Council on Foreign Relations
New York , NY
JOAN SPERO: Good afternoon. I’m Joan Spero and I will be presiding at our event today. I remember you all that this the Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture, which has been made possible by the generosity of the Leffingwell Family. And we have two representatives here today, Tom Pulling (sp) and his sister who are here. So thank you very much. (Applause.)
I want remind you all please to turn off your cell phones and your Blackberries, any of those wireless devises that you may have. And I also want to remind you that this meeting is on the record. The prime minister will speak, then he and I will engage in a brief dialogue, and then we will open the floor for questions.
Mr. Prime Minister, it is a great honor to welcome you to the Council on Foreign Relations and introduce you to our members. I’m going to try to start by not fracturing the pronunciation of your name. Recep Tayyip Erdogan — (laughter) — we practiced before hand — was elected prime minister of Turkey in 2003 after a distinguished and often challenging career in politics. In various roles he has been a leader, a reformer, and an innovator.
As party leader, Mr. Erdogan led a reform of the Welfare Party and moved it into the mainstream. In 2001, he founded the Justice and Development Party and led it to victory in national elections. When he was major of — did I get that right — when he was mayor — he was mayor Istanbul, Mr. Erdogan actively addressed a multitude of urban problems. As prime minister he is bringing economic reform and political change to the surface.
Now, we at the Council on Foreign Relations see him as an international leader. Becoming prime minister, Mr. Erdogan has been at the center of some of the most challenging and thorny issues of our times: candidacy in Turkey for membership in the European Union, the future of Cyprus, turmoil in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, politics of energy and oil, and the divide between the world of Islam and the West.
Prime Minister, you have a large foreign policy agenda, and we look forward to hearing from you about Turkey’s foreign policy in the 21st century. I introduce Prime Minister Erdogan. (Applause.)
PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter.) Distinguished guests, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address you today. As I start, I would like to thank first of all the Council on Foreign Relations for their invitation for me to speak, and its chairman. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Let me start off by saying that in the July-August issue of the Foreign Affairs journal, which you publish, there was an article about the possibility of a global epidemic and the impact that this epidemic could have on the rest of the world. And the issue was discussing the kind of scenarios based on this situation. I think that this is an indication on how closely you follow the developments in the world. And I would like to congratulate you for your work, all of the work that you have done so far. And I hope that your activities will in the future also shed light to the questions that many international relations professionals are looking for.
Unfortunately, we are together in the aftermath of a terrible disaster. I speak here of Katrina and the loss of life as a result of Katrina. As the country, as Turkey — the Turkish people, we all share deeply the grief that the American people suffered as a result of Katrina because in our country too we have unfortunately experienced such disasters and we continue to experience disasters. And so I would like to once again take this opportunity to offer our condolences as a Turkish nation to the American people and say how deeply we share the sorrow of the American people.
As Turkey, we also have experienced similar disasters and we know that it takes time to overcome this grief. It is difficult to lose loved ones and we will never forget those loved ones. This sorry is a humanitarian situation without any credence over race, religion, gender, et cetera. It concerns all of us. And all we can do is hope that such disasters will never occur again. And that is perhaps all we can do in certain cases.
Nevertheless, it is important to feel the friendship of our friends in difficult times. And it is at least perhaps a bit of a consolation to be able to hold the hand of a friend in such difficult times. And that could be the only source of consolation at different times. And it is with those feelings and thoughts that Turkey is among the nations that has decided to help in the aftermath of Katrina. And we have tried and we will continue to try to be on your side, stand by your side in these difficult times through material and material support, any kind of support that we can lend.
Distinguished guests, let me first of all say that Turkey is a friend and ally of the United States of America. Our relationship dates back many, many years. And it is born on sound foundations. And it is true that at times we go through the test of time. Nevertheless, we see that there is a strong solidarity between our countries that is a result of commonsense and realism. It is part of our relationship.
There are many areas where we have common interests, from the fight against terrorism to reform efforts in the broader Middle East, to the solution of the conflict — the Arab-Israeli conflict, normalization of the situation in Iraq, the caucuses, stabilization, achieving stabilization in Central Asia, and the solution of the Cyprus struggle. These are all some of the areas where we have common interests.
