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Key Members of Congress Call For “Urgent Review” of US-Turkey Relations

Jewish Community’s most influential Members of Congress express “deep concern” over Turkey’s actions toward Cyprus and Israel

November 4, 2011, WASHINGTON, DC – Many of the most influential Members of Congress from the Jewish community this week called on President Barack Obama to “undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean.” This is in response to “deep concern with the increasingly bellicose rhetoric and policies which the government of Turkey has adopted…drifting toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies,” primarily Cyprus and Israel.

They called on the President to “begin immediately an intensive review of U.S. relations with Turkey,” in an effort, “to reverse the increasingly confrontational approach of the Turkish government toward its neighbors.”

Such efforts, they stressed, should include, “policy responses to this expanding challenge.”

These Members included the top two foreign policy leaders for the Obama Administration in the US House of Representatives – the former Chairmen and current Ranking Members on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Representatives Howard Berman (D – CA) and Nita Lowey (D – NY), respectively. They were joined by a member of the House Democratic Leadership, Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY), three other senior Foreign Affairs Committee Members, Representatives Eliot Engel (D – NY) [who authored the letter] Brad Sherman (D – CA) and Adam Schiff (D – CA) and former Committee Member Shelley Berkley (D – NV).

They noted that in addition to Turkey’s “continuing occupation of Cyprus…Turkey’s belligerence against Cyprus is also intensifying. Ankara stations more than 40,000 troops in northern Cyprus, possibly the most militarized occupation in the world. Again, while Turkey condemns Israel (even as it actively seeks a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians), it maintains its perpetual occupation of the Republic of Cyprus, a member-state of the United Nations.”

They highlighted that, “Turkey has followed with not-so-vague bellicose threats against Cyprus and Israel, which – in collaboration with a U.S. energy company – are seeking to develop newly-found natural gas reservoirs located under the Mediterranean Sea, between the two countries.”

With regard to Cyprus settlement efforts, these members stressed that, “In fact, Turkey is the main obstacle to the UN-sponsored Cypriot peace process. Rather than embrace reconciliation talks, President Erdogan said of negotiations, `We consider it a disgrace to sit down at the negotiating table with (the Greek Cypriots) at the United Nations. We will not negotiate with a country which we do not recognize.’ But Turkey’s threats do not end there. President Erdogan is now threatening to freeze relations with our allies in the European Union. He said ‘if the Greek Cypriot side stalls negotiations and takes over the presidency of the European Union in July 2012, this means not only a deadlock on the island but also a blockage, a freezing point in Turkey – European relations.’”

With regard to other problematic actions by Turkey they noted that, “while Turkey was late to distance itself from the nightmare in Syria and has worked to gloss over the dangers of the Iranian regime, it still refuses to apologize for the Armenian genocide. In that vein, we also recall in May 2010 when Turkey worked to undermine international efforts to impose strong sanctions on Iran in the United Nations Security Council by offering a competing resolution. Fortunately, the Turkish gambit failed, but Ankara’s position as an erstwhile ally was apparent.”

They concluded by saying, “Mr. President, these and other actions are adding up to serious questions about Turkey’s strategic posture in the region. As a NATO member, we would have expected Turkey to follow a different course on each and every one of these issues. It is our hope that an intensified and frank dialogue with Turkey can convince Ankara to deescalate some of its rhetoric and roll-back its increasingly destabilizing policies. However, if that cannot be achieved, we look forward to working with your Administration to review the changed environment and develop an approach which better suits the situation.”

Continued Congressional Support for Cyprus

This week’s letter follows two major recent communications to the President regarding Cyprus.

One – out – of – four Members of the House (in August) and one – out – of – four US Senators (in September) expressed concern, in a letter to President Obama, about American policy toward Turkey’s occupation and division of Cyprus.

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