President Clinton kicked off a five-day visit to Turkey today by prodding this key NATO ally to improve its record in three areas that have received considerable criticism from the United States and Europe in the past: its record on human rights, relations with Greece and treatment of its Kurdish minority.
The president, addressing the Turkish parliament, leavened his comments by acknowledging that Turkey has made some progress in improving its human rights record, and he stressed his support for the country's application to join the European Union. The 15-nation EU, which has opposed Turkey's application largely because of its poor support for human rights, is expected to grant Turkey candidate membership status at a summit next month.
"The future we want to build together begins with Turkish progress in deepening democracy at home," Clinton said in a 25-minute speech in the sprawling meeting place of the Grand National Assembly. "There is still far more to be done to realize the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." He said he looked forward to a "brighter future" for Turkey and its neighbors in which "women are treated with equal respect" and there is "a growing respect for human rights."
Clinton met with Turkish officials on the first full day of a 10-day trip to southern Europe that will also take him to Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo. Later this week, he goes to Istanbul for a 54-nation security conference that is expected to be attended by Russian President Boris Yeltsin as well as senior European leaders.
The president's stop in Ankara was aimed at demonstrating U.S. support for this staunchly secular Muslim country, a vital U.S. ally that is bordered on its southern and eastern flanks by Syria, Iraq and Iran. Despite Clinton's human rights remarks, Turkish officials seemed pleased to host the country's longest visit ever by a U.S. president.
Human rights groups say political dissidents and journalists continue to be intimidated and tortured by police or other officials in Turkey. In its most recent report on human rights, the State Department said that "extrajudicial killings, including deaths in detention from the excessive use of force, 'mystery killings,' and disappearances continued" despite a 1998 pledge by the Turkish government for improvements.
President Suleyman Demirel, who met with Clinton before the speech and later hosted a state dinner for him, acknowledged that torture remains a problem. "There is torture" in Turkey, Demirel told reporters. "But torture is not state policy. . . . We are doing everything we can to make sure that there is not torture."
Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit accepted Clinton's criticism in exchange for the opportunity to make their pitch for Turkey's membership in the EU. "President Clinton shares our view that it's very important for Turkey--as a country where democracy, Islam and secularism are proven to coexist--to become an EU member in order to realize the prospect of a pluralist, democratic Europe with rich diversity," Demirel said.
In his tour of southeastern Europe, Clinton is pressing a number of foreign policy initiatives. They include encouraging NATO allies Turkey and Greece, two longtime Aegean Sea rivals, to ease tensions in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island divided into Turkish and Greek sectors since 1974. At Clinton's urging, the island's Greek and Turkish leaders agreed Sunday to resume U.N.-sponsored negotiations in New York beginning Dec. 3.
During his first full day here, Clinton sought to draw a contrast between Turkey's constitutional secularism and other countries headed by Islamic fundamentalist governments. He placed a wreath at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state, and later told parliament he hoped for a future "in which tolerance is an article of faith, and terrorism is seen, rightly, as a travesty of faith . . . and, specifically, a future in which nations that are predominantly Muslim are increasingly partners with nations that are not."
Clinton prodded the Turks gingerly on treatment of the Kurds, an ethnic minority of 12 million that has fought unsuccessfully for greater political and cultural rights, including the ability to teach and publish in the Kurdish language. "Avenues are opening for Kurdish citizens of Turkey to reclaim that most basic of birthrights--a normal life," Clinton said. He also called on Turkey to improve its relations with Greece, "something that will require hard work" by both nations.
Much of his speech was devoted to giving praise and thanks to Turkey, especially for supporting the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia last spring. The Turks generally support the predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo; the Greeks, while they did not oppose the NATO bombing, have close ties with their fellow Orthodox Christian Serbs.
"Our vision of a Europe that is undivided, democratic and at peace for the first time in all of history will never be complete unless and until it embraces Turkey," Clinton said. "We have a profound interest in your success and we consider ourselves your friend."
Clinton was scheduled on Tuesday to tour northwestern Turkey, which on Friday suffered its second earthquake in three months, before going to Istanbul for a summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
CAPTION: At a state dinner, President Clinton toasts Turkish President Suleyman Demirel beneath a likeness of the founder of the modern Turkish state. .