US-TURKEY: Still the Best of Friends
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The last year was one in which the alliance between the U.S. and Turkey, so valuable to both our countries and to global stability, went through periods of uncharacteristic unease.

There were disappointments on both sides -- some major, others minor -- but the strength of our friendship, and our respect for each other`s strategic values, ensured that we are today as robustly committed to the alliance as we ever were.

In fact, one might say that having bared our mutual frustrations to each other, we are now on a new plane of understanding, and have revalidated the innate strengths of our bilateral relations. And it is in this spirit that I meet with President Bush here today.

This year, like the last, will bear witness to its fair share of historic events and deadlines. For Turkey, a key priority in 2004 will remain accession to the European Union, a goal that the U.S. -- which regards membership in the EU for a Muslim democracy as a source of global strategic importance -- has unfailingly supported.

A fundamental transformation has been taking place in Turkey through sweeping reforms enacted by my government, which is barely a year old. Turkish democracy is now more vibrant than ever before and aspires to attain the highest contemporary standards. This achievement, as well as our promising macroeconomic indicators, should spur the European Union to embark upon immediate accession negotiations with Turkey in December.

In the lead-up to that EU decision, we will be hosting the NATO Summit meetings in June -- in magnificent Istanbul, so recently the target of terrorist attacks. The heads of NATO countries and our partners in Eurasia and the Mediterranean will meet at the confluence of civilizations and continents to discuss matters of importance not only to the Euro-Atlantic community but also to the greater Middle East. As such, the selection of Istanbul as the Summit`s venue is truly symbolic.

The year 2004 will also carry great significance for the issues in our close vicinity. The `democracy clock` is ticking in Iraq, as we search for political architecture that ensures individual freedom there, while also preserving Iraq`s territorial integrity and national unity.

To that effect, the Iraqi population, with its many distinct components, needs to be encouraged to reach a broadbased consensus on various aspects of their common future. Turkey, as a friendly neighbor, is poised to help the Iraqis and the U.S., not only on Iraq`s path to democracy but also in its reconstruction. As we have helped in Afghanistan, so we shall be supportive in Iraq.

There are other areas where Turkey relies on its partnership with the U.S. for positive results. The Cyprus question is one, as is the continuing impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. And as I told the leaders of both Israel and Syria earlier this month, Turkey is ready to help, should the political will emerge for renewed negotiations between those two nations. Turkey`s offer to host a meeting to bring both sides together to help rekindle the Middle East peace effort and hopefully move it forward is still very much on the table.

The Caucasus is another region demanding our attention. By virtue of its strategic geography, Turkey is better placed than other countries to encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes and to advocate regional cooperation. Important changes have occurred in the countries of the Caucasus in 2003. The NATO Istanbul Summit, where all three countries of the region will be represented, will provide us with an opportunity to welcome the new Azerbaijani and Georgian leadership into the Euro-Atlantic community.

In these and other ventures, Turkey is working closely with the U.S. to advance our mutual interests and contribute to global peace and stability. Nowhere is this more the case than in our ongoing collaboration in the fight against terrorism. Turkey was one of the first nations to stand by America, with genuine support, after the tragedy of 9/11. Recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul have only served to reinforce our partnership and our shared determination to eradicate this affront to human civilization.

Turkey and the U.S. have common goals and shared ideals in a broad range of issues. This is what makes our partnership so invaluable -- what makes it, in fact, one of the great transcultural alliances in modern history.

Mr. Erdogan is the prime minister of Turkey. This article was first printed in The Wall Street Journal on 28 January 2004.