The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
YES, WE CAN
In his address to 180 Turkish ambassadors in Ankara, Davutoğlu said: "If a new global order is to be built, Turkey will be one of the countries that lays the foundation of that order. We are strong enough to do that."
Davutoğlu said Turkey would assume the "wise country" role in the term ahead. He gave a new vision to Turkish diplomats who are often referred to as fire-fighters: "we will not contend with fire-fighters. We want to see our diplomats as city planners that prevent future fires."
Mr. X KNOWS AVIATION AND KNOWS TURKISH AIRLINES VERY WELL
The newly released WikiLeaks documents mention the Boeing purchases by Turkish Airlines. The document, which carries the signature of the then-U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, is dated January 19, 2010. According to the document, while talks between Turkey and the U.S. for purchase of 20 Boeing jets for Turkish Airlines were still underway, Gül wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and requested that NASA send a Turkish astronaut to space. Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım implied that the astronaut request had to do with the commercial agreement.
Another document dated May 12, 2004, carries the signature of U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman. A person who is not identified brought together former Finance Minister Kemal Unakıtan and Boeing.
During negotiations, Unakıtan asked Boeing to make an unidentified Turkish businessman its Turkey representative. Boeing refused.
GOOD NEWS FOR THE ECONOMY
Three basic indicators of Turkey's economy saw on Monday improvement with dropping inflation and interest rates and surging exports. Annual inflation decreased by 0.13 percent to 6.4 percent, 0.1 points lower than anticipated. The country's exports were up to 113.7 billion USD, to exceed a target of 111.7 billion USD for 2010. Interest rates saw a historic low at 7.04 percent.
TURKEY CONSIDERING DEMAND TO REOPEN ORTHODOX SEMINARY
Turkey is considering a demand by the Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to reopen a seminary that trained generations of patriarchs, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said Monday. "We will try to meet them from a legal point of view," Arınç said following the meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I. "As the government, we consider it a duty to meet the rightful demands of our citizens who have been living on this land for centuries." The Halki seminary on Heybeliada, an island near Istanbul, was a major center of theological learning for more than a century until it was closed in 1971 by a law designed to bring all universities under state control.
The move deprived the Orthodox Church, seated in Istanbul since Byzantine times, of its only facility to train clergy in Turkey. The European Union and the United States have long pressed Ankara to reopen the school. "We have entered a new year. I came here to extend best wishes for 2011 and to wish health and happiness in this new year," said Arınç in explaining the reason for his patriarchal visit, his first. "During our meeting with [Patriarch] Bartholomew last August, I told him I would visit him. I wish this visit to be a beneficial start."
Arınç became the highest-level Turkish official to visit the patriarchate since a 1952 visit by then-Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Anatolia news agency said.
Patriarch Bartholomew thanked the government for recent measures to improve the rights of Turkey's non-Muslim minorities but stressed that more must be done.
"We expect further steps. Naturally, we expect the reopening of our seminary," the patriarch said in televised remarks, Agence France-Presse reported. "Hopefully, the government will realize its goodwill on the issue."
Patriarch Bartholomew hailed Turkey's overtures toward minorities as "openings for democracy and Westernization," saying he hoped the seminary could be reopened this year, 40 years after its closure.
Patriarch Bartholomew said he also thanked Arınç for initiatives made to their community and other communities. "There are not the initiatives for the Armenians, Jews or Greek Orthodox but initiatives for democracy. These are initiatives made to make Turkey more modern."
Arınç said he was accepting responsibility to ensure that different belief groups live in peace and happiness in Turkey.
"The community foundations and the patriarchate may have many needs and demands. From time to time, we have talks with the patriarch and his colleagues to meet the demands within the scope of law," Arınç said.
"New arrangements were made with the new Law on Foundations. We should grant the rights within the scope of those arrangements. Our political will is strong in this respect. The application made by Republican People's Party [the main opposition party, CHP] for a new Foundations Law was rejected by the Constitutional Court. We are the caretaker of a civilization complying with the rights, beliefs and cultures of others. We are obliged to establish and maintain good relations with all our citizens," Arınç said.