Those people who think that Turkish-American relations are not going as well should take a look at the recent history of my country very carefully. It is true that they have been times when we have had misunderstandings between our two countries in our relations. But we will also see with a review of history that we have at every single time been able to overcome those differences. And we have emerged stronger in our cooperation.
After the embargo crisis in the ’70s, I would like to remind you that we signed a comprehensive partnership document in the form of a defense economic cooperation agreement in the 1980s, for example. It is also true that although we share similar objectives, sometimes our countries may be adopt different approaches. Or sometimes, due to the proximity of Turkey to various hotspots, Turkey feels the need to be more cautious in certain areas, thus resulting in some differences of opinion between Turkey and the U.S. But this should all be understood as being very natural.
And we can say that the developments have shown that our relations indeed rest on strong foundations because Turkey and the United States are countries — two countries which are moving forward for the same objective, which is global stability. And this is carried out through a strong relationship, a strong alliance, and through common and shared values. And we will continue to work in a determined fashion to take these relations even further.
At this point I also would like to say a few words about our policy on Iraq, which as you know is very important on the world agenda today. This is an issue on which we have a lot of exchange of views with the United States, and I would like to briefly share with you our views on Iraq.
Turkey follows very closely the developments in Iraq because Iraq is a neighboring country, and we continue to try to make every contributing effort a constructive effort and contribution we can make. It is important to note that if the situation in Iraq does not improve, this would definitely be of interest to Turkey. It would not be a good thing to have the situation in Iraq prolonged because Turkey is very close. And despite the fact that Turkey is not part of the clashes or the hotspot in Iraq, there are still Turkish people who have lost their lives in trying to provide logistical support to Iraq. And there are more than 100 Turkish nationalists who have lost their lives. These are truck drivers, or other people who are providing that logistical service, or these are workers or engineers who work in the construction activities in Iraq.
So it is important that Iraq is a democratic country which has territorial integrity with the community. It is important that Iraq lives in peace with its neighbors, and this is our target objective when it comes to Iraq.
We also have taken upon ourselves some activities and initiatives with regard to helping achieve stability and political unity in Iraq. For this we have a neighboring country’s initiative, and this was an initiative which was initiated at the time when Foreign Minister Gul was prime minister. And that initiative is still ongoing, and the objective in this neighboring country’s initiative is to actively engage with all the neighboring countries in order to contribute to the stability in Turkey and protect the integrity of Iraq. We have to do this because we don’t have the luxury of remaining indifferent to developments right next door to our borders.
Kirkuk , on the other hand, is also a very sensitive area with regards to the future of Iraq. It has a mixed ethnic structure, and therefore Kirkuk is Iraq on a smaller scale. Therefore, it will not be a positive for other ethnic elements if one ethnic element tries to dominate Kirkuk.
And here I would like to talk about the Turkomans. There are the Arabs, as well, in Kirkuk. These groups — if other ethnic groups want to become dominant, these groups will not tolerate such a situation, and this will lead to further difficulties. And such difficulties will not remain constrained only to the area of Kirkuk, but it will have a spillover effect to the rest of Iraq. And therefore the future of Kirkuk is, and so you appreciate, a very important topic to which Turkey cannot remain indifferent. And plus, if you look at the history of Kirkuk, you will see that the ethnic element which is trying to dominate Kirkuk is repeating some of these sort of mistakes of the past, and I have to make mention of this point.
In addition, the terrorist organization, the PKK — (inaudible) — continues to have a presence in northern Iraq, and this constitutes a serious threat from the point of view of security for Turkey. We are already taking necessary security precautions in our country. On the other hand, it will also help if necessary security measures are taken vis-a-vis the PKK in northern Iraq, and this will have a very determining effect with regard to our efforts on fighting against terrorism. I’m sure that you will appreciate this point very well.
Obviously, we have been discussing this issue with our American counterparts. I’ve spoken to President Bush about this. We will continue to discuss this topic because terrorism can only be removed or weakened if we join our forces together. Terrorism is like a scourge, and therefore we need an international platform to fight against terrorism. If we don’t, then terrorism will continue to have an effect in whatever country it exists.
