Turkey a critical ally in the region, says US envoy

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President Barack Obama’s choice as chief American envoy for Europe said yesterday that the U.S. alliance and relationship with Turkey “is critical not only for the Eurasian space but also in all the work that we’re doing now in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Appearing for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Victoria Nuland answered a question about the Cyprus issue as well.

“Today, we have a real chance to capitalize on changing attitudes and circumstances to address the 40-year-old division of Cyprus,” she said.

“I do believe we have an opportunity now. Circumstances are changing, attitudes are changing not just within Cyprus but also in Greece and Turkey and we have to capitalize on that.”

Underlining the existence of natural resources off the coast of Cyprus, Nuland said this might be a motivation for solution in the divided island. “We also have natural gas off the coast of Cyprus which is a powerful motivator for getting to the solution we all want, which is a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation that can share the benefits,” Nuland stressed.

Asked what the Unites States’ tools were to pressure Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan due to “his crackdown within Istanbul [during the Gezi Park protests], his treatment of journalists and his disposition towards the military,” Nuland said that they would continue to urge the Turkish government to strengthen the fundamental values of democracy.

“Our alliance and relationship with Turkey is absolutely critical not only in the Eurasian space but also in all the work that we’re doing now in the Middle East and North Africa and particularly with regard to Syria. I think it’s because we have such an intense and tight relationship and because we have constant contact I think, the Secretary [of State John Kerry] now made 7 plus visits to Turkey, President [Obama] talks regularly with Prime Minister Erdoğan, that we can speak very clearly and very frankly,” she said.

“When we have concerns about Turkey’s democratic path, we have done that at all levels because it is Turkey’s democracy and the strength of it is important not only the country itself, not only as a NATO ally but also because as a majority Islamic population, Turkey’s democracy is looked at by other countries around the world and in the region who are inspired to be able to be Islamic and democratic at the same time. So these are the points we will continue to make to the Turkish government: that freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, protection of journalists are fundamental democratic values that strengthen the country and in the context of the review that the government of Turkey is now doing of the Constitution we’re urging that these protections be strengthened and not lightened,” she added.

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