New Age Islam
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Islam and the West ( 14 Apr 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

US-Turkey-Russia: The role of Islam, oil and gas pipeline in a complex three-way Great Game for domination of Eurasia

War, Oil and Gas Pipelines: Turkey is Washington's Geopolitical Pivot


By F. William Engdahl

Global Research, April 14, 2009


The recent visit of US President Obama to Turkey was far more significant than the President's speech would suggest. For Washington Turkey today has become a geopolitical “pivot state” which is in the position to tilt the Eurasian power equation towards Washington or significantly away from it depending on how Turkey develops its ties with Moscow and its role regarding key energy pipelines.


If Ankara decides to collaborate more closely with Russia, Georgia's position is precarious and Azerbaijan's natural gas pipeline route to Europe, the so-called Nabucco Pipeline, is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under US auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.


For Washington the key to bringing Germany into closer cooperation with the US is to weaken German dependence on Russian energy flows. Twice in the past three winters Washington has covertly incited its hand-picked President in Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko to arrange an arbitrary cut off of Russian gas flows to Germany and other EU destinations. The only purpose of the actions was to convince EU governments that Russia was not a reliable energy partner. Now, with the Obama visit to Ankara, Washington is attempting to win Turkish support for its troubled Nabucco alternative gas pipeline through Turkey from Azerbaijan which would theoretically at least lessen EU dependence on Russian gas.


The Turkish-EU problem

However willing Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan might be to accommodate Obama, the question of Turkish relations with the EU is inextricably linked with the troublesome issue of Turkish membership to the EU, a move vehemently opposed by France and also less openly by Germany.

Turkey is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey — which has considerable influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and German ties to Russia weaken considerably. If Turkey decides to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is dependent  on Russian energy. Since it became clear in Moscow that US strategy was to extend NATO to Russia's front door via Ukraine and Georgia, Russia has moved to use its economic “carrot” its vast natural gas resources, to at the very least neutralize Western Europe, especially Germany, towards Russia. It is notable in that regard that the man chosen as Russia's President in December 1999 had spent a significant part of his KGB career in Germany.  


Turkey and the US Game

It is becoming clear that Obama and Washington are playing a deeper game. A few weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues such as troops for Afghanistan or more economic stimulus that concerned the United States, Obama scheduled the trip to Turkey.


During the recent EU meetings in Prague Obama actively backed Turkey's application for EU membership knowing well that that put especially France and Germany in a difficult position as EU membership would allow free migration which many EU countries fear. Obama deliberately confronted EU states with this knowing he was playing with geopolitical fire, especially as the US is no member of the EU. It was a deliberate and cheap way to score points with the Erdogan government of Turkey.


During the NATO meeting, a key item on the agenda was the selection of a new alliance secretary-general. The favorite was former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey opposed him because of his defense of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish magazine. NATO operates on consensus, so any one member can block Rasmussen. The Turks backed off the veto, and in return won two key positions in NATO, including that of deputy secretary-general.


Turkey thereby boosted its standing in NATO, got Obama to vigorously defend the Turkish application for membership in the European Union, which of course the United States does not belong to. Obama then went to Turkey for a key international meeting that will allow him to further position the United States in relation to Islam.


Obama has a Grand Strategy to use Turkey to isolate Russia via Nabucco pipelines through Georgia and Armenia to the EU


The Obama Erdogan talks were perhaps the most strategic of the recent Obama tour


The Russian Dimension

During US-Russian talks there had been no fundamental shift by Obama from the earlier position of the Bush Administration. Russia rejects Washington's idea of pressuring IUran on their nuclear program in return for a bargain of an undefined nature with Washington over US planned missile and radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The US claimed it need not rely on Russia to bring military and other supplies into Afghanistan, claiming it had reached agreement with Ukraine to transship mililtary supplies, a move designed by Washington to increase friction between Moscow and Kiew. Moreover, the NATO communique did not abandon the idea of Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO. The key geopolitical prize for Washington remains Moscow but clearly Turkey is being wooed by Obama to play a role in that game.


