Turkey's strategic importance, as a gateway to the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans, have been less vocal about human rights than the Europeans.
Of course, the continued existence of a separatist, terrorist campaign puts a brake of some degree on human rights or democratization developments, but still there is considerable progress. The fact that even Kurdish terrorist groups have acknowledged that separatism is no longer an option, that the arms struggle should be abandoned, does represent a qualitative change in the situation, and one that Turkey may be able to exploit to its advantage to put this chapter behind it. It is not easy to prescribe solutions to a problem as complex as this. But this is clearly a time when imagination, innovation, flexibility will be important, as Turkey seeks to take advantage of all of these developments, and produce a situation in the southeast which is a lasting and a just one, and which will lead to the prosperity and integration of all the citizens of Turkey who live there.
By accelerating the steps towards greater democracy and respect for human rights, Turkey will be able to tap the full potential of its rich, multi-ethnic society and traditions; exploit the recent, favorable turn of events precipitated by Ocalan's capture; and refocus international interest in Turkey to more favorable and profitable ground. Through steps such as restructuring state security courts, early passage of a repentance law, ending the state of emergency in provinces where the security situation warrants, and concrete action to improve socio-economic conditions in the southeast, Turkey will launch a process of healing that can begin to close the chapter of its long struggle with terrorist separatism.
What About the Triangle of Turkey, the EU and the U.S.? Keeping Turkey tied tightly to the West remains a strong American priority. That is the principal reason why the U.S. worked very hard behind the scene to support Turkey’s joining the E.U. There are suggestions that Turkey's presence in the EU might not be in Washington's interests. Yet, Washington stresses that it is inconceivable to imagine a Europe that moves into the 21st century increasingly peaceful and stable, and secure and prosperous, without Turkey being an integral part of that process as well.
U.S. officials argue that this is not a zero-sum game. Washington will compete as effectively as it can with its European rivals for commercial and geopolitical advantages in Turkey. In the eyes of Washington, Europe and Turkey are inextricably linked by history, by geography, by economics and by destiny, and that Turkey will be part of Europe fully and completely at some point, as the logic of these realities plays itself out. A deepening of Europe’s strategic and cultural reservations has long reinforced economic and practical bars to Turkish integration with Europe. U.S. officials repeatedly warned that a Turkey rejected by the EU would be a strategic loss for the West and urged the EU not to exclude Turkey for religious or cultural reasons.
Although Turkey was included as an official candidate in December 1999 to the EU enlargement process, the E.U. views Turkey in a markedly different context than the United States. Non-strategic factors, especially human rights and the Kurdish issue, have led to increasing strains in Turkey's relations with the EU. If Turkey does not join the EU in the near future, Ankara could find itself excluded from the key decisions that affect Europe's-- and its own--security. This in turn could further estrange Ankara from Europe and deepen the discord between Europe and the U.S., which strongly supports Turkey's bid for EU membership.