Distinguished guests, in this part of my speech I would also like to share with you my thoughts and observations regarding the global environment, the global situation at the moment. The world has, we see, experienced an important change at the beginning of the 21st century. This change emerges both in the psychological condition, as well as the physical condition. The asymmetrical effects which emerged after 9/11 are very serious. In addition, there are also issues with regard to environmental deterioration and climate change, which also disturb the balance of our planet. Hunger and epidemics, which are ongoing problems, have reached unacceptable levels. Let me remind you that in sub-Saharan African there are unfortunately 6,300 people dying everyday as a result of AIDS.
Although there are active efforts to resolve these problems and they yield some positives results, it is obvious that there are many other things that need to be done. We see that social problems resulting from poverty can endanger national security. Therefore, it is important to support the sustainable development efforts of underdeveloped and developing countries. This will be necessary to establish global stability in the world.
While all of this is going on, the developed countries, on the issue of armament and weapons, has invested a lot of money in those areas, and those figures are quite high, and this is about $1 trillion U.S. dollars, money spend on armament. Now it is also very important that enough resources are set aside for education in the world in order to fight against illegalities and violence. If we can’t somehow shake some of the investment of armaments in helping alleviate poverty and making investments in education, I think that we can also achieve important results in the fight against terrorism.
It is important that access to information and technology in the least developed countries be improved. The difference right now between developed and undeveloped countries is wide, and some way must be found to reduce this gap. And so we can say that there are — some of the links that are missing in this chain of prosperity for the people. And given this kind of situation, I think it is possible to establish global peace and stability.
Turkey feels that contributing to the solution of such global concerns is an important point of its national policy, and therefore we have the impetus to the humanitarian support we provide to people who have been affected by natural disasters or man-made disasters.
And finally here, another important point is hunger. And recently Turkey has provided some support to the United Nations World Food Program in order to finance the food support to six African countries.
Africa is an area which should have priority in trying to solve global issues we’re faced with. We have been carrying out a policy of opening up to Africa for quite some time, and we took this step further by announcing the year 2005 as the African year. We are increasing our bilateral visits, and we are trying to continue to improve our political and economic relations with the African countries. We will continue to follow development in Africa, and we will continue to contribute as much as we can to the African countries.
Distinguished guests, Turkey entered the 21st century as an international actor which has some confidence and is ready to contribute to global efforts. One of the most important priority (tenets ?) of Turkish foreign policy is to help ensure regional and global peace and stability.
To achieve this goal, we must have and we continue to have close relations with the U.S. We are a member of the NATO alliance, integration with the E.U., good neighborly relations and regional cooperation, humanitarian aid to people under distress, participation in peacekeeping operation, resolution of conflict, and reconstruction efforts in post-conflict situations are some of the areas where Turkey has concentrated its activities. This is quite a wide spectrum, and we try to — we aim to and we try to pursue a peaceable, principled, effective foreign policy in these areas.
Integration with the EU is, of course, one of the priorities for Turkish foreign policy, but let me also specifically underline here the fact that this is not an alternative to the special relationship that Turkey enjoys with the United States. One has to view Turkey’s relations with the EU and with the U.S. of A. as two elements that are complementary to one another. In fact, I do know that the United States is of the same opinion, and is therefore supporting Turkey’s accession into the EU, and I would like to express our appreciation for U.S. support for Turkey’s EU membership.
Establishing stability in the Balkans, revitalizing the Middle East peace process, protecting territorial integrity of Iraq, resolving the Azeri-Armenian dispute, and supporting the political process in Afghanistan are some of the areas where various initiatives are being taken, and we have clearly shown the constructive role Turkey can play on a regional scale in these various initiatives.
Our relations with Greece have also developed positively in recent years, and we continue to aim to overcome tensions with neighbors, and we wish to have even better relations with our neighboring countries. Generally speaking, if you look at the trade volume between Turkey and the neighboring countries of Turkey, you will see that the increase in this trade volume reflects the positive developments between the countries.
