Cablegate: Istanbul Worries About War, U.S.-Turkey Ties,

Published: Mon 7 Apr 2003 12:59 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) Summary: With apparently over ninety percent of the
local population opposed to the war in Iraq, anti-war
sentiment in Istanbul continues to harden as reports and
images of civilian casualties stream in over the sympathetic
news networks. Among Istanbul's academic and business elite,
however, fears of a breakdown in U.S.-Turkish relations and
its consequences for Turkey have replaced Iraq as the primary
concern. The only issue that seems to span the sharp divide
between the concerns of the man in the street and the elite
is a shared nervousness about the government's ability to
manage an already-battered economy in the face of additional
shocks from the war. End Summary.
2. (U) Media coverage of the coalition operations in Iraq has
largely reinforced the prevailing anti-war sentiment in
Istanbul. Local television stations have focused
predominantly on civilian casualties, reports of coalition
setbacks, and regional opposition to the war. Although our
contacts with average Turks have elicited responses ranging
from apathy to antipathy, the general mood among
working-class (and unemployed) Istanbul residents remains
decidedly anti-war. Pointing to the coalition's failure to
find evidence of chemical and biological weapons, almost all
Turks here question the U.S.'s justification for war.
Students stubbornly cling to their mantra of "no blood for
oil," while residents of more conservative and religious
neighborhoods voice their concerns about an "anti-Muslim
crusade." Although very few have a kind word to say about
Saddam and his regime, they point gloomily to the
difficulties involved in managing a post-Saddam Iraq and the
regional resentment that is being provoked by the U.S.'s
3. (U) The preoccupations of our business, academic and media
contacts, however, have shifted dramatically in recent days.
Following weeks of negotiations and the parliament's refusal
to allow the U.S. to transport troops and equipment to
northern Iraq, the Istanbul elite is now focused on the
"crisis" in U.S.-Turkish relations. Discussions of "what
went wrong?", "who is to blame?", and "is the strategic
partnership dead?" have replaced arguments over whether the
war in Iraq is justified. At an April 2 Marmara Group
conference on U.S.-Turkish relations, a panel of retired
generals, senior diplomats, and business leaders skirted the
case for war, but came out strongly in favor of maintaining
the strategic partnership. Former Foreign Minister Emre
Gonensay argued that, given its friendship with the U.S.,
Turkey should have stood by the U.S. in Iraq. Echoing the
comments of other panelists, retired General Necdet Timur
remarked that two months of disagreement cannot be allowed to
undermine a 50-year old strategic relationship.
4. (U) The only unifying theme in our discussions throughout
Istanbul has been the universal, even overriding, concern
about the fragile economic situation. "Turkey must solve its
economic problems... without a healthy economy, foreign
policy is irrelevant," said former diplomat and DYP Vice
Chairman Mehmet Ali Bayar at the Marmara Group conference.
Investment analysts, bankers, and economists are skeptical
about the AK government's ability to implement the IMF
program. Many of them now argue that the risk of loan
default or restructuring has risen. Sentiment has improved
in the wake of Secretary Powell's visit and the renewed
prospect for U.S. assistance, but all eyes are on AK's
economic efforts. Almost everyone worries about the
potentially damaging impact that the war in Iraq is likely to
have on Turkey's economy. Local merchants and restaurant
owners claim they are already feeling the pinch of
contracting tourism. Grocers, taxi drivers, security guards,
and other working-class Turks in Istanbul bemoan their
economic plight and hope for a rapid conclusion to the war.
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