Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's long-expected meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama will take place on May 16, the Hurriyet Daily News has learned from official sources.
An invitation letter to Erdogan was extended to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. The ministry and the office of the prime minister have now started to work on the program of Erdogan, who is expected to depart for the U.S. one or two days before his scheduled meeting.
The intention for a prime ministerial visit to Washington was brought to the attention of the Obama administration after the presidential elections in the U.S., but disagreements over a number of issues and Turkey's ongoing dispute with Israel nixed Ankara's plans. The visit could only be possible after Israeli apologized to Turkey and Turkey accepted this apology, under the mediation of Obama, who played a crucial role in the process.
"The visit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington was fixed in a phone conversation on the day Israel apologized to Turkey," diplomatic sources said.
Erdogan and Obama had a phone conversation on March 22, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read the apology statement on the phone.
The agenda of Erdogan's meeting with Obama will be fully-loaded, ranging from Turkey's current peace process to the turmoil in Syria, from the developments in Cyprus to Ankara's ambitious energy deals with northern Iraq. Along with these cases, one of the most important issues will be the Turkish-Israeli normalization process. In a demonstration of the importance attached to this normalization process, Washington is continuing to closely monitor the steps taken and those that will be taken. This monitoring process is accompanied by urgings to both sides not to break this positive climate.
First step to normalize ties
Starting from April 11, a hectic three-month long process is awaiting Turkey and Israel to normalize relations, in the aftermath of the latter's apology over the Mavi Marmara incident. Delegations from Turkey and Israel will meet on April 11 in Ankara under the co-leadership of Feridun Sinirlioglu, undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry and Joseph Ciechanover, the Israeli Prime Minister's special envoy. The step will constitute the first move in the reconciliation of ties between the two countries.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who is going to lead the talks, is expected to receive the delegations in a first political encounter after the apology, although he will not take part in actual negotiations. The results of the delegations' works will then be introduced.
Next week's meeting will be a commencement of a process aiming at exchanging ambassadors at the end of June, symbolizing the normalization of bilateral relations after nearly three years of tension. Turkey and Israel will begin the process of ambassadorial appointments right after the closure of the compensation case. Neither side has decided who to appoint but diplomatic sources said they were expecting both sides to nominate very experienced diplomats who can handle this hard task in the immediate aftermath of reconciliation.
Gov't to persuade families to withdraw lawsuits
Another important development along this process will be Erdogan's expected visit to Palestine, but sources underlined that this has yet to be finalized.
However, the success of this process depends on the ability of the two sides to sort out the compensation issue. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Bulent Arinc were scheduled to meet with the families of the Mavi Marmara victims late Tuesday. The reason for the meeting is to convince the families to withdraw the cases they have opened against the Israeli soldiers who killed their relatives.
According to Arinc, Israel's acceptance of paying compensation would lead to the withdrawal of the lawsuits. "Two things cannot happen at the same time: They [the families] will either accept the compensation or they will wait for the conclusion of the lawsuits," he said in a televised interview. He also went further, saying that all 10 families of the victims should accept Israeli compensation, otherwise it would not be possible for Turkey and Israel to reach a deal.