Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized Turkey's growing role in the Middle East and beyond in remarks at the opening dinner of the 2011 Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations. The event, hosted by the American-Turkish Council, was held at The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington on Monday night.
Clinton stood at a podium before the U.S. and Turkish flags, and highlighted Turkey's growing economic leadership.
"And when I talk with Turks - from students to entrepreneurs to government officials - I see a confidence and optimism, and it is for a good reason," said Clinton. "Turkey can be proud that it has become the 17th largest economy in the world, with ambitions to reach the top 10 in the coming years. This story - sometimes called 'the Turkish Miracle' - is well known. But its strategic implications are perhaps less well understood."
Clinton emphasized four main points.
"First, that a strong U.S.-Turkey relationship has contributed to Turkish prosperity," she said. "That, in turn, Turkey's economic growth should further strengthen our partnership. That for Turkey to take full advantage of its new opportunities, it will have to consolidate democratic progress at home, and peace and stability in its neighborhood. And, finally, that Turkey's economic leadership can be a powerful force for progress across the region."
Even as Clinton highlighted Turkish economic successes, she said that the nation must work to further empower women and to address the concerns of ethnic minority groups.
"A vibrant economy depends upon the free exchange of ideas, the free flow of information and the rule of law," said Clinton. "Strengthening due process, cracking down on corruption, helps any country grow more rapidly. And also, protecting a free and independent media, which plays a role that is very important."
The secretary of state said the United States has been concerned by the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel. And she urged both countries to work on improving ties. She also noted tensions between Turkey and Cyprus, saying the parties need to work toward a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Clinton also urged Turkey to continue to work toward normalizing ties with Armenia.
Clinton said Turkey's growing economic leadership has the potential to support positive changes far beyond its borders.
"Turkey sends more than a quarter of its exports to nations in the Middle East and North Africa. Its companies are therefore investing heavily across the region," she said. "Turkish businesses are helping to rebuild Iraq. They are one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Egypt. And Turkish planes have already resumed flights to Libya. Along with political change and reform must come economic reform in this region. To succeed, the Arab political awakening must also be an economic awakening. [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama has outlined a comprehensive economic agenda to support the democratic transitions now underway, and Turkey is a valuable partner in this effort."
In the course of her speech, Clinton again offered condolences to the Turkish people, following the recent earthquake there as well as for a Kurdish Workers' Party attack less than two weeks ago that killed 24 Turkish soldiers.