The United States and Turkey signed an agreement to station U.S. missile defense radar in Turkey, just as Ankara's relations with the West seem to be deteriorating.
The Sept. 14 agreement signed between the two governments will allow a Raytheon-produced AN/TPY-2 X-band radar to be based in the Turkish city of Kurecik. Turkey will be responsible for management of the installation, but the site will be protected by 50 U.S. soldiers and will be funded by the United States. Some residents have already planned an event to protest the new site.
"This is probably the biggest strategic decision between the United States and Turkey in the last 20 years. It is a major strategic decision by Turkey," a senior administration official said in a Sept. 15 briefing for a small group of reporters at the White House.
President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are scheduled to meet Tuesday in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. They've met and spoken often and their personal closeness was key to the success of the missile defense agreement negotiations, another senior administration official said.
"This was a decision that could only be taken by Prime Minister Erdogan. [He and Obama] have built a relationship of respect, they've built a relationship which is very candid, and they've talked through many difficult issues," a third senior administration official said. "The Prime Minister assured the president that he wanted this to happen and he directed his bureaucracy to make it happen."
Meanwhile, in Congress, lawmakers are ramping up their criticism of the Turkish government. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) led a bipartisan letter signed by seven senators, which was sent today to Obama that cited "concern regarding the Turkish Government's recent foreign policy decisions that call into question its commitment to the NATO alliance, threaten regional stability and undermine U.S. interests."
The letter charges that the Turkish government led by Erdogan has taken several foreign decisions that are adverse to U.S. interests. These include expelling the Israeli ambassador and recalling its ambassador to Israel in retribution for Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla; cancelling NATO's 2011 Anatolian Eagle air defense exercise, in which Israel has participated in since 2001; inviting Chinese military planes to replace U.S. and Israeli aircraft at such exercises; and banning Israeli commercial aircraft from Turkish airspace.
"Mr. President, it appears that Turkey is shifting to a policy of confrontation, if not hostility, towards our allies in Israel and we urge you to mount a diplomatic offensive to reverse this course," the senators wrote. "We ask you to outline Turkey's eroding support in Congress with Prime Minister Erdogan at the earliest opportunity and how its current ill-advised policy toward the State of Israel will also negatively reflect on U.S.-Turkish relations and Turkey's role in the future of NATO."
Also signing the letter were Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA).
The senators also want the administration to assure Congress that the missile-defense data collected from the Turkish radar system will be shared with Israel in real time. Turkish media had reported that Turkish officials wanted assurances that the data would not be shared with Israel.
The administration officials described how they dealt with that issue inside the negotiations. The U.S. officials said there is no deal that prevents the information from Turkish radar from being shared with Israel, as all the U.S.' military intelligence is fused together.
"There is an understanding that the radar is a NATO system that is designed to protect NATO from threats from the Middle East. It's understood that the U.S. has a separate and robust missile defense cooperation program with Israel," a senior administration official said, noting that Israel also hosts an identical AN/TPY-2 radar, which they argued makes the radar in Turkey of marginal importance to the defense of Israel.
"At the same time, it's also understood that the data from any U.S. radars and sensors around the world may be fused with other data to maximize the effectiveness of our missile defenses worldwide," the senior administration official said.
Another senior administration official explained that there was no agreement from the U.S. side not to share data from the Turkish-based radar with others, including Israel.
"Data from all U.S. missile defense assets worldwide, including not only from radars in Turkey and Israel, but from other sensors as well, is fused to maximize the effectiveness of our missile defenses worldwide; this data can be shared with our allies and partners in this effort," a senior administration official said.
There seems to be some disagreement on that point. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday that the data from the Turkish radar site would not be shared with Israel.
"We will provide support only for systems that belong to NATO and are used solely by members of NATO," he said, calling reports to the contrary a "manipulation."
After the Wall Street Journal reported on this explanation based on the same briefing, Davotoglu claimed that Ankara had been assured by Washington that the three senior administration officials who briefed reporters did not exist. The Cable can confirm they did exist.
The Obama administration is framing the Turkish agreement as one of five achievements that advance its 2009 decision to move away from the Bush administration's missile defense approach. In place of the Bush plans, the White House has adopted what it terms the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), which is now exactly two years in the making.
In addition to the Turkish agreement, the Obama administration has championed the Sept. 13 agreement with Romania to base a SM-3 missile defense battery there; the agreement with Poland to base SM-3 missile defense batteries there that went into effect on Sept. 15; NATO's commitment to the EPAA; and the deployment to the Mediterranean of one Aegis ship, the U.S.S. Monterey, committed to the missile-defense mission.
Kirk's office is also leading the opposition to missile-defense cooperation with Russia. He sent a memo, obtained by The Cable, on Sept. 8 to leaders of the House Armed Services Committee, accusing Russia of espionage and cooperation with Iran on nuclear and missile technology.
Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov are working on a joint missile-defense plan, Kirk said, but Russia's cooperation with Iran makes such an agreement too risky.
"The danger is that Russia will have access to America's most time-sensitive, real time missile defense data," Kirk wrote, noting that Ryabkov announced he is going to Iran at the end of the month to discuss missile defense.
The United States continues to work with Russia to find a path forward on missile-defense cooperation, although the administration officials said there was no concrete progress to announce.
"We remain convinced this could be a major win-win for the U.S.-Russia relationship and the Russia-NATO relationship," a senior administration official said. "But they remain skeptical on the impact of the system on Russia's security, so we have a lot of work still to do."