estimating that the 1991 Gulf War cost Turkey at least $35 billion in lost tourism and investment revenues.

"This would be much worse than that," he says, declining to name a specific dollar figure. "We are worried about the prospect of war. Potential investors will stay away, oil prices will get hurt, and Turkey's ability to access international financial markets is being affected just by the talk of war. So we stand to suffer very significantly.

"We are talking with our American counterparts about ways of dealing with this," he continues. "The American side is preparing to address this issue, and in Turkey we have completed an interagency study about the situation and the kind of losses we are likely to suffer. The important thing here is that the United States understands that Turkey will face serious losses."

In the meantime, Turkey is lending generous assistance to Iraqi exile groups opposed to Hussein.

Asked what he thought about the idea of helping the Iraqis overthrow Hussein, Logoglu had this to say: "I can easily envision an Iraq with a better regime for its people, a participatory regime that respects the rights of different ethnic groups. In our view, it should be the business of the Iraqi people themselves to do that. But under the circumstances, that doesn't seem very likely."

Logoglu is quick to argue that "our Kurdish problem is very different than that of Iraq," and that "in Turkey, there is no problem of racism or ethnic discrimination. With the Kurds, it's a problem of regional imbalances. But our human rights situation has improved."

The Kurdish protesters who periodically hold candlelight vigils outside the Turkish Embassy might beg to differ with Logoglu, who admits that he fears what might happen if Iraq falls apart.

"Certainly an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq would create problems not only for us, but also for Syria and Iraq. It would be a very problematic entity," he says. "Our ultimate concern is that splitting Iraq along any lines would implant a constant source of instability in that region."

Logoglu, a polished, polite gentleman, seems well-groomed for his current job. Born in Ankara and raised in southern Turkey, he graduated from Boston's Brandeis University in 1963 with a degree in political science, then went on to earn a doctorate from Princeton in 1969.

The next year, Logoglu joined the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was subsequently posted to Bangladesh, New York, Germany, Denmark and Azerbaijan before being appointed in 2000 as undersecretary of the ministry itself. He held that position until a little over a year ago.

Logoglu arrived in Washington less than two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In his present job, he heads a staff of nearly 100 people at the newly built Turkish Embassy along Massachusetts Avenue.

Like any ambassador, Logoglu makes speeches, meets with lawmakers and travels around the United States encouraging tourism to his country. In addition to the situation in Iraq, Logoglu has been lobbying hard to get Turkey admitted into the European Union.

"Joining the EU is a prime objective for our people," says Logoglu. "It is a continuation and in a sense, a culmination of the modernization efforts that the Turkish people have undertaken, not just during the Republican period, but predating that period under the Ottoman Empire. Our Western orientation is a principled parameter of Turkey's foreign as well as our domestic policy."

Maybe so, but Europe isn't convinced yet.

In mid-December, EU leaders meeting in Copenhagen rebuffed Turkey even as they wrapped up negotiations that will allow Cyprus, Malta and eight Eastern European nations to become full members by May 2004.

At the summit, EU officials circulated a draft statement urging Turkey to improve its performance on human rights and economics by December 2004. If it does that, the EU "will open accession negotiations with Turkey" but it didn't specify a date.

Despite angry reactions from Ankara, Logoglu is being decidedly low-key in his criticism of the 15-member entity.

"It falls short of what we expected, but the EU did say they would continue to consider Turkey's reforms," the diplomat said, adding that "the Turkish government is very much committed to meeting the Copenhagen criteria, not only to advance our EU candidacy but because these steps are good for the people of Turkey."

Yet there's no question that Turkey has a long way to go before it'll be fully accepted by its European neighbors.

For starters, 95% of the country's land mass is in Asia, not Europe. Secondly, its Muslim orientation makes some Europeans uneasy. Thirdly, its per-capita income of only $3,500 is way below that of any EU member country, which causes many Europeans to worry about an influx of Turkish immigrants once borders are erased and visa requirements abolished.

Logoglu says none of that should matter.