"We take into consideration the problems of foundations, communities, the patriarchate and the peoples with respect to laws. We have not granted anything regarding the seminary on our own," the deputy prime minister said, adding that a recent decision from both the European Court of Human Rights and a local Turkish court had turned over control of an old orphanage building on Istanbul's Büyükada Island to the Greek Orthodox Church. The orphanage was confiscated from the church in 1997.
"Works on other issues are continuing. There are the decisions of the Constitutional Court. There are some other legal impediments and issues that we consider as an obstacle stemming from some international agreements. We will overcome all of them. As a requirement of law, those should be returned to right holders. We will do what the laws order us to do," Arınç said.
Patriarch Bartholomew said the new Law on Foundations provided new opportunities to minority communities even if the law was not completely satisfactory.
Turkish officials have said they are willing to reopen the seminary but have cited procedural snags because the school does not fit into existing categories in the country's education system. Without the seminary, the church has no means of training clergy, making it difficult to find a successor for Bartholomew I.
To make up for the shortage, Ankara has granted Turkish citizenship to several senior clerics at the church – a requirement for the aging Patriarch Bartholomew's successor.
Despite the recent steps, Ankara has refused to recognize the patriarch's "ecumenical" title, considering him only the spiritual head of Turkey's tiny Greek Orthodox minority.
TURKEY SEEKS TO CONTINUE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC ROLE IN IRAQ
As Turkey readies to work with the Iraqi administration it tried to have unseated in the last election, officials have expressed confidence that Turkey will continue to play a role in Iraq, politically and economically. "Iraq cannot afford to turn its back on Turkey," one diplomat familiar with Iraqi affairs told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
Turkey's efforts to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration, based on a Shiite-Kurdish coalition, with a Sunni-backed one in the March elections constituted a perhaps-unprecedented level of involvement for Turkey in a neighboring country's domestic affairs.
Dissatisfied with al-Maliki's tendency toward "one-man rule," as disclosed in confidential U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, Turkey pushed for a government led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Sunni-backed al-Iraqiyya bloc. Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu is quoted as saying in one cable that al-Maliki is "getting out of control." Officials, however, do not expect Turkey to face any negative consequences from its involvement in Iraq's elections.
"The problem stems not from [al-Maliki], but from the fact that the prime minister [role] has assumed extraordinary powers and this leads anyone in this position to have dictatorial tendencies," the diplomat told the Daily News.
Turkey's policies in the near future will depend on al-Maliki's ability to manage a balanced, functional administration. "He has a very difficult job. By trying to reconcile with everyone to form the government he made everyone unhappy as well," said Bilgay Duman, an expert on Middle East issues from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies.
The population census, expected to be held this year, as well as the Kirkuk issue, a region where a sizable Turkmen community lives, will be two key areas closely monitored by Turkey. Despite a recent statement by Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, that Kirkuk is, and will remain, part of "Iraqi Kurdistan," Turkish observers seem confident that Kurdish groups understand the problem cannot be solved unless there is an understanding with the Turkmens. Though violence is a possibility in Kirkuk, due to the presence of Peshmerga forces in the city, where Arabs live as well, the likelihood of restraint on all sides seem higher than in the past.
"Everyone [involved] in this issue is aware that they cannot impose a solution on the others," said one Turkish official.
While continuing to closely monitoring the political situation in Iraq, Turkey is also expected to push for an increased economic presence in the country, especially in the south, in 2011, following what it considers a "lost year" due to the elections. Economic relations have boomed in recent years as Turkey's exports to Iraq rose to $6 billion in 2009, compared to some $900 million in 2003.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are expected to travel to Iraq this month with the aim of reviving the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, which gathers dozens of ministers from the two countries. Turkey also seeks to win bids that are expected to be opened this year and has set its sights on the energy sector as well. The absence of an oil law for exploration and exportation has not prevented the central government in Baghdad, as well as the Kurdish administration in the north, from exploring ways to cooperate with third countries. "I expect Turkish private and public companies to increase their activities in the energy sector this year," Duman said.
