Monday, 11 March 2013

Jack Straw: first-class passenger on the Turkey gravy train

A little more on Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary from 2001-2006 in Tony Blair’s Labour government, who has since become a prominent lobbyist for the Turkish government, especially when it comes to arguing its case for joining the EU and denouncing those, particularly the Republic of Cyprus, he deems impeding Ankara’s inalienable European aspirations. Previously, regarding Cyprus, I’ve written about how Straw has advocated the formal partitioning of the island – which is something not even Turkey dares to demand of the international community, nor in fact is it sure it really wants, since Turkey’s optimal plan is to control the whole of Cyprus not just 37% of it – and I’ve associated Straw’s outbursts with the remuneration and other benefits he receives from the Turkish government.

In a post earlier this month, I further detailed how Jack Straw has appeared in a propaganda video put together by Turkey’s Ministry for EU affairs and Turkish state broadcaster TRT that seeks to attribute Turkey’s stalled EU accession to the obstructionist tactics deployed by the Greek Cypriots and who, Straw argues, should never have been allowed to join the EU in the first place.

And now I note that Straw has given an interview to Today’s Zaman, a pro-government English-language Turkish daily, in which the former foreign secretary reiterates his view that it was a ‘huge mistake’ to allow Cyprus to join the EU in 2004 and argues, with some vehemence, for the recognition of Turkey’s puppet state on the island, the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

In the interview, Straw describes himself as ‘sad and very angry’ at Turkey’s faltering EU accession negotiations and squarely puts the blame for this on ‘petty politics by the Greek Cypriots’ who, Straw says, large EU countries, for the sake of Turkey, should now ‘get tough’ with, especially in light of ‘the true nature of the financial shambles of Greek Cyprus and its huge indebtedness to Russia and many other problems’.

Straw adds that if the Greek Cypriots continue to obstruct Turkey’s EU accession, then they must be forced to ‘understand what the consequences of their actions are’ and he proposes to do this by recognising the Turkish pseudo-state on Cyprus and formalising the island’s partition.

‘Part of the difficulty at the moment,’ Straw says, ‘is that you've got a de facto partition, anyway, as for the Greek Cypriots there is little or no incentive for them for a compromise because they've got all the benefits of a partition without any of the disadvantages. So in time we may have to get there [i.e. recognition of the ‘TRNC’], and it's not the end of the world; after all some of the former provinces of Yugoslavia were separated and partitioned.’

Straw then goes on to express his ‘anger’ at the plight of the Turkish Cypriots, who he agrees with his interviewer were ‘left out in the cold’ by the EU, despite voting in favour of the Annan plan in 2004.

Over the last decade, Straw concludes: ‘I have moved… from a position of relative neutrality between the position of the Greek Cypriot government and that of the Turkish Cypriots to one where I believe that a great injustice has been done to the Turkish Cypriot community, and this has nothing to do with the feelings for the Greek Cypriot population who I feel great affection for, but it is about their system.’

(You can read the whole interview here, in which Straw also describes former Greek prime minister Giorgos Papandreou as a ‘great man’ for persuading, in 2005, the Republic of Cyprus to agree to the launching of Turkey’s accession negotiations).

Straw’s motives
Since Cyprus is not the reason Turkey’s EU accession negotiations have ground to a halt – France is also blocking the opening of a number of chapters Turkey is obliged to complete before joining the EU, while Turkey itself has consistently failed to pass the necessary reforms to make it a viable EU candidate country – and since recognition of the ‘TRNC’ would not re-ignite Turkey’s EU process but end it altogether, with Cyprus losing any incentive to acquiesce to Turkey’s EU aspirations, then, unless Straw is a complete idiot, which is a possibility, it’s hard to attribute anything other than malice and selfish interest to Straw’s anti-Cyprus rants.

Regarding Straw’s selfish interests, it’s worth pointing out the following:

I checked the most recent Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which describes the interests of UK MPs that might influence their ‘actions, speeches or votes’, and although I couldn’t find any recent payments Straw has received from the Turkish government (the last registered payments from Turkey to Straw were in April 2011); he did earn, from February 2012 to February 2013, on top of his MP’s salary and cabinet minister pension, £3065 for articles written for UK national newspapers; £52,000 for speaking engagements to do with security and foreign affairs; £60,000 for security consultancy work; and £92,250 in advance for the publication of his political memoirs. Obviously, it remains in Straw’s financial interests to remain in the public eye, particularly through the espousal of controversial views and self-depiction as a security and foreign affairs guru.

However, if we are looking for more direct links that would explain Straw’s shameless pandering to the Turkish government, then it’s worth drawing attention to this article from the Lancashire Telegraph, a daily newspaper covering Straw’s parliamentary constituency of Blackburn, a town in north-west England, which, it’s relevant to point out, has a Muslim population of 25 percent, mostly originating from Pakistan.

The article is from 23 October 2012 and refers to an award Straw received from the Turkish government for his contributions to multiculturalism and British-Turkish friendship. Like Straw’s views on Cyprus, the sentiments expressed by Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, are so outrageous as to be almost comical. Below is the article in full. (I don’t know why Straw’s trip to Ankara to pick up his prize, which must have involved flights and accommodation, presumably paid for by Straw’s Turkish hosts, was not mentioned in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests).

Blackburn MP Jack Straw is honoured by the Turkish government
Jack Straw has been given one of Turkey’s highest awards for being ‘a politician who approaches the Islamic world and Muslim societies with sincerity and friendship’.

He flew to Turkish capital Ankara to receive the country’s highest order available to individuals who are not heads of state.

The citation for the Order of the Republic or Turkey made by President Abdullah Gul highlights the Blackburn MP and former Foreign Secretary’s commitment to multiculturalism.

He praised Mr Straw for his role in issues such as the British military’s position in Iraq and Afghanistan, highly controversial issues in the Islamic world.

President Gul said he hoped the award would be a ‘strong symbol of the longstanding friendship’ between Britain and Turkey and its peoples.

Mr Straw said: ‘I am delighted and honoured to receive this award. Turkey is a vital country to Europe and the modern world.’

Giving Mr Straw the award, President Gul said: ‘I am especially honoured to present to my very close friend Jack, the Order of the Republic which is the highest order presented to persons other than heads of state.

‘In our generation, Jack Straw is one of those few politicians who embodies the qualities of a statesman.

‘He has valued multiculturalism throughout his political career and is a politicians who approaches the Islamic world and Muslim societies with sincerity and friendship.

‘The key to his popularity in his constituency of Blackburn lies in these very qualities.

‘Jack is a democrat with a conscience of the kind greatly and collectively needed in Europe in order to fight against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.’

President Gul praised Mr Straw as being a ‘friend to Turkey and the Turkish people’ and highlighted his efforts to bring Turkey into the European Union and supporting the case of the Turkish Cypriots.