Remarks Delivered By Ambassador Namık Tan - 31st Annual Atc-afot/deik-taik Conference - June 12, 2012
Honorable U.S. Trade Representative,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a distinct pleasure for me, as always, to address this distinguished gathering. The ATC/AFOT and DEİK/TAİK Annual Conference continues to be the premier event on Turkey-US relations in Washington D.C. and the 31st Annual Conference is certainly no exception.
Let me first thank the Honorable Ambassador Ron Kirk, the US Trade Representative, for his insightful remarks. (As he has just mentioned in his remarks) Ambassador Kirk, together with Commerce Secretary John Bryson, will be co-chairing the Second Ministerial Meeting of FSECC (Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation) to be held in Turkey in two weeks time. I hope he will enjoy his stay in Istanbul and Ankara, and will come back with good news after a fruitful meeting to further elevate our economic and commercial relations.
I would also be remiss if I did not express my appreciation to ATC and AFOT, as well as DEİK and TAİK, for their steadfast efforts to make these annual conferences a success story, as well as their significant contributions to the ever evolving Turkish-American relationship.
When I spoke here last year, I explained that the crucial relationship between Turkey and the US was robust, relevant and resilient. I am happy to report that this still holds true today. Our relations continue to thrive, in what is, an otherwise very challenging international setting.
Here today, as we look to the future, and as someone who spends every waking hour on Turkey-US relations, I would like to share with you some observations which I believe may help us take our relations to new heights:
Firstly, in step with the changing times, Turkey-US relations are now fully on-line and happening in real-time.
I remember a time, not so long ago, when the discourse in Turkey-US relations was mostly confined to a few static and not unimportant issues. This is no longer true. Today, while some of those issues still rightfully continue to be a part of our common agenda, Turkey and the US are working together, around the clock, to tackle a whole host of new challenges that dominate the contemporary strategic security landscape.
Indeed, our relations are not confined to the odd high level visit, or the rare intense back and forth, during times of crisis. On the contrary, Turkey-US relations are occurring on a 24/7 basis, with constant coordination and cooperation; not focused on single events or still-frames, but on ongoing developments and processes in motion.
In other words, Turkey-US relations are no longer static in nature but dynamic; and therefore, flexible and adaptive. This allows us together to not only analyze and evaluate better, but to also act both effective and more in concert than ever before. It also broadens our common horizon.
And, of course, this very reality requires more energy, more resources and more attention; which I should say, as diplomatically as possible, is not always forthcoming, when you need it.
This leads me to my second observation, which is more like a word of caution.
As an old Turkish proverb implies; intense interaction also means more to potentially disagree on.
Indeed, while the good news is that Turkey – US relations are no longer hostage to the same issues that have been around for decades; the bad news is that there are many more new issues that we have to come to terms on. And, as we’ve seen for the past two and half a decade, Turkey is a frontline state on almost all of those issues, which means that, by default, we will have differing points of view.
As democracies with sometimes very different domestic constituencies, understanding each other’s positions and constantly developing and fine-tuning tactics and approaches that ultimately serve both our nations common goals is never going to be easy. As in any close and long term relationship, miscommunication, second guessing one another and the occasional falling out are natural and only to be expected.
We all, as individuals invested in this crucial friendship, must ensure that it matures, to the point where we do not ask ourselves who lost who, every time something goes wrong.
This leads me to my third observation:
The Turkey-US partnership has reached a level where the basis, direction and importance of our relations are no longer in doubt.
In this regard, we need to stop the constant questioning, bickering and soul searching over the meaning, depth and direction of our relations. I know for some incurable existentialists, questioning Turkey-US relations is and will always be a full time occupation. But for the rest of us; now is the time to look at this critical, multifaceted and deep-rooted partnership in a more results oriented manner.
Only then, can we really focus our energies on how some aspects of those relations are working better than others, and then think about how we can get more mileage from those areas that are underperforming. The truth is that, for example, our political dialogue and contacts at the highest levels could hardly become more intense. In fact, with all the travel back and forth and the meetings in between, Embassies have come to resemble travel agencies more than anything! Obviously, we are very gratified by this level of interaction and benefit from it.
But, maybe because there is too much focus on the political track; an area where much more needs to be done to meet our true potential, Turkish-US economic and trade relations, have lagged behind. While we take comfort from the fact that there is a very strong commitment at the highest level, on both sides, to address this shortcoming, it is all too clear that new ideas are necessary.
For too long, Turkey and the US, have approached this conundrum from different angles. Especially in a time of global economic downturn, both our nations are looking to sell more in the short term and invest in only the most favorable way possible. And both sides continue to work this aspect of our relations in a more short-term, sector driven way. Moreover, whenever bigger ideas like QIZs or others come to the fore, the optics I mentioned, coupled with parochial constraints, essentially prove to be the main impediments.