The Black Sea and the Mediterranean are important parts of the — of stability around our country. In that sense, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and the Black Sea Force — this is an emergency force — these are important initiatives in this respect, and we must take these developments into consideration in the context of our relations with our northern neighbor, the Russian Federation.
With regard to our developing relations with Greece, we are aware of the importance of these developing relations in achieving peace and stability in the Mediterranean.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, you’re I’m sure also aware of our most recent initiatives with regard to Cyprus. We have supported the plan of the U.N. secretary-general, and one of the reasons why such a solution to the Cyprus problem was supported was to contribute to greater stability in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, Cyprus turned out to be a dramatic story. The Greek Cypriot administration, instead of contributing to the solution, guided its people to reject the plan in the referendum that was carried out. And the Greek Cypriots, who have been the reason of not finding a solution in Cyprus for many years, is now — has been rewarded with an EU membership, and therefore they have become even more uncompromising.
And the whole world and Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots want to see a fair solution found in Cyprus. This uncompromising policy pursued by the Greek Cypriots, we believe, will be faced with these aims for a comprehensive solution in Cyprus.
Another important point is the fact that Turkey has become an energy terminal between Asia and Europe. And the United States has an important share, and the common understanding and the work that we have been doing with the United States has an important share, in achieving that position for Turkey. The Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline is a symbol of our close cooperation with the United States in the Eurasian region. And Ceyhan will become a reference for the world oil markets. And Ceyhan will be a very important place in the world oil markets.
Developments after 9/11 have also shown that soft power is just as important as military capabilities in fighting against asymmetrical threats. And under such a situation, Turkey, with its specific and special geographical position, its unique historic and cultural accumulation, and its identity made up of different traditions, can play a critical role in having dialogue between civilizations.
The basic question here is whether harmony is possible between differences, and whether unity is possible even in diversity, and are we able to dream of such a future all together? I believe that we have the power to achieve these goals and ideals, and the way to do that doesn’t grow through wars; it grows through using words and increasing hope and peace.
The world has witnessed two great world wars, and millions of people have lost their lives, and I think that we have — as humanity we have enough bad experiences and memories to refrain from them in building our future. After a period of 40 years of peace and prosperity, when the British and the Germans were going to war in 1914, the British foreign minister, Sir Edward Gray, had said that light was dimming in all parts of Europe. And he had said we would never see this light relit through the rest of our lives.
A lot of people had to suffer for those lights to be relit, and unfortunately that light does not shed light to all parts of the world. And those people who are still in the dark have turned their faces to the bright light, and they wait. They do not wish to remain in darkness until eternity, and they do not wish to be left to the forces of the people who want to leave the world in darkness. And this is the reason that people in many parts of the globe are fighting for those freedoms, but there is a missing link, if you will. There is more efforts that need — more effort must be put in in order to win the hearts of peoples who are not benefitting from globalization, and who live in misery and hate.
Here we talk about a big wound which can only be treated through understanding and compassion, and this is what we must concentrate on. This requires — (inaudible) — too. And we must make sure that our differences should not be turned into polarized issues, and we should not be creating ghosts, and we should not be letting our own ideas in our brains, images that we have in our brains, to create cultural differences and — (inaudible). We should not fall into this trap. We have to get away from prejudice, and we have to see humanity and civilization as one big picture.
Together with my friend Spanish colleague, Prime Minister Zapatero, I am a cosponsor of the Alliance of Civilizations, and I think that this indeed is the message of the initiative of Alliance of Civilizations. Turkey has always shown the importance of this understanding because we have also taken such role in the relations between the EU and the Organization of Islamic Countries. And we also play an important role as a democratically associated partner in the initiative for broader Middle East and North Africa. And we continue to carry on with these activities in the future.
These activities will carry on in these platforms will be continued with the same determination in the future. As you know, these activities were first initiated at Sea Island, and the objective is to overcome and to reach for a world where we don’t have unfairness, misery, hunger and lack of hope. You might call this a utopia. But even if it is a utopia, we still have to try to achieve this or pursue this utopia. And to achieve that, global justice must definitely be established. If we cannot achieve global peace, we should know that global terrorism would become a dominating understanding of the world.
