Turkey's New Fault Line Is the Republican House

Washington and Ankara insist: the bilateral relationship between the US and Turkey is strong, even unshakable.

But, behind the spin, there is growing concern in the US capital as to whether Turkey is breaking away from the West, falling under the spell of Iran and becoming at best an unreliable ally.

Those fears are likely to be voiced even more loudly now that Republicans have won control of the House of Representatives.

The foreign policy of Turkey's ruling party AKP has been questioned for some time, but the real wake up call for the US was when Ankara voted in the United Nations Security Council against new sanctions on Iran -- a top priority for the Obama administration.

Even before then, Washington had reacted angrily to anti-Israel rhetoric used by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after Israel soldiers killed Turkish activists on a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip.

The US administration's reaction to the UN vote was blunt. Assistant Secretary for State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon said Turkey needed to demonstrate its commitment to the West.

"There is a lot of questioning going on about Turkey's orientation and its ongoing commitment to strategic partnership with the United States," he said. "Turkey, as a NATO ally and a strong partner of the United States, not only didn't abstain but voted No, and I think that Americans haven't understood why."

Clearly when Americans voted in the mid-term elections they did not do so with Turkey in mind.

But the new Republican House is deeply unlikely to be a fan of Erdogan's foreign policy. Many of its members are close to the pro-Israel lobby, which is extremely upset about the AKP`s stance on the Gaza flotilla, and have signaled their irritation at Turkey's stance on Iran.

That matters. The House sets the agenda for hearings and legislation. It also needs to be consulted over arms sales - and there are a lot of weapons Ankara wants to buy from the US.

A Congressional source told me that there is increasing uncertainty about Turkey`s motives in the international security arena. Apparently the question about Turkey in Congress is whether Ankara is committed to a shared vision with the US or wants to go in another direction altogether.

In recent days, Turkey and the US have been haggling again, over Washington's plans to turn missile defence for Europe into a NATO wide project. Turkey insists that there should no reference to Iran as a common threat when NATO leaders discuss the issue at a Lisbon summit this week. Negotiations about the conditions and the wording of the declaration are still going on.

Officials on both sides say a deal is within reach. Still, some observers say that even if Turkey says yes to the NATO system it will still be viewed with suspicion by Congress.

A missile defense compromise would prevent yet another high profile clash between Washington and Ankara. But after this year's events it looks like the questions about Turkey`s future direction are here to stay.