Senior U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died Monday, was a political figure who understood and respected the importance of Turkey, many of his Turkish colleagues have said following his death.
Holbrooke foresaw years ago that Turkey would play an active and assertive role in world politics, Özdem Sanberk, a former Turkish diplomat, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
“He was a person who joined politics with the moral high ground,” Sanberk said, pointing to Holbrooke’s stance on the Bosnian War in the early 1990s as testimony to his character. The Turkish diplomat, who was the Foreign Ministry undersecretary at the time, recalled an encounter with Holbrooke in Ankara. “After the official talks, he pulled me aside and told me that Turkey should help the Bosnian Muslims,” Sanberk said. “‘If you want to send arms to them, we will help you,’ he told me.”
This solidarity with the Bosnian Muslims left an impression on Sanberk, who said the diplomat influenced his views on the United States by showing him that, despite criticism of the U.S. stance on issues involving Muslims, the country could not be taken as a homogeneous bloc.
Sanberk also recalled a visit in the early 1990s to Turkish Ambassador Onur Öymen in Bonn, then the German capital. The two Turkish diplomats had lunch with Holbrooke, who was the U.S. envoy to Germany at the time. “He told us, ‘There are two important embassies in Germany: the Turkish one and the U.S. one,’” Sanberk said. “‘You have 11 consulates under the embassy, all responsible for thousands of Turks. You have the capacity to move Germany.’”
Öymen confirmed this account and called Holbrooke a very good friend and an invaluable diplomat.
“He was a very talented diplomat,” former Foreign Minister Hikmet Çetin told the Daily News. “He used to monitor Turkey very closely and had very positive views on Turkey. He was after practical solutions. He always tried to finish any mission he took on.”
According to Öymen, Holbrooke played a key role in resolving a military crisis that erupted between Greek and Turkey over the two small, uninhabited Aegean islets known as Kardak. The Turkish diplomat, the Foreign Ministry undersecretary at the time, said Holbrooke mediated between him and then-Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos in many late-night telephone conversations until the crisis was resolved.
Holbrooke’s quest for quick, pragmatic solutions did not always gain him popularity, particularly on the longstanding issue of the divided island of Cyprus. Appointed U.S. special representative for Cyprus, he had a tense relationship with Rauf Denktaş, who led Turkish Cyprus for decades, according to Sanberk.
“He was not too involved with the details. He wanted to move [ahead] with pragmatism. He would not deal with technicalities,” said a Turkish diplomat familiar with the negotiations on the Cyprus issue.
The first time Denktaş met Holbrooke for Cyprus talks, the Turkish Cypriot leader named all of the U.S. diplomat’s predecessors, one after the other, in a clear reference to the number of people who had tried, but failed, to resolve the issue. “I got the message,” Holbrooke replied, according a Foreign Ministry official who told the story to the Daily News on condition of anonymity.
Öymen shared a similar experience with Holbrooke on the Cyprus issue, recalling how he told the U.S. diplomat that the problem could be solved within six months if the United States was able to not favor one side over the other. According to Öymen, Holbrooke said that would be impossible due to the Greek Cypriots’ influential lobby in Washington. Öymen then asked that the United States just keep away from the issue, telling Holbrooke he would not be able to solve the problem and the effort would only damage his reputation.
The Cyprus issue remains unresolved.
Source : Hurriyet Daily News