"Turkey is definitely a part of Europe not just in a physical sense, but more importantly in a historic sense. Keep in mind the fact that Turks have been involved with European powers for eight or nine centuries, and that our history is intertwined with that of Europe," he says. "Certainly, we share common values such as democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and now market-economy principles which make us very European indeed."

In fact, Turkey has been an associate member of the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community, since 1963, a member of the European customs union since 1996, and a candidate for EU membership since December 1999.

But wouldn't Turkey overwhelm the EU with its sheer size? After all, if Turkey is admitted into the EU, it would rank second in population after Germany, constituting 14.4% of the EU's 368 million inhabitants. By 2025, this percentage is projected to jump to 18.9%.

"That's precisely why Turkey must join the EU and why the EU needs Turkey," says Logoglu. "A European Union which is not diluted will mean basically a club of Christian nations. What you need is a community of nations and peoples who espouse universally acceptable values, not just those of a specific religion or culture. Without Turkey, that's what you'd have."

The ambassador adds: "Throughout the years, the U.S. has been helpful and supportive of our membership in the European Union, but President Bush in particular has taken a very strong interest in this, and has been personally engaged in this effort, especially in the last few months, asking European leaders to offer a date for the start of accession negotiations."

Last September, former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who heads a commission seeking to write a European constitution, warned in an interview with Le Monde that admitting Turkey "would be the end of the European Union." Logoglu concedes that Giscard "is probably not alone in his views" toward Turkey.

"But it's still the wrong view," he insists. "What Mr. Giscard said has brought the issue into sharper focus and has alerted the minds of Europeans. But it still doesn't make it right. The debate will not stop with that statement. The primary issue is whether the EU itself will be psychologically ready to embrace Turkey. It's not an easy issue."

Neither is the question of Cyprus.

The Mediterranean island has been split for years between Greek and Turkish sectors, and its capital, Nicosia, is the world's last divided city. The self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which occupies 37 percent of the island's land area, maintains a representative office in Washington but is diplomatically recognized only by Turkey.

Nevertheless, Logoglu said that both the 700,000 Greeks and the 200,000 Turks living on the divided island now want a permanent solution. To that end, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed an elaborate plan that must be accepted by all parties.

"There's no question that, like the people of Turkey, the Turkish Cypriots also want to become a member of the EU. Whether this will turn into outright acceptance of Kofi Annan's plan remains to be seen," he said. "The two sides have been asked to reach an agreement by Feb. 28. There is still a possibility of success, but this will require movement by both sides."

Another source of instability is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Here again, Turkey is forced into an awkward position as the world's only Muslim nation that has maintained close military ties with the Jewish state.

"All the blood that has been shed in the Middle East makes the Turkish people sad and anxious because of our cultural and historical relations with this region," says Logoglu. "Our government, without making any distinctions on the basis of race or religion, and without looking at whose blood is being shed, believes the only way to a solution is by peaceful means. Turkey will continue to support the Palestinian people and share their suffering [while] continuing to maintain its good relations with Israel."

Interestingly, Logoglu says his embassy has closer relations with Jews than with Arabs here. "Naturally our connections with Jewish groups in this country are strong, and somewhat more regular than with the Arabs," he explains. "The Jewish groups are better organized."

Those close relations will continue, he says, despite the recent election of Abdullah Gul, deputy leader of the Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (AKP), as Turkey's new prime minister. The AKP won a landslide victory in November, securing 363 of 550 seats in the Turkish parliament.

In his first news conference after taking office, Gul called for Turkey and Cyprus to be admitted to the EU simultaneously. He also pledged to improve Turkey's human rights record, including penalties to deter torture; in addition, Gul said he would privatize state enterprises and reform the country's cumbersome tax system.

Logoglu says Americans shouldn't be concerned that Turkey is moving away from secularism and toward an Islamic fundamentalist state, as some have feared.

"Turkey is a secular society organized on the basis of separation of mosque and state," he insists. "There may be elements in the new government with Islamic tendencies, but our leadership has emphasized two points: their desire to join the EU and to respect the basic principles of the Turkish constitution."

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