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June 11th, 2013
05:58 PM ET

Experts: Protests further strain U.S.-Turkey relations

President Barack Obama has invested years attempting to form a strong alliance with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. But the recent protests that have erupted throughout Istanbul have strained that relationship, experts say.

"When this kind of thing happens with an ally, it is difficult for the White House," said Bulent Aliriza, who established the Turkey Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Obama hosted Erdogan at the White House four weeks ago. The two held meetings, dined together, and wrapped up the visit with a joint press conference.

"Having been that close to Prime Minister Erdogan, it's difficult for President Obama to decide exactly how he's going to deal with the situation. Has he put in a call?" said Aliriza.

"Turkey is being portrayed as a model for the Arab countries, in this part of the Arab Spring. Now at this point, you cannot argue Turkey is a model for anybody. And no doubt President Obama and his advisers are thinking about this right now," said Aliriza.

But relations between the two countries were already fractured by that U.S. visit. Erdogan came hoping to persuade Obama to get involved in Syria, but left "empty-handed on the most important issue on the agenda," said Aliriza.

Even worse, said David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy Magazine, "when Erdogan was here, the Obama team actually chided them for their support of the extreme elements in Syria, and there's a growing rift between the U.S. and the Turks and countries like Qatar, who are seeking a somewhat more extremist outcome."

"Now Obama looks at this model relationship ... it's not the picture that existed even a couple months ago," said Rothkopf.

Even if protesters take issue with how Erdogan has governed, his tenure has been good for the economy.  Turkey’s per capita gross national income and the gross domestic product have tripled over the past decade.

But since the protests began, the Turkish lira has dropped to an 18-month low, and the Istanbul market fallen 18%, said Aliriza.

"The kind of images that we're seeing are bound to scare off investors," said Aliriza. "The kind of situation that we now have, where the government is perceived to be at war with rioters right in the middle of Istanbul, cannot be good for the kind of investment future that Turkey had in mind."

"If these do shake people's confidence in the economy, the economy gets worse, that's likely to drive more protests," said Rothkopf.

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