Ex-Ambassador to Newsmax: Turkey Crackdown 'Prescription for Trouble'

Tuesday, 18 Jun 2013 05:37 PM

By Jim Meyers

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman tells Newsmax that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on protesters is a "prescription for trouble" for the nation both politically and economically.

Edelman also asserts that the Iranians will proceed with their nuclear weapons program because they don't believe that President Barack Obama would use military force against their nuclear facilities.

Edelman served as ambassador to Turkey from 2003 to 2005. He has also served as ambassador to Finland and undersecretary of defense for policy, and is now on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Turkey has been wracked by two weeks of protests against the government of Prime Minister Erdogan, and police have cracked down with force that some human rights groups call excessive. In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Tuesday, Edelman was asked if the protests threaten Erdogan's rule.

"I don't think they threaten his rule immediately, but what these represent is an accumulation of frustration with a political system that essentially is a one-party democracy," he says.

"For the last 10 years, the AK (Justice and Development) Party has been ruling Turkey through a process of democratic election, but that's in part because of the weakness of the opposition, and nobody could imagine the opposition party actually forming a government.

"That's allowed the prime minister to rule with an increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian manner, and what you've seen in [Istanbul's] Gezi Park and in Taksim [Square] and 78 other cities around Turkey for the last two weeks has been boiling over frustration with a system where an autocratic prime minister is not balanced or checked by another institution in society.

"We've already seen further arrests today, which is a very troublesome development. Police have gone into buildings and pulled out activists. You've seen ministers of the government talking about trying to control social media like Twitter and Facebook to prevent people from organizing. So we haven't seen the last of this, and it's going to depend a little bit on how the government reacts and whether it continues this kind of crackdown, which will only create more problems for it in the long run."

Edelman charges that Erdogan is pursuing a sectarian religious agenda in Syria through political and military support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

"He would certainly be most comfortable with a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime in Syria after the Assad regime, hopefully, passed from the scene," he comments. "He will be meeting shortly with Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas. He supports the governments in Tunisia and Egypt, which are essentially groups that have their origins in the Muslim Brotherhood, as do many of the people in his own party in Turkey."

Turkey is a strategic U.S. ally and NATO’s only Muslim member, but the current unrest threatens to undermine some of its strategic alliances, Edelman maintains.

"It's certainly doing enormous damage to Turkey's relationship with the European Union. It has been a goal of Turkey for years to become a member of the EU. The major question is whether Turkey continues to evolve in a way that allows it to meet the criteria that it would have to meet for EU membership — essentially rule of law, free press, healthy civilian-military relations, pluralism, and rule of law.

Edelman continued: "What you're hearing from [German] Chancellor Merkel, from any number of other leaders in Europe, from the European parliament, is a call for the government to back away from the confrontational posture it's taken toward the protesters and look for an effort at healing social wounds in Turkey, rather than exacerbating them, which is what the prime minister has done."

"He is mobilizing the portion of the population that supports him, which may be shrinking according to the latest poll data, against those who oppose him, and that is in the long run a prescription for trouble for Turkey both politically and economically."

Iran recently elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric and that country’s former top nuclear negotiator. Asked if he is likely to alter Iran's nuclear ambitions, Edelman tells Newsmax: "I would be surprised. It's worth not assuming anything but what he has said publicly should not give people much hope that you're going to see a big change in Iran's nuclear posture.

"It's something that needs to be explored at least a little bit in order to make sure that the international community understands that there really isn’t any flexibility on the Iranian side."

The U.N.'s nuclear agency chief says Iran is making steady progress in expanding its nuclear program and that international sanctions do not seem to be slowing it down. Back in March President Barack Obama said it could take a year or more for Iran to get the bomb.

Edelman observes: "It's clear from the IAEA report that was released at the end of May, that they are approaching the point where they will have a capability to break out within six months' time very soon.

"[Obama] has said repeatedly that his policy is not to contain a nuclear Iran, but to prevent it from happening. What he has not said, to my knowledge, is that he is actually ready to countenance the use of force to stop it.

"And even supporters, defenders of the administration's position, would concede that the diplomacy to stop Iran has been somewhat disabled by the fact that the Iranians do not believe the president would use military force to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. And as a result of that, diplomacy is not moving very quickly if at all."

The Taliban have announced they are prepared to take the first step toward peace negotiations with the Afghan government after 12 years of war.

Edelman comments: "The Taliban representatives have made a number of statements that appear to meet the criteria that both the administration and President Karzai have set out for negotiations.

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