An editing error changed the meaning of a sentence in the Aug. 20 op-ed column by Morton Abramowitz and Richard Burt. The sentence in question should have read: "First, the domestic debates in Europe over Turkey are fierce and treacherous, because the right wing is using the issue of Turkish accession to win broad support." (Published 8/26/04)
In December the Europeans must make a fateful decision: whether to give Turkey a definite date to begin negotiations to enter the European Union. That outcome remains uncertain. The United States has a profound interest in it, but no say; it can, however, have a voice. It must be an effective one.
Yes or no, the stakes are enormous -- for Turkey, Europe and the United States. In the case of Turkey, the accession process would transform the economy, society and political culture of a large, critically located country with enormous promise. Similarly, Turkey's accession would transform the European Union and what happens under its new constitution. For the United States, starting Turkish accession negotiations would fulfill a long-held strategic goal of placing a key ally in a prosperous and stable Europe while also contributing to reform in the greater Middle East. A "no" could push the Turkish economy into depression, undermine its surprising political stability and reverberate across the Muslim world.
Washington has been an enthusiastic advocate of Turkish membership since 1991 and has not been shy in making its views known. It played an important role in the European Union's establishment of a customs union with Turkey in 1995. Now Europeans -- including those in favor of Turkish accession -- are warning that a strong, public U.S. push in support of Turkey could backfire. This is not surprising. After all, Europeans would foot the bill for E.U. accession, not Americans.
The political sensitivity surrounding this issue in Europe is intense. This is not an easy topic for European leaders. Many European governments are prepared to begin the accession process in 2005 provided the European Commission finds that Turkey has met the necessary basic criteria. But large sections of European publics are opposed. French President Jacques Chirac supports beginning the accession process, but more than 60 percent of the French and even many senior figures in Chirac's own party remain opposed. Similarly, in Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is a firm advocate of Turkish accession, but his political opponents have urged an alternative, nonmember relationship for Turkey.
This year two factors make strong U.S. advocacy especially problematic. First, the debate within Turkey is fierce and treacherous because the right wing is using the issue to win broad support. Second, in the wake of the Iraq war, European public skepticism about U.S. motivations limits the ability of the United States to be an effective public advocate on many foreign policy issues.
If the United States is to have an impact, it has to pursue a differentiated, carefully targeted and (dare we say) nuanced approach, as we have proposed in a new study by the Atlantic Council of the United States. One, U.S. public advocacy of Turkish accession should be directed at those E.U. states where it can make a difference, most notably the new members in Central Europe, such as Poland. In countries such as France and Germany -- where government leaders support Turkish accession but face strong domestic opposition -- the U.S. strategy should be one of quiet encouragement. America should studiously avoid anything that can make the jobs of those politicians even more difficult. The United States should also reach out to the human rights community and other key constituencies in Europe with the message that Ankara has come a long way and that accession helps address remaining concerns about building a civil society in Turkey.
Next, while only the European Union can judge whether Turkey has met its criteria for beginning talks, the United States can contribute to a more positive atmosphere. In particular, it should work to ensure that the continuing division of Cyprus is not an issue. It can encourage Turkey to keep making clear its determination to be constructive. It should also push the Greek Cypriots not to hold Turkey hostage to the Cyprus issue and to make clear that their opposition to the U.N. settlement plan in the April referendum was not indicative of any broader unwillingness to reach an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the United States must stress to all countries the strategic dimensions to Turkish accession: It will anchor Turkey firmly in the camp of Western democracies, in contrast to Turkey's neighbors in the Middle East. In this way, the United States can add a valuable perspective to the European focus on the sensitive internal question of how to accommodate a big new member of the European Union. A strong, democratic and prosperous Turkey -- bordering Iraq, Syria and Iran -- will serve American and European interests alike and speak volumes about the inclusiveness of the West and its determination to say no to the clash of civilizations.
Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, was U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 1989 to 1991. Richard Burt is chairman of Diligence LLC and has served as assistant secretary of state for Europe and U.S. ambassador to Germany.