This is not in any way to be critical. If anything, such behavior is natural to economic and trade relations, and to be expected, especially in the current financial climate. Ultimately, problems are inherent to trade. In fact, we would not have to deal with any problems if we were not trading partners. Our high level strategic partnership compels us to tackle those perennial problems in our trade, to employ productive ideas and to endeavor to construct positive agendas. On the other hand, investments continue to be an area of particular importance for Turkish-American economic and commercial relations. Recent success stories give us hope and enthusiasm, to work harder for further cooperation in this area and we are very optimistic and confident that further economic integration between our companies would dominate our economic relations for years to come.
So, of course, we will both pursue more trade and investment and work together to put in place more a favorable environment to encourage more volume.
However, similar to what I said at this conference last year, I do strongly believe that we also have to think bigger. This is, after all, the country of big ideas. In parallel to the political field, the international economic environment is also changing. Benefitting from the excellent level of partnership we have fostered, Turkey and the US could set a bold new agenda, to create an overarching legal framework for their economic relations.
The mechanisms are already in place to start discussing such ideas; FSECC will convene in a matter of weeks. We could start thinking about the possibility of a strategic legal framework, envisaging reciprocal preferential market access. As the US is in an election cycle, we have time to develop such ideas and prepare the groundwork. I do not want to go into detailed policy suggestions; but I do believe that, unless we pursue big ideas and set a new course, we will not be able to really increase our economic and trade relations exponentially.
So, we must think big and envision where we want to take this relationship, especially in the economic side of the equation. We cannot harness the strong political winds that are blowing, if we do not set a steady course and properly trim our sails.
Having said this, and segueing back into the political domain; let me also underscore, as another major observation, that seasonal seismic activity is not uncommon in Turkey – US relations. While all may appear calm for the moment, as it invariably does before a storm, the fault lines that this pivotal relationship rests on are still very much active, and carry the potential to create massive damage.
This is why we, as those who believe in this relationship, must always be vigilant. We cannot risk complacency, especially in an election year, with regard to the perennial efforts on the Hill to define Turkey through the prism of spurious historical narratives.
This brings me to my penultimate observation. In taking our relations to an altogether new level, we must also constantly be aware of the need to manage expectations. This too is crucial.
On many vital security and defense issues, Turkey and the US leverage this strategic relationship, to meet certain goals and design new approaches. But from time to time, we expect too much of each other. The significant gaps between perceptions and realities, on both sides of the Atlantic, matter too in this regard.
As the recent report released by the CFR correctly argues, there is a new Turkey. While in many ways it has not changed, the Turkey of today is also much removed from what it was two or even one decade ago. This new reality, with all its potential and constraints, has to be taken into full consideration.
And, the same applies to the US. While the world constantly turns on its own axis, time and politics always moves forward. As international relations evolve, how the US sees and positions itself globally, is also changing, especially in light of a severe economic downturn and the newly emerging strategic imperatives of our era. This too is very natural.
In this changed setting, while we work hard to further enhance our already close relations, we must also be careful to not put too much strain on one another or ask for what is not realistic. This requires us to better understand each other, and that is an area where I believe more ground can be covered.
The fact that both US and Turkey are changing makes this harder. But managing expectations on both sides is vital if we are to make advances where possible and tread water for a while where progress is difficult. This again will require us to not look at our relations in a monolithic manner, but to see the whole with its many, and all of them vital, constituent parts.
This is no easy task but, our relations are so extensive and complex and always evolving, that such a high wire juggling act is not only necessary, it is inevitable.
My final observation is about telling the story. We have to do a better job of getting the word out about just how important this relationship is and all the ways in which it works for both Turkey and the US. The reality is that both the US and Turkey need to work on their images when it comes to our respective audiences. It is also clear that we have allowed this relationship to be pigeonholed in cold war narratives for too long. There are many new tools at our disposal, social media is just one area where we and others who benefit from the partnership can spread the message and promote the positive. If we do not seize the day in this regard, there are many others who are ready to fill the void and define our relations, and not always in positive terms.
As governments we can, and must, do better; but you also can help. So, let’s work on new ideas and new ways through which we can together assist each other and this relationship, by reaching the broadest audience possible with a positive, robust and fresh story that everyone can relate to.
Having shared my observations, I will allow one observation on your behalf; I mean you, as the distinguished audience. You may have noticed that despite established practice and a strong diplomatic urge to do so, I did not go through the long list of specific issues on which Turkey and the US cooperate every day. I did not talk about Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, NATO, fight against terrorism, Cyprus etc. This important conference is an excellent opportunity to discuss all those issues and more, and I know the many interesting panels and speeches have already covered a lot of ground.
My point here today, in a nutshell, is that we have successfully elevated Turkey-US relations to an all new level. But we must also not lose sight of the fact that as the altitude increases, oxygen decreases. And, turbulences are felt much harder, even if they are smaller in scale. It has not been easy to bring Turkey-US relations thus far, pivotally important as they are. It will be harder to develop them further.
But that is what we must do; this is our task and we welcome the challenge because we genuinely believe that by continuing to work together effectively to meet the challenges of yesterday, today and tomorrow, our two great nations will not only serve their own interests, but also those of global peace and harmony.