It is important, therefore, to fight against terrorism jointly, but in addition to that we also should work to overcome all kinds of violence in the globe, and we must work to achieve global peace in this way. Regardless of what we believe in and what we think, we should all know that we can only live in peace if we can overcome the philosophy of violence and destruction.
And so we must hope for brighter days towards the sun. And this understanding should take as its core the love for the human being. And this will be the only way that we achieve, in my opinion, a brightened global peace.
And I hope that those days will be the days we will achieve. And I greet you with these thoughts in mind.
Thank you very much for your attention. And I also would like to thank the organizers for this event. And thank you for inviting me.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
SPERO: Let me remind you of something I forgot at the beginning, which is this session is on the record. I’m going to ask the prime minister some questions and then we’ll open it up to the floor.
May I take you back to the Middle East. First of all, thank you for that — (inaudible) — for that — (inaudible) — of Turkish foreign policy.
May I take you back to the Middle East and your comments about Iraq. I asked you to expand on what you and the neighboring countries might do to further the goal that you described as — (inaudible) — Iraq — (inaudible). What role might you play, your country play — (inaudible).
ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter.) First of all, Turkey already has an effective role that it plays in Iraq. Turkey is aware that there are certain steps that need to be taken to keep the people in Iraq safe from terrorist activities and insurgency. There are also other activities that are and should be undertaken with regards to infrastructure — building infrastructure — in Iraq.
We have in our neighboring countries initiatives, the foreign minister of Iraq as well and ministers — foreign ministers — of other neighboring countries. We will also have — we have already included the ministers of the interior in a similar process already.
There is quite a number of things we can do. For example, training of the security forces. We have already stated that we’re ready to help in the training of the security forces. And security, both for the training of the military or the police — we have stated our readiness to help train these units. So far, there have not been any request, but we’re ready to do that.
In addition, Turkish contracting companies are part of some of the infrastructure activities of Iraq, and other countries should also be a part of this process. And we make that appeal.
Also, there is a lot support — for example, food, medicine, water. Most of that logistical support, both to the bases in Iraq and to the people, go from Turkey. So we are already engaged in that activity.
And as such support continues, we, as Turkey, have taken on ourselves many risks as well. And neighboring countries should also take on such initiatives. And we continue to recommend that they should do that because, obviously, the countries that will be most badly affected if things go wrong in Iraq are the neighboring countries. And for us, for Turkey, this is very important because we have a relationship with the Iraqi people. We have — we’re relatives.
And with regard to northern Iraq, too. We are in a different situation today. The PKK Kongra-Gel, as you know, is in northern Iraq. And this is an issue — a sensitive issue for us. And we are always ready to jointly fight against this with the United States, of course.
And we do not wish to see Iraq continue to be safe haven for terrorist organizations. This is what we should try to avoid. This is what we’re working for.
SPERO: Let me follow up with another question on the Middle East if I may. (Inaudible) — clearly a democratic Iraq. Can I ask you — (inaudible) — from a Turkish perspective, what you see are the prospects for democracy in Iraq — (inaudible) — perhaps an evolution for democracy — (inaudible).
And what role do you think the United States should or should not play in this process?
ERDOGAN: Now, we should first of all say the following. In every country where democracy has flourished, there have been difficulties at the beginning. This is clear. Every birth is painful, and this is birth — birth of democracy. And obviously, there will be pains associated with this birth.
But I believe that most of the Iraqi people have adopted the idea of moving into democracy. Now that doesn’t mean that everything will be nice and easy. But if the Iraqi people can see and find a ballot box in front of them, which they can, and if they have access to the ballot box — and that’s the second step. This is all very important.
And if the results of the ballot box are accepted by the people, that’s the third step in democracy.
So we can say that step by step, the Iraqi people will be experiencing democracy.
And because through democracy, the Iraqi people will govern their own country themselves. We, of course, have certain basic expectations. We, for example, are in favor of territorial integrity of Iraq. We do not wish to see any ethnic group dominate all the other ethnic groups or any sect dominate all the other sects. This should not be the case. We don’t — we believe that this would be a wrong approach; this shouldn’t be the case.
