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US Election

Turkey watching US elections closely

The Turkish government is following the US presidential elections closely. Ankara hopes that a second term for Barack Obama will mean stronger US efforts to topple the regime in Syria.

The Turkish government under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the key allies of the Obama administration for the past four years. As the Syria crisis evolved, differences emerged between Ankara and Washington, but Obama is still the preferred candidate of the political elites in Turkey.

"The Turkish government is pursuing an increasingly assertive policy to topple Assad and it is pushing for establishing no-fly or buffer zones inside Syria," said Serkan Demirtas, foreign policy columnist of Hurriyet Daily News. "But the Obama administration is not interested in an escalation of the tension, which will obviously require military intervention of the US forces. This is the least desirable Syria scenario for the US administration, especially just ahead of the presidential elections," he said.

Disagreements between Erdogan and Obama on Syria became even more evident after Erdogan openly criticized Obama for "lacking initiative on Syria," during a recent interview with CNN.

A special but uneasy friendship

Erdogan and Obama had enjoyed a special relationship since 2009, with Turkey one of the US president's first stops overseas, thereby underlining the importance of his administration's ally. The two governments maintained very close ties on key foreign policy issues. Last year, Erdogan and Obama met several times and had numerous telephone conversations in which they coordinated policies on the Arab Spring, Middle East and Iran.

However, starting early this year Erdogan and Obama's relations ran into some serious difficulties. Their apparent lack of communication has been interpreted by the Turkish media as a sign of growing differences between the two leaders. 

Ankara is seeking to downplay the significance of differences between Erdogan and Obama and Turkish officials underline that Washington's reluctance to take on a more assertive role in the Middle East has been mainly because of the domestic political considerations ahead of elections.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) talk during a bilateral meeting part of the Friends of Syria conference in Istanbul April 1, 2012. Erdogan said the legitimate demands of the Syrian people must be met, right here, right now as Western and Arab countries met in Istanbul on Sunday to try to agree on how to support armed rebels fighting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan was addressing a meeting of mostly foreign ministers from around 70 countries including the United States and leading European Union and Gulf powers who call themselves the Friends of Syria. Assad's forces pounded a pro-opposition neighbourhood of Homs city with artillery fire and mortars on Saturday, as his crackdown continued a day after the Syrian Foreign Ministry announced that the year-old revolt was over. REUTERS/Prime Minister's Press Office/Yasin Bulbul/Handout (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Despite differences, Turkish-US ties are generally in a good state.

"In Ankara, nobody doubts that if reelected, Obama will get into a much more closer cooperation with Turkey on Syria," foreign policy columnist Demirtas said. "The Turkish government would like to see Obama reelected for a second term."

Obama's high popularity in Turkey

It's not only the country's political elites but also the Turkish public that would like to see Obama stay in office.

According to a recent poll, a majority of Turks want to see Obama win the presidential election. 94 percent said said they would vote for Obama, according to a poll by Barem, a marketing research company. 

For many analysts this huge support is not a surprise, as Obama is seen as a leader who has confronted the perceived controversial policies of former US President George W. Bush, especially during the Iraq war. In 2004, 82 percent of Turks said they were against Bush's reelection expressing fears that this would have a negative impact on peace and security. 

"US-Turkey relations were traumatized during the Bush era," Cagri Erhan, a professor for international relations at Ankara University, told DW. "In the last four years, during the Obama administration, US and Turkey got over this trauma, maintained very close relations and further expanded their ties," he said. 

According to Erhan a win for Republican candidate Mitt Romney would make it very difficult to continue this positive momentum in US-Turkey relations. 

Romney raises fears among Turks

Smoke rises over the streets after an mortar bomb landed from Syria in the border village of Akcakale, southeastern Sanliurfa province, October 3, 212. Three people including a child were killed and at least nine others seriously wounded when a mortar bomb fired from Syria hit Turkey's southeastern border region of Akcakale on Wednesday, the mayor told CNN Turk television. A Reuters witness saw at least eight seriously wounded people being taken to hospital, three of them police officers. Television footage showed a cloud of smoke and dust rising up as residents ran to help the wounded. REUTERS/Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY

Turkey is concerned that Mitt Romney's foreign policy approach could exacerbate the situation.

Mitt Romney's strong support for Israel and his hawkish policy against Iran have already raised fears among Turkish political elites.

"There are big differences between Turkey's policy toward the Middle East and Romney's foreign policy vision," Erhan said. "Since the Mavi Marmara incident (Israeli raid on Gaza-bound flotilla led by the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara - the ed.), Turkey's relations with Israel have deteriorated and there has been no improvement. If Romney were to win the election his unequivocal support for Israel would put a strain on US-Turkey relations," he said.

According to Ankara-based columnist Serkan Demirtas the Syrian crisis and concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions will feature strongly in US-Turkey ties after the November elections. While Ankara expects a new administration to show stronger engagement on Syria, the Turkish government is strongly opposed to a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites.

"Turkey fears a possible military confrontation between Israel and Iran which it thinks would cause irreparable damage to the region," Demirtas said. "So far the messages given by Romney and his advisors have not eased Ankara's concerns, but rather created more fear. From a regional perspective, the Turkish government believes a second Obama term to be significant and vital."

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