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Monday, August 5, 2013

Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations

Jim Zanotti
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Several Turkish domestic and foreign policy issues have significant relevance for U.S. interests, and Congress plays an active role in shaping and overseeing U.S. relations with Turkey. This report provides background information on Turkey and discusses possible policy options for Members of Congress and the Obama Administration. U.S. relations with Turkey—a longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally—have evolved over time. Turkey’s economic dynamism and geopolitical importance—it straddles Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia and now has the world’s 17th-largest economy—have increased its influence regionally and globally. Although Turkey still depends on the United States and other NATO allies for political and strategic support, its growing economic diversification and military self-reliance allows Turkey to exercise greater leverage with the West. These trends have helped fuel continuing Turkish political transformation led in the past decade by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has Islamist roots.

Tens of thousands of mostly middle-class Turks joined protests in June 2013 to express dismay at what they assert to be an increasingly authoritarian leadership style from Erdogan. The protests and the government’s response have raised questions for U.S. policymakers about Turkey’s domestic political trajectory and economic stability. It has also raised questions about the extent and nature of Turkey’s regional influence. Future domestic political developments may determine the extent to which Turkey reconciles majoritarian views favoring Turkish nationalism and Sunni Muslim values with protection of individual freedoms, minority rights (including those of Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish population), rule of law, and the principle of secular governance.

In addition to the attention it is paying to domestic discontent in Turkey, Congress has shown considerable interest in the following issues:

• Working with Turkey in the Middle East to influence political outcomes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; counter Iranian influence; and preserve stability;

• Past deterioration and possible improvement in Turkey-Israel relations and how that might affect U.S.-Turkey relations; and

• A potential congressional resolution or presidential statement that could recognize World War I-era actions by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey’s predecessor state) against hundreds of thousands of Armenians as genocide.

Many U.S. policymakers also are interested in the rights of minority Christian communities within Turkey; the currently stalemated prospects of Turkish accession to the European Union (EU); promoting increased trade with Turkey; and Turkey’s role in the Cyprus dispute. Congress appropriates approximately $5 million annually in military and security assistance for Turkey. The EU currently provides over $1 billion to Turkey annually in pre-accession financial and technical assistance.

Since 2011, U.S.-Turkey cooperation on issues affecting the Middle East has become closer, as Turkey agreed to host a U.S. radar as part of a NATO missile defense system and the two countries have coordinated efforts in responding to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Nevertheless, developments during the Obama Administration on Syria, Israel, and other issues—including domestic concerns highlighted in June 2013—have led to questions about the extent to which U.S. and Turkish strategic priorities and values converge on both a short- and long-term basis.

Date of Report: July 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 58
Order Number: R41368
Price: $29.95

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