If such things occurred, then we would create problems in the future. And therefore, this is something — this is an issue that needs to be taken up in the drafting of the constitution of Iraq from the very beginning because, for example, the natural resources of Iraq — above ground or underground, that could also be a completely different area of discussion if we allow one group of the other dominate everything in Iraq.
We should not put Iraq in such a situation. Therefore, the constitution process is very important.
Another point is to ensure that all of the Iraqi people can actually go to the ballot box and vote. This is something that needs to be insured. For example, currently some have boycotted the process. But we must work to convince those who have boycotted the democratic process to once again be a part of this. And we certainly are trying to do this.
We might tell them that they should go to the ballot box because if they don’t, they would realize their mistake. In the future, the solution lies in the ballot box and then in parliament. It is — there is no solution to be found if you just stay out of the process.
This is what we say to them. And I think we have succeeded in some cases to convince the people to be a part of the democratic process. There are difficulties, but they will be overcome, in my opinion. And we have to — (inaudible) — support — continue to support this process.
SPERO: Let me push you just one step further and ask if you would like to comment on developments in Lebanon — (inaudible) — elections — (inaudible).
ERDOGAN: Well, I have to say very clearly that Turkey — until our government — did not really have a lot of relations with the Middle Eastern countries. They weren’t at least much of a relationship to speak of.
But when we came the government, we searched — we started developing our relations with our neighboring countries because our objective is to gain friends, not to make enemies.
And whomever we had difficulties with — weak relations with — we wanted to first overcome that situation. And of course, obviously — the obvious place to start is with the neighboring countries. And that’s where we started.
And right now, in all directions, we have relations with our neighboring countries with economic, military, social. We’ve initiated all of these activities — all of these relations, rather.
Lebanon , Syria, Jordan — we have relations — and developing relations — with these countries that we have visits. And in the Syrian and Lebanese relations, for example, the withdrawal of Syrian soldiers from Lebanese soil was something that was not resolved for many years. But we as Turkey were also involved in the efforts to get the Syrians to pull out their forces. And about 34,000 soldiers — Syrian soldiers — have withdrawn from Lebanon.
And this, I think, is a result of relations of — (inaudible) — meetings, et cetera.
Of course, what happened with the killing of late Mr. Hariri is something that was, of course, for a regret for us. I don’t know what this will lead to, but we had begun our relations at the time of Mr. Hariri. And we continue to pursue relations with Lebanon.
And again, I visited Lebanon and they visit us. And the emissaries also visit each other. So the activities are ongoing.
Same thing with Jordan.
With Israel — our relations with Israel is also very active. Political, economic, commercial, military — all of those relations are ongoing. And this year, for example, ministers have visited from both countries. I visited Israel. I also visited Palestine in the same visit. And through all these visits, I think we have been able to establish some sort of a cooperative atmosphere. And this brings us closer to a peace in the Middle East in my opinion.
And we are determined to carry on with these activities. And we continue to engage with these countries.
Of course, the U.S. has an important role to play in the Middle East. And with regards to the initiative for a broader Middle East and North Africa, we support that initiative for the reasons I cited before. And this why we’re a part of it. And we are now working in it.
SPERO: I’m going to have one more question before I — (inaudible). — (inaudible) — going to ask you about Europe and the discussions — (inaudible) — between Turkey and the EU. There’s been a rejection of the European constitution — (inaudible) — whether you feel that they would be ready to engage — (inaudible).
ERDOGAN: Of course, the referendum vote in France and in the Netherlands had nothing to do with Turkey. As you know, those are referendums for the vote on the European constitution.
The discussion was how much that constitution was convincing to the people — you know, for the people in the EU. And it was the people voted on the constitution, as you said. There is a negative picture which emerged. But some circles have tried to establish a link between this vote — the referendum — and Turkey’s accession to the EU. But there is no such link.
And let me say the following. Turkey is at this point in time, today, in a process which began in 1963. We turned to the European Union, and the question we asked them is if you were to be on favorable to Turkey, why did you then start relations in 1963? Why did you establish a customs union? Why did you accept Turkey as a candidate member in the Helsinki Summit in 1999? Why in the year 2002 in the Copenhagen Summit did the European Union countries determine some criteria and said if Turkey fulfill those criteria, the negotiations for membership would begin without delay. Why would the European Union do that if they were not going to carry on with the process?
