Human Rights Watch called on the Bush administration to put rights reform at the center of its discussions with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. Foreign Minister Cem will meet Secretary of State Powell today.

Cem and other high-level representatives of the Turkish government, including the newly appointed Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Kemal Dervis, are in Washington this week for talks on a range of multilateral and bilateral issues. A multilateral bail-out to address Turkey's financial crisis is expected to top the agenda, but Iraq, the frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey's relations with the European Union, and the pending $4 billion purchase of U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters are also likely to be discussed.

In a letter to Secretary Powell sent this week, the international monitoring group urged attention to Turkey's persistent human rights problems. Referring to a reform platform set out by then-Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz during a 1997 trip to Washington, Human Rights Watch pointed out that almost no progress had been made even on benchmarks Turkey had set itself. Yilmaz, now Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for Turkey's relations with the European Union (E.U.), just last week rolled out another unconvincing reform agenda to a skeptical E.U. audience. The E.U. is properly insisting on human rights improvements as part of Turkey's bid for membership in that organization.

"Whether it's E.U. membership, the purchase of U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters, or a financial bailout, Turkey's goals will not be achieved until concrete steps are taken to establish the rule of law and transparent and accountable structures of government," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "Secretary Powell needs to press Turkey to tackle these issues in a meaningful way."

The IMF, which has repeatedly had to bail out Turkey's troubled economy, signed a policy framework agreement with Turkey last week, but has expressed reluctance to commit new funds to the country until financial sector reform takes place. Turkey is seeking nearly $12 billion in financing for 2001, after a recent public row between the president and prime minister over the handling of corruption charges sent the economy into a tailspin, with ripple effects throughout the developing world.

The financial crisis has called into question Turkey's ability to undertake the $4 billion purchase of 145 attack helicopters manufactured by U.S.-based Bell Helicopter Textron. Acquiring the helicopters is a top priority for Turkey's powerful military, but the sale has been opposed by rights groups fearful that the equipment will be used to commit human rights abuses.