Washington has now come to see Ankara as a valuable communicator that is giving strong messages to Tehran, Retired Ambassador James Holmes recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in Ankara.
"I think there was a substantial misunderstanding about the various roles and what those roles were as far as Iran is concerned. Perhaps there was even miscommunication between Washington and Ankara on how this could be best handled,” Holmes said. "I think that the relationship and the understanding as far as Iran is concerned has much improved [vis-à-vis] what it was six months ago. The fact that Turkey was preparing to host this [latest] round of negotiations and act as host was appreciated in Washington.”
Turkey hosted two-day nuclear negotiations last weekend between the P5+1 group (composed of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany) and Iran, but no progress was made. It is not known when new talks will be held.
Ankara, however, was not involved in the Istanbul talks but the country did express its willingness to continue efforts for a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
When asked if the U.S. might request that Turkey act as a facilitator or mediator in the future, Holmes said it was unlikely.
"They want Turkey to use its regional influence. They want Turkey to use its contacts and its ability to talk to all the sides. They are not really looking for Turkey to be a mediator, a facilitator at this point. Maybe that will change but it will require, I think, a fairly significant amount of change of circumstances before it does,” Holmes said.
Turkey, along with Brazil, drafted an accord in 2010 to facilitate a solution between Tehran and the West and voted against a resolution in the U.N. Security Council that called for new sanctions on Iran, thus straining its relations with the U.S.
"A lot of heat that existed in 2010 has gone out of that issue now,” said Holmes. "I think [U.S. officials] have felt that Ankara has been a valuable communicator with strong messages as far as Tehran is concerned.”
The Iran issue will likely be on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Turkey on Feb. 7.
Another source of friction in the Turkish-U.S. relationship in 2010 was the adoption of the Armenian genocide resolution that passed in the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2010, an event that led to Turkey recalling its ambassador.
A further attempt by U.S. Armenian groups to pass the controversial resolution, this time in the U.S. House of Representatives, failed in December.
Holmes said there would always be the possibility that some groups would introduce similar legislation because of the Armenian American constituency in some districts.
"But with the change of leadership we have in the House of Representatives, we have a different dimension for that. There is no identifiable interest [with] the new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to move this legislation,” he said.
"They’ve said to me that this is not our issue. It was [former] Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s issue, it was [former House Foreign Affairs Committee] Chairman Howard Berman’s issue, but not their issues,” he said.
Relations with Israel
The Republicans won control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the midterm elections in November. But Holmes said with the Republicans holding the majority, Turkish-Israeli relations would be a source of concern.
"The good news is that business-to-business contacts and relations continue. … The bad news is that both governments in Tel Aviv and Ankara have dug themselves into a hole with respect to their respective positions that is not susceptible to compromise,” he said.
"And it is even less susceptible to compromise as they are moving to election campaign periods,” he said. "It is not obvious to me what the outcome can be here.”
New US envoy 'on the ground'
The retired diplomat also offered comments about new U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis J. Ricciardone.
"In an environment in which there have been repeated strains in a relationship, it is important to have an ambassador on the ground. The relationship took a hit early last year when Turkey recalled its ambassador. … For vastly different reasons the American ambassador wasn’t here for six months,” said Holmes.
"He is now on the ground. It makes a difference. I think that the fact that Ricciardone is here will begin to have a consequence in terms of both Ankara’s and Washington’s understanding because Frank really has a very deep knowledge and familiarity with the U.S.-Turkey relationship,” he said.