And Turkey also worked hard — did what she had to do. And even today, after Turkey has fulfilled her obligations, there’s still discussion of whether or not Turkey could begin accession talks on the 3rd of October. Bringing in some unrelated issues here is I think very wrong, and it does not fall in line with the principles of international diplomacy. If we are going to try and find such — play such tricks in international diplomacy, we would lose confidence amongst each other. And that would be very bad, very concerning for all of us.
For example, — (inaudible) — Cypriot, this — what is being said to us now is, I think, very wrong because we have put everything on the table with regard to Cyprus. And I think it was wrong from the start to take the Greek Cypriots as the member of the EU because they did not fulfill the Copenhagen political criteria. So why were they taken as a member of the EU on the 1st day of May last year? Because the Greek Cypriots refused the Annan plan. So, in effect, they issued peace on the whole of the island. By rejecting the island plan, the Greek Cypriots also refused a international political reality.
The European — our friends at the European Union at the time said to us that if the Turkish Cypriots said yes to the Annan plan, they would do all we can to help the Turkish Cypriots. And we really worked very hard, despite all the difficulties we’ve had. This is — (inaudible) — internally speaking in that vote.
But at the end, 65 of 66 Cypriots said yes to the plan, and the politicians in the Greek side — in the Greek Cypriot administration worked for the people to say no. And they said no, and the EU rewarded the Greek Cypriots by making them a member on the 1st of May.
Now the consequences of that will have to be paid by the European Union. Turkey cannot that consequence because it’s over now. We have done all we can on that point. We have worked what — done what you have asked us to do. And we will start with accession talks on the 3rd of October. And we will move forward in taking our place in the European Union.
SPERO: Thank you. Thank you. Let me open the floor. We ask that you wait for the microphone. State your name — (inaudible) —. — (inaudible) — brief.
QUESTIONER: Mr. Prime Minister, my name is Richard Rotoland (ph). I’m a journalist. You said recently that the dealing with the Kurdish question in Turkey requires more democracy and more human rights. What did — (inaudible) — have in mind?
ERDOGAN: There may have been certain lapses of communication from Turkey all the way here.
I have not — we have not pronounced the Kurdish issue recently. For example, in 1994, 95, 96, 97 I was the — then the mayor of Istanbul. And at that time, in various platforms, I was making mention of the Kurdish issue.
And when we established our party, in our party program we had a section, which was called the southeast and eastern problem. You might call this the east problem, the southeast problem or the Kurdish problem. You can call it any one of these names.
But we said in the program that it was a fact that such a problem existed. And we spoke of the content and the kind of solutions that we foresaw.
Now in Turkey, we do not have an approach of democratic rights — of granting democratic rights just to one sub-identity or one region. Our objective is to throw out democracy and human rights to all of the people in Turkey — living in Turkey.
In fact, this is what the Copenhagen criteria foresees as well. And this is what we’ve done. We’ve carried out constitutional amendments. . And we’ve made legal changes. These changes were not changes made just for the people of Kurdish decent in Turkey. Those were changes — amendments made — for all of the people living in Turkey.
We improved some of the rights, which were lacking. And this was all done within framework of the Copenhagen political criteria. And everybody is living through this — (inaudible). And this process will continue.
And the executive branch — it is under our guarantee to continue with this development. But, as you know, we also have the legislative, executive and the judiciary because we have a separation of powers — forces.
If there is, of course, an issue which falls contrary to the judicial system, that it will be taken up anyway.
SPERO: We have a question here and to the back.
QUESTIONER: Prime Minister, coming back to your remark that you make — sorry.
Reese Campbell (ph) — (inaudible).
Coming back to a remark that you so wisely made in your presentation about the importance of access to technology in Islam in the 21st century. Your country has been extremely successful in straddling modernism with the tradition of civilization of Islam. There’s no question — (inaudible) — issue — (inaudible) — 21st century going forward — (inaudible) — important challenge for the world and for Islamic civilization. (Inaudible) — obviously Islam will have to find its own way. (Inaudible) — he presented to others to follow — (inaudible) — to the West — (inaudible). (Inaudible) — challenge — (inaudible).
