A two-day summit in Istanbul between the foreign ministers of European countries and those of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) ended on February 12th with calls for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A number of other issues were also discussed, such as the ongoing campaign against terrorism, many of them in smaller bilateral meetings on the sidelines, such as that between Turkey and Greece, and Turkey and Iraq. Aside from being the first time that such an event has been held, it comes only a short time after the EU foreign ministers met in Spain to discuss attempts at a common EU foreign policy.
The EU-OIC Joint Forum was proposed by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem as a reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11th to try and address what he called "deep-rooted prejudices" shortly before the meeting opened. Turkey, along with a number of other nations, was concerned that the hijackings and the campaign against terrorism would create a global divide along cultural and religious lines, especially against Islam. This fear was further fuelled by US President George Bush's remarks on the "axis of evil", two of whom, Iran and Iraq, were represented last week in Istanbul.
Turkey sees itself as a country in both camps, the European and the Islamic, and hence ideally suited to host the meeting and to provide a bridge between the two sides. Of importance to the non-Turkish attending countries was the absence of the US at the conference. Many members of the OIC have naturally been critical of the American campaign against terror, and most European countries, with more liberal views, are in favour of constructive dialogue with Iran and Iraq, and others, rather than ostracising borderline countries and pushing them towards terror. In his comments at the meeting the Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustapha Ismail, whose country is on a list of states supporting terror, said that the campaign against terror should not be extended too far, in case this pushes "those who are not terrorists to terrorism". The growing divisions between European countries and the US on foreign policy became more apparent at the EU foreign ministers meeting held in the Spain the previous week.
Of further concern to Turkey in recent months has been the possibility of the US raising its low-key air strikes against Iraq into a larger-scale military operation, something Ankara is essentially against. The fear is that such an operation would be extremely detrimental to Turkey's struggling economy as it is trying to recover, and could re-open the sensitive issue of the role of the Kurds in the region, an issue that has subdued since 1998. Although Turkey fears turmoil should the US attack Iraq, most observers concur that it is largely as a result of US influence that Turkey received its new IMF stand-by agreement in early February and that Ankara may yet be persuaded.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said on February 12th that Turkey did not want a military operation against Iraq and was trying to avert it, but the governor of the Central Bank Sureyya Serdengecti noted on the same day that the bank had taken an attack into account. The recent exchange of letters between Turkish and Iraqi officials has culminated in the Foreign Minister Naji Sabri meeting with both Ecevit and Cem while in Turkey.
Naturally one of the main issues under discussion at the summit was the Middle East crisis. As is the case with borderline terror states, most of those attending the conference were in favour of dialogue to try and solve the issue. Although the final communique did not make any reference to Israeli attacks on Palestinians, to the dismay of the Arab states, both the OIC and the EU formally called for a two-state settlement to the problem.
On the first day of the meeting the Islamic countries had asked the EU countries to become more involved in the process, with the Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stating that the EU should bring "a semblance of fairness, justice and pragmatism to the dynamics of politics in the Middle East". The EU had in any case been working on a new proposal for Middle Eastern peace, according to Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique on February 12th. This French proposal would see the immediate creation of a Palestinian state, recognised by Israel and the UN and fresh Palestinian elections. Although the EU countries all agreed on the first part, many were wary of elections, which some, such as Germany, feared would lead to hard-line factions gaining legitimacy. All the same the policy differs from that of the US, which would prefer to see negotiations proceeding in small steps.
Again this is an issue in which Turkey stands in the middle. Although it has a Muslim population its sympathies have more often than not been with Israel, largely through strained ties with Arab countries, which Turks believe are critical of Turkey's secularist policies.
The forum also provided other countries to get together and try and resolve regional differences. Aside from the meetings with Iraqi officials, in which Turkey reportedly tried to persuade Iraq to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq, Turkey also met with Greece, Bulgaria and Romania in a four-way session. The two NATO hopefuls had Greece and Turkey confirm their support for application to the alliance.