Ankara, July 9 (Reuters): Turkey, still smarting from the brief detention of its commandos by US troops in Iraq, kept up its angry barrage of criticism today as military officers from the two Nato allies met to defuse tensions.
The US troops arrested the 11 commandos in northern Iraq on Friday, triggering what Turkey’s powerful general staff described as a “crisis of trust” between Ankara and Washington.
The men were released on Sunday.
Washington sent Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General James Jones, its top soldier in the continent, to Ankara yesterday to agree the terms of a special probe into the incident. The probe will begin in the Turkish capital today.
“Don’t even try it,” read a banner headline in the Milliyet daily, warning US troops against further arrests of Turkish soldiers, in northern Iraq to monitor Kurdish separatists.
“The general staff tells US General (James Jones): ‘If something like the incident in northern Iraq happens again our soldiers will respond in kind’,” the paper headline said.
On the streets of Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial capital, the mood was equally defiant.
“The US is not fair to us. How dare they take our soldiers away. From now on I don’t want any relations with them,” said mini-bus taxi driver Hasan Balci, 43. “We can be on our own, we have 70 million people.”
Diplomatic sources in West Asia say one of the Turks detained was a colonel whom US or British forces had expelled from Iraq twice previously for “suspicious activities”.
They say there is evidence the soldiers were involved in a plot to kill the interim governor of Kirkuk. Turkey has denied such claims.
Turkey has enjoyed close ties with the US, but Ankara’s refusal to allow in US troops during the Iraq war dented the long-standing partnership.
A commentator for the Radikal newspaper, Ismet Berkan, said the weekend incident had underlined the US’ changing priorities in West Asia after the ousting of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which meant Turkey had become less central to its strategic interests.
But Berkan said Turkey should avoid reacting emotionally to this and instead focus on building closer ties with the European Union. Ankara is currently adopting political reforms in the hope of starting EU accession talks in early 2005.
The head of the Turkish American Foundation, Hasan Koni, also took a measured view, noting the two allies had fallen out in the past on such issues as Cyprus, though having the Soviet Union as a common enemy had then helped to repair ties.
“Turkey’s options now are limited. What can we do — leave Nato' Refuse to buy American weapons'” he asked.
Koni said Turkey should avoid trying to play the EU card against Washington, saying that Europe and the US both made similar demands of Turkey in terms of human rights, reining in its military and staying out of northern Iraq.
In another potential threat to strained US-Turkey ties, the US Senate is expected to vote today or tomorrow on draft legislation that would recognise the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide.
Turkey has long denied the charges of genocide, saying the Armenians were among numerous victims of a partisan war raging in World War I as the Ottoman empire collapsed.