ERDOGAN: Thank you very much for the questions, specifically for the second part of it as well.
At the moment with my friend, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero, we have undertaken initiatives under the auspices of the U.N. — U.N. secretary general — the alliance of civilization. In fact, the alliance of civilization aimed at exactly what you’re pointing at.
What the alliance of civilizations looks to see where we have shortcomings so that we can put a picture, if you will, of the situation. And I think if we can do that, we will also have taken an important step towards the — (inaudible) — cooperation between civilizations. And that is when terrorism will suffer the biggest blow.
As you know, there are those who are looking for a conflict — or clash of civilizations. Some people have the expectation that there will be a clash of civilizations and a clash of — between religions.
And for that not to happen, we have to first establish this alliance.
As Turkey, we are not engaged in a position to become an example, if you will, of — to everybody else. Those others may wish to take some of the things that we do as example. But it is not our policy to export, if you will, our example.
But let me also say that Turkey has married the Islamic culture with the democratic culture. And Turkey’s indeed been very successful. Now that doesn’t mean to say that we don’t have shortcomings. We do. We have shortcomings or things that we have to overcome. And we have to achieve better results.
But that requires some time. You cannot do everything overnight. For example, we enacted some law reforms in the parliament. And we worked day and night with the opposition party as well. And the laws were changed — amended.
But that’s a process of, say, a week or to 10 days. What really lies behind that is a change of mentality, which doesn’t happen in a week to 10 days. So that we need to overcome some of our habits and other things.
But if we keep working on this — and if we keep working on it in a positive way, I think we can achieve such a change of mentality.
For example, if you look back tens of hundreds of years ago, you would see that many societies have evolved over time. And they’ve left behind many habits and traditions that they’ve changed. The same thing happens every day to all of us. And the world is changing, so inevitably, with a changing world, all countries will have to go through this process of transformation. All we need to do — or at least the basic minimum that we need to take is to be in solidarity with one another so that we can achieve some sort of a solution.
SPERO: Question here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Jenneth Benshaw (ph) — (inaudible) — Enquirer.
Thank you very much for your remarks today. — (inaudible) — and I admire Turkey for having married the Islamic culture — (inaudible).
If you could tell us how many women there are in the parliament in Turkey and what increases or efforts are being made to increase the number women — (inaudible) — the government? And also how many of your ministers are women? Thank you.
ERDOGAN: Well, it — (inaudible) — our weakest spot.
We have 27 members of parliament — women parliamentarians. That’s about 4 percent — approximately 4 percent. We have one lady minister in the cabinet. But I can tell you that in our party — in political party — we have — let me say it subtle by saying this. We were only 16 months old when we came to power. And so that was rather quick. There are in Turkey various parts where women are not interested in politics at all.
We have today 81 provinces. And our party, for example, has its women branch in all 81 of the provinces. And one of the reasons why we’re trying to keep those women’s branches active is because the women who are not part of the parliament or the headquarters can at least work in the provinces.
Some of them come to work in the center — the headquarters. But in all the, for example, big cities, we have women who are in the decision-making processes. And at the moment, our party has more women in its political cadre than any political party in Turkey. I can say this proudly.
And I think that in the coming elections, we’ll have more women in our party — more women in our party will be represented in the parliament because we have more time to prepare for the next elections. And we are succeeding well, I think. We have some women who are very good, and they are already a part of some of the parts of our party organizations. They were part of the youth branches in the past, et cetera. And they are also in close cooperation with the European countries. Also with the Far East, for example, they have contacts with political parties in the Far East.
These are kinds of things that add more to their self-confidence. In the national election and the local election that will be coming up soon, I think there will be more women who will participate in the process. I think the lack of enough women in parliament in what was our first election will be remedied in this way.
SPERO: That’s not a bad note to end on for women — (inaudible). So I just want to — (inaudible). Our time is unfortunately — (inaudible).
Return to the Council on Foreign Relations — (inaudible).
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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