Interview with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Interview with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu by Guillaume Perrier in Ankara; date not given: «Ankara Wants To Be Pole of ‘Regional Stability'»
Paris LeMonde.fr in French 07 Nov 09

Ankara — On Friday 6 November Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu began a visit to France, the first since he entered office, in May 2009. He is due to be received Friday by his counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, at a time when bilateral relations are hampered by France’s opposition to Turkey’s accession to the EU. The disagreement on Europe will be on the agenda for the talks. The two countries will also discuss recent developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan, in which areas Mr Davutoglu has adopted numerous initiatives in recent months. Having been the architect of Turkey’s ambitious foreign policy — described as «neo-Ottoman» — during his term as advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then as minister, he has implemented in his theory of «zero problems with neighbors» and granted Turkey a new regional dimension.
[Perrier] What kind of relations can Turkey maintain with France, the leading opponent of its accession to the EU?
[Davutoglu] Ever since the 16th century we have had strong relations with France. No other nation in Europe can understand Turkey’s importance as well as it can. Even now France and Turkey have influence in the same regions. Genuine cooperation could impart a new boost in the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. This would benefit the EU, too. This is why there he is no foundation, either historical or political, for all the misunderstandings and misconceptions sometimes expressed in France.
[Perrier] Do you hope to modify Paris’ viewpoint concerning membership?
[Davutoglu] The EU’s most important value is observance of commitments: pacta sunt servanda. It is thanks to this principle that the EU has become a pole of attraction. If it loses it, it loses its entire legitimacy. If you remove this cornerstone of the European edifice, because of prejudices about Turkey, then you will weaken the EU more than Turkey. We expect no favors, no special treatment. Only that commitments be honored. Without a strong political will on our government’s part, we could have halted the process, heeding the arguments of some of our European friends, who claimed that Turkey is not European or that it is not destined to become a member… Nobody can impose on us an options such as the special partnership. This kind of alternative has never been put forward for any other candidate country.
[Perrier] The Cyprus question remains the main obstacle. Will you open up your ports and airports to Greek Cypriots, as Brussels demands?
[Davutoglu] No, that would not be right. In 2004 the Greek Cypriots rejected Kopi Annan’s peace plan, supported by the EU. As a reward, they secured this rejection of EU membership! As for the Turkish Cypriots, they voted for peace and accepted the plan. But they were punished by isolation. The European promise to allow Turkish Cypriots direct trade has not been honored. Unlike Armenia, with Cyprus we see no resolve to progress toward peace. For the past year the island’s two leaders have met 50 times. Mehmet Ali Tat (the Turkish Cypriot president) is pressing for a peace agreement by April. On the other side (the Greek Cypriots) do not want to accelerate the process. You cannot make peace on your own: you need a strong partner. In 2004 they missed a historic opportunity by rejecting the Annan plan. We hope that they will not waste a second opportunity
[Perrier] Turkish diplomacy has been very active on numerous fronts in recent months. What is the objective?
[Davutoglu] On 1 October I met in Brussels with Jose Manuel Barroso and Olli Rehn (European Commission president and enlargement commissioner.) I said that October would be «the month of peace» for Turkish diplomacy. We have launched several initiatives — in the Balkans between Serbia and Bosnia; in the Caucasus, by signing an agreement with Armenia; in Syria and in Iraq, where a few days ago I met with Masud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq; and so forth. All this pursues one single objective: peace. What we want is to create a zone of stability and prosperity in the region. We want to eliminate all tensions between ourselves and our neighbors, but also among our neighbors themselves. Hence our mediation between Syria and Israel, and between Syria and Iraq. With chaos in Iraq or elsewhere, Turkey cannot be a safe and stable country.
[Perrier] Does Turkey still enjoy Israel’s confidence to act as mediator with Syria, following the recent Turkish-Israeli tensions?
[Davutoglu] I am sure of it. They are very well aware how honestly were performed our mediation mission last year. An alliance with a country does not rule out criticizing it when it makes a mistake. Yes, we did criticize Israel for the bombardments of Gaza. We will similarly criticize any country that commits such an attack. This does not mean that we are changing our objective in the region.
[Perrier] Is Turkey not changing its diplomatic axis, turning its back on the West and turning more to the East?
[Davutoglu] No. Turkish foreign policy is built on certain pillars — relations with NATO and our EU candidacy. These are Turkey’s strongest international ties. But at the same time Turkey is a country with a multidimensional geography. Is it wrong to improve relations with your neighbors? We are normalizing our relations with Syria — with which we were on the verge of war 10 years ago — as we are with Armenia.. Why are we not criticized for looking to the East, in connection with Armenia? And yet it is further to the east than Syria. Some Westerners still have the view that if we move closer to a Christian country, it is a good thing, but that if we move closer to a Muslim country, it is a diplomatic change of course… No! Everyone can live in peace, side by side. These efforts are compatible with European values, with the EU’s experience. Peace, cultural coexistence, pluralism, stability, and so forth. These are our common values with the Europeans.

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