Davutoğlu has named Iraq as one of the four countries whose internal political stability is of high importance to Turkey, alongside Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon. "We are the most affected by the fragile political setups in these countries," the foreign minister said at a recent press conference. "We did not name a government [in Iraq]. All we did was say, 'Don't have a government without the al-Iraqiyya bloc.' We support all structures that include Sunnis and Shiites together," Davutoğlu said, calling on all sides not to identify their parties by Sunni or Shiite names. He added that this is why al-Maliki chose the name "State of Law coalition" for the bloc he formed with supporters of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
"I don't think we can call it interference in [Iraq's] internal affairs. A Pandora's box was opened following the U.S. military intervention," a senior Turkish diplomat told the Daily News. "Sunni groups did not want to be part of the government. We tried to tell them it would be a mistake. We convinced Sunni groups to participate in the 2005 elections.
"We might have created the perception that Turkey was supporting the Sunnis against the Iranian support of Shiites. But we have not discriminated against any group," the diplomat added. "We have been in touch with all groups in Iraq. We encouraged the Sunni participation because Iraq needs an all-encompassing government. We tried to eliminate an imbalance in the Iraqi administration."
Though it was unsuccessful in replacing al-Maliki, or Jalal Talabani as president, Turkey tried to convince Allawi to at least take part in the government.
"We contributed to the formation of the latest composition of the [Iraqi] government," Davutoğlu said, a view confirmed by Duman. "I was told by all groups I met in Iraq that Turkey's efforts with al-Iraqiyya helped the formation of the new government," he said. "Turkey has started to have its weight felt in Iraq as a result of its policies since 2007. I believe it will continue to play an influential role in all processes in Iraq."
TURKEY ASKED U.S. TO TAKE ASTRONAUT IN RETURN FOR BOEING SALE
Turkey's aspirations are not limited to its region, or even the globe, according to a recently released document that says the Turkish president sought to cut a deal to put a Turkish astronaut into outer space.
President Abdullah Gül asked his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama to let a Turkish astronaut participate in a NASA space flight in return for buying Boeing jets, said a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by the New York Times from the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
Describing a meeting between then-U.S. Ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey and Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım, the cable said the State Department fielded requests from Turkey to help it build its own space program, including putting a Turkish astronaut on a NASA flight, in attempting to persuade authorities in Ankara to buy Boeing commercial planes for Turkish Airlines (THY).
The cable cited Yıldırım as confirming to Jeffrey during the meeting that price had become the main sticking point in the prospective purchase of Boeing aircraft by THY. "Yıldırım stressed, however, that price is not the only consideration and that THY is looking at the (vague) associated conditions for evidence of a long-term partnership and commitment," the cable read, saying that the transportation minister expressed Ankara's hopes for a heightened level of civil aviation cooperation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and said progress on that front would improve the environment for Boeing as well.
In addition to FAA assistance, the cable said, Yıldırım hinted "obliquely" that Turkey's desire to send an astronaut into space – expressed in a letter from Gül to Obama – was also tied to its consideration of commercial deals, and that NASA assistance for Turkey's own nascent space program would be viewed positively.
After highlighting Boeing's long history of cooperation with and investment in Turkey, Ambassador Jeffrey noted that scheduling a Turkish astronaut on an upcoming NASA mission would be extremely difficult, but that other technical assistance in establishing Turkey's space program might be a possibility, the leaked U.S. document said.
Jeffrey met with Yıldırım in January 2010 to advocate on behalf of Boeing in the ongoing procurement of new airplanes for THY's fleet. At the time, the Turkish carrier had recently announced it would be purchasing 20 single-aisle aircraft with an option for 10 more from Boeing's European rival Airbus.
Commenting on how the meeting went, Jeffrey said in the cable that assisting Turkey's aviation and aerospace agencies could be mutually beneficial in and of itself and merits further study. "We probably cannot put a Turkish astronaut in orbit, but there are programs we could undertake to strengthen Turkey's capacity in this area that would meet our own goals for improved aviation safety in the region," he wrote. "In any case, we must show some response to the minister's vague requests if we want to maximize chances for the sale."