Germany will clearly not join Obama in blocking Russia. Not only does Germany depend on Russia for energy supplies. She has no desire to confront a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to Germany. For Berlin, at least now, they are not going to address the Russian question.


At the same time, an extremely important event between Turkey and Armenia is shaping up. Armenians had long held Turkey responsible for the mass murder of Armenians during and after World War I, a charge the Turks have denied. The US Congress is considering a provocative resolution condeming “Turkish genocide” agianst Armenians. Turkey is highly sensitive to these charges, and Congressional passage of such a resolution would have meant a Turkish break in diplomatic relations with Washington. Now since the Obama visit Ankara has begun to discuss an agreement with Armenia including diplomatic relations which would eliminate the impact of any potential US Congress resolution.


A Turkish opening to Armenia would alter the balance of power in the entire region. Since the August 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict the Caucasus, a strategically vital area to Moscow has been unstable. Russian troops remain in South Ossetia. Russia also has troops in Armenia meaning Russia has Georgia surrounded.


Turkey is the key link in this complex game of geopolitical balance of power between Washington and Moscow. If Turkey decides to collaborate with Russia Georgia's position becomes very insecure and Azerbaijan's possible pipeline route to Europe is blocked. If Turkey decides to cooperate with Washington and at the same time reaches a stable agreement with Armenia under US guidance, Russia's entire position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe becomes available, reducing Russian leverage against Western Europe.


Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia's junior partner.

The most important Obama speech in his European tour came after Turkey won key posts in the NATO political structure with US backing. In his speech Obama sided with Turkey against the EU and in effect showed Turkey Washington was behind her. Obama's speech addressed Turkey as an emerging regional power, which was well received in Ankara. The sweet words will cost Turkey dearly if it acts on them.


Moscow is not sitting passively by as Washington woos Turkey. Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a four-day visit to the Russian Federation this February, where he met with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin, and also travelled to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where he discussed joint investments. Gul was accompanied by his minister for foreign trade and minister of energy, as well as a large delegation of Turkish businessmen. The stakes in this complex three-way Great Game for domination of Eurasia have been raised significantly following the Obama trip to Ankara. Turkey imports 65 percent of its natural gas and 25 percent of its oil from Russia. Therefore, Turkey is also developing a growing dependency on Russian energy resources, including coal.


On March 27, 2009, a memorandum was signed between the Azerbaijani oil company SOCAR and Russia's Gazprom. The memorandum includes a statement of deliveries, beginning in January 2010, of Azerbaijani natural gas to Russia.


Gazprom was particularly interested in signing such an agreement with Azerbaijan, not the least because Azerbaijan is the only state outside Iran or Turkmenistan, both of which are problematic, that could supply gas to the planned EU Nabucco pipeline, for transporting natural gas from Azerbaijan and the Central Asia states through Turkey to south-eastern Europe. In reality, gas may come only from Azerbaijan. Russia has proposed an alternative to Nabucco project, South Stream, also in need of Azerbaijani gas, so in effect Russia weakens the chances of realization of Nabucco. Obama strategy is clearly not less confrontational with Russia. It is merely playing with a slightly different deck of cards than did Cheney and Bush.

© Copyright 2005-2007



Obama Impresses Many on Both Sides of Turkey’s Secular and Religious Divide


By Sabrina Tavernise And Sebnem Arsu

April 6, 2009, New York Times


President Obama, addressed Parliament in Ankara on Monday, pledged to back a two-state solution in the Middle East, and Turkey’s entry to the European Union.


To the world, Turkey is a Muslim country that is a logical starting point for President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world.


But for Turkey — a country that has experienced political convulsions recently over how Islam fits with an open society — that identity is so rife with conflict that it has drawn millions to the streets and nearly caused the government to fall.


Turkey’s old ruling elite views itself as secular, an identity that is sacrosanct and dates from the founding of modern Turkey in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an army general who burned bridges with the Islamic world by changing the alphabet to Latin letters and by taking power away from the religious hierarchy.


As a result, Turkey rarely highlighted its faith, preferring instead to think of itself as a European country with few links to the Muslim world.


