Vol. 2, Issue 26, June 29, 2004
NATO Headaches ensue When Bush Visits Turkmenistan Instead of Turkey
An apparent piloting error has diverted President Bush from his scheduled visit to a two-day NATO summit in Turkey to a former Soviet republic, causing an awkward situation with worldwide ramifications.
"It happens, from time to time, that the President likes to take a turn at the wheel of Air Force One, since he is a former pilot," admitted White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "It does appear, in this instance, that a slight navigational error may have ensued as a result."
Turkey is a NATO member and a major military ally. Turkmenistan, however, is a former Soviet republic with an authoritarian ex-Communist regime in power and a tribally based social structure. President Saparmurat Niyazov has retained absolute control over the country since its independence in 1991 and opposition of any sort is not tolerated.
"As a dictatorship whose primary economic activity is assisting in exporting narcotics from Afghanistan to Russia, Turkmenistan has not been high on our list of most favored nations," admits McClellan.
It was understandable, then, that Niyazov expressed surprise and delight when Bush informed him that his country was "once again in good standing."
"The problem appears to be that Bush failed to realize his mistake for several hours after landing in Turkmenistan," NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the other 25 assembled NATO members in Istanbul. "Consequently he presented Niyazanov with some security related materials which we would not ordinarily share with a regime such as this."
Reportedly, Bush handed over documents with updated information on American forces throughout Europe and the Middle East, a list of frequencies and security codes to access the new NATO "Bowman" surveillance satellite system launched earlier this year, $75 million in gold bullion, and a pie. He also reaffirmed America's friendship and support for "this fine Turkish nation" and signed a document hastily drafted proffered by Niyazanov to "make it official." The contents of this document are not yet known.
"We are really looking forward to our new partnership with the United States," a visibly jubilant Niyazanov said on state-run television last night. "I do not even know where to begin with this windfall. But I'll think of something!"
Turkey's government and its powerful military establishment had been anxiously waiting for a resounding endorsement from the U.S. after more than a year of strained relations between the two old allies. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed regret, but not surprise, that Bush had inadvertently given his blessing, along with major NATO security resources, to a nearby country with a similar sounding name.
"Well, I was looking forward to the pie," said Erdogan. "But at least this will be one NATO meeting where no one asks how many E's there are in NATO."