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29 Nov 10

US Wary of Turkey’s Ambitions in the Balkans, Cables Show

US diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowers' Web site WikiLeaks show US concern over Turkey’s new foreign policy in the Balkans.

Besar Likmeta Tirana

A confidential diplomatic cable sent by the US embassy in Ankara on January 20, 2010, describes Turkey’s new active foreign policy toward the Balkans as problematic.

The secret memo is part of some 250,000 that WikiLeaks obtained and is gradually releasing.

According to the cable, Turkey’s interest and intentions in the Balkans were clearly showcased in a speech by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Sarajevo in October 2009, when he made a ringing defence of the centuries-long Ottoman presence in the region.

Davutoglu’s thesis is that “the Balkans, Caucasus, and Middle East were all better off when under Ottoman control or influence; when peace and progress prevailed,” the cable says. 

“Alas the region has been ravaged by division and war ever since. (He was too clever to explicitly blame all that on the imperialist western powers, but came close). However, now Turkey is back,” it continues.

The leaked memo explains that for the neo-Islamic AKP ruling party in Turkey, this new approach provides a relatively low cost and popular tool to demonstrate influence, power, and the "we're back" slogan, for the Turkish public.

Although the analysis from US diplomats admits that this “back to the past” move by the leaders of AKP is playing better in the streets of the Middle East than in Balkan capitals, Ankara has not shied away from pitching itself as a conflict mediator in the region.

Erdogan's visit to Kosovo in early November this year was the latest in a series of diplomatic missions that followed Davutoglu’s speech in Sarajevo.

In September this year, the Turkish President tried in vain to mediate between Bosnia's two semi-independent entities, the Bosnian Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation, several months after Turkish officials met together with Serbian President Boris Tadic and then Bosnian Presidency member Haris Silajdzic.

In October 2009, President Abdullah Gul visited Serbia, the first such visit to Belgrade in almost 23 years.

However, despite Ankara's growing political, social, and economic offensive across the Balkans, the US is of the opinion that Turkey cannot compete in the region with other major international actors like the European Union.

To exhort its influence the US diplomats explain that Turkey is constantly aligning itself with local leaders, which are not always in favour with the west.

“With Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources, to cut themselves in on the action the Turks have to "cheat" by finding an underdog like Haris Silajdzic, [the former Bosniak member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina],” notes the US dispatch.  

“This "back to the past" attitude so clear in Davutoglu's Sarajevo speech, combined with the Turks' tendency to execute it through alliances with more Islamic or more worrisome local actors, constantly creates new problems,” the US cable warns.  

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