That has changed in recent years with the economic and political rise of a new elite, for whom faith is essential. That elite, a merchant class from Turkey’s religious heartland, lifted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power.


The two groups have fought bitter political battles, with the main opposition secular party accusing Mr. Erdogan of harboring a secret Islamic agenda, and nearly toppling the government last year with a court case aimed at closing down his party. The government, for its part, has dealt its own blows, obstructing news media that have been critical of officials, and delivering a multimillion-dollar tax bill to Mr. Erdogan’s chief media critic.


In his speech to Turkey’s Parliament on Monday, Mr. Obama spoke elegantly to both camps, discussing his personal ties to Islam and Turkey’s “strong and secular” democracy, which seemed to satisfy both.


“He was giving the right message without making anyone in Turkey uncomfortable,” said Yasemin Congar, the deputy editor of Taraf, a liberal newspaper. “The secularist will say, ‘good, he emphasized secularism,’ and the Muslims will say, ‘good, he talked against segregation.’ ”


Sedat Ergin, the editor of Milliyet, a newspaper that has been suspicious of the government’s Islamic roots — and part of the media group that was slapped with the tax bill — expressed delight at Mr. Obama’s frequent references to democracy.


“The most important part of his speech was the emphasis on the secular democratic structure in Turkey,” Mr. Ergin said. “He won back hearts of the secular circles in Turkey.”


Those secularists were irritated by the Bush administration’s emphasis on Turkey as a moderate Muslim country, and felt, Mr. Ergin said, as though the United States “had sacrificed the secular tradition in Turkey in order to reach out to the Muslim world.”


But that changed with Mr. Obama’s speech on Monday, said Mustafa Ozyurek, deputy chairman of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party.


“There have been some meaningless arguments about Turkey being a moderate Islamic country,” he said. “The new administration must have realized the problems such labels have caused in Turkey.”


Those who chafe at Turkey’s being identified as a Muslim state say the characterization reduces it unfairly and allows it to be confused, particularly in American minds, with troubled Arab autocracies. Its centuries of Ottoman history, they argue, set Turkey apart. It was never colonized, and it dabbled in democracy as early as the 19th century.


“If you reduce Turkey to being Muslim, you do away with 250 years of Ottoman and Turkish history,” said Soli Ozel, a professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul. “You reduce the country to being Jordan or Egypt.”


Besides, Mr. Ozel argued, a purely Muslim identity does not serve Mr. Erdogan’s policy of forging new ties in the Muslim world, and mediating between it and the West as an important regional player. (Turkey brought Syria and Israel into indirect negotiations last year, the first such talks in decades.)


“What happens to your claim if you speak with only one identity?” Mr. Ozel asked.


Turkey has long had troubled relations with its Kurdish minority, a relationship that Turkish liberals say must be improved if Turkey is to deepen its democracy. Ms. Congar, the Taraf editor, expressed disappointment that Mr. Obama had not addressed that issue directly, choosing instead to highlight the government’s creation of a limited Kurdish-language television channel.


Turkey’s relations with the United States chilled in 2003, when the Turkish Parliament refused to permit American troops to open a northern front into Iraq through Turkey’s border. But relations have gradually improved, getting a boost in 2007, when President Bush lent tacit support to Mr. Erdogan’s military campaign against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.


On Monday, some took pride in the fact that Mr. Obama had chosen Turkey for his first visit to a Muslim country, and said that the recognition would help Turkey. Mr. Erdogan won a measure of fame in Muslim countries recently when he stalked off a stage in Davos, Switzerland, after an argument with Israel’s president, Shimon Peres.


“It makes me happy that the Islam lived in Turkey is seen as a better version compared with other countries, and that the message would be sent out from here,” said Samet Yildirim, a 26-year-old sandwich shop worker in Ankara.


Mr. Obama’s speech captured the exceptional nature of Turkey, as a country that is both Western and Eastern at once, said Oral Calislar, a columnist with Radikal, a daily newspaper.


“His reference of Turkey being a bridge may sound a cliché, but is very important and meaningful,” Mr. Calislar said. “He comes up with this brand-new concept and chooses Turkey to stress this vision.”


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