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Turkish Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

Presider: Peter G. Peterson, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations
Speaker: Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister, Turkey
January 26, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


Council on Foreign Relations
New York, New York

(NOTE: The prime minister's remarks were delivered in Turkish and translated into English.)

PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN: Mr. Chairperson, distinguished guests, it is a great pleasure for me to address this distinguished audience at this prominent institution recognized for its substantive contributions in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.

I wish on this occasion to share with you, as the political leader of a country prepared to assume a pivotal role in its region as well as in the realm of interest of the transatlantic community, our foreign policy objectives and vision for the 21st century.

One of the most characteristic features of the 21st century in these initial years is the process of transformation that is being experienced at the global, regional, and national levels. The process of change is almost always accompanied by uncertainties and makes it difficult for nations to predict what lies ahead. However, the common interests and shared values that are being cultivated by our alliance with the United States of America over the course of 50 years, along with our mutual resolve to secure peace, prosperity, and freedom in the world, will be our guide to deliver us through this unpredictable period.

Despite all possible adverse developments on a regional as well as global scale, Turkey's principal objective will not be altered. The main objective of Turkish foreign and domestic policy is to provide the Turkish nation with the highest political, economic, and social standards of our age, and to render, as we proceed on our path towards this goal, peace as the norm in international relations. Turkey, with the strength that it derives from historical experience, its human resources, its culture, its administration's common sense, its democratic and secular regime, regards this as an attainable objective, and seeks to join forces with countries that share a similar vision.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, the geography in which Turkey is located is one of great potential. However, it is also a region where the full benefits of this potential cannot be reaped due to the instability and conflicts that prevail. Turkey is therefore compelled to be vigilant in its foreign policy. It must also try to prevent, to the extent possible, the adverse ramifications of instability and conflicts that arise in its region from negatively impacting on its peace, stability, and development.

However, Turkey believes that the notion of geographical determinism—in other words, the concept that geography entirely dictates foreign policy—is somewhat obsolete in this day and age. In this sense, it is not possible to define the world's geopolitics of the 21st century in terms of conventional power politics. One also has to take into consideration such elements as political and social values, interaction between societies, identity, and cultural harmony.

Turkey does not confine itself in this respect in a strict sense to the framework of national interest alone, but rather pursues a proactive foreign policy aimed at contributing to regional and global peace and security, and encourages as well as activates regional cooperation initiatives. From this perspective, Turkish foreign policy aims at formulating a new collective vision for the period that lies ahead on the basis of this trend, that it rose from its past historical experience and the normative transformation required by the age we live in. Turkey's contribution to this process will be facilitated by the approach in our foreign policy that I will now proceed to outline.

Throughout the 20th century, Turkish foreign policy has rationally reconciled the Turkish state tradition and Ottoman diplomatic heritage with the realities of the world. Currently, it is undergoing the process of meeting the requirements of the 21st century. The principles of realism and integration with the West inherent in this heritage continue to maintain their importance in our current foreign policy objectives.

Realism necessitates a rational analysis of the process of globalization and interdependence which are the prevalent themes of our times. We perceive international and regional cooperation as a force which, in addition to its economic benefits, enables countries and their peoples to become better acquainted and to establish relations that serve their common interests, whereby peace is also served. Turkey has, in fact, established a cooperation mechanism with port-linked regions, such as the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. We seek to make these regional initiatives increasingly more effective in the period ahead.

From a realistic point of view, in addition to the opportunities that globalization has to offer, it also harbors a dynamic that can lead to new imbalances and inequalities. It would be misleading to interpret globalization as either a positive or a negative process. What is crucial is to be able to pursue policies from which optimal benefits can be created from globalization for both our own nations and humankind at large.

In this connection, those who benefit the most from globalization will surely be open, democratic, and free societies governed by the rule of law. Regimes, on the other hand, that are closed to the outside world, that do not appreciate the value of the information society, and that perceive globalization as a threat, will be hard-pressed in ensuring the prosperity that their citizens demand and in preserving the peace and security that the international community desires. Through peaceful foreign policy in favor of cooperation and collaboration that it perceives, Turkey helps the countries in its region to feel secure and encourages them to open up to the world at large and to remain within the scope of international law in their actions.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, one of the main points of departure of Turkish foreign policy is its place and membership within the structures of the Western World. This is an expression of the Turkish Republic's historical location and of the nation's quest for contemporary modernization and democratic development. Turkey's candidacy to the European Union is also the end result of this location.

Our advanced integration with Europe, which we regard as an integral system of values through our membership in the European Union, will represent far more than merely a basic partnership. The Muslim identity of the Turkish population has not prevented it from interacting intensely with the West in general, and Europe in particular, or from becoming an effective member of European institutions and organizations. In this context, Turkey has always been a strong advocate of the transatlantic partnership.

The successful conclusion of Turkey's accession process to the European Union will represent the harmonization of a Muslim society with the peoples of Europe on the basis of common, universal, and democratic values. One of the chief benefits of this harmonization is the positive effect that it will have towards the adoption of these values we consider to be universal in nature by the countries that surround Turkey. We continue to voice our opinion that the Islamic world needs to address these problems in a realistic manner and to assume responsibility rather than blame others. In this connection, we also place emphasis on such concepts as democratization, human rights, the rule of law, good governance, accountability, transparency, and gender equality.

In order for the achievements of Turkey in these areas to serve as a source of inspiration for the countries in our periphery, we must demonstrate that the West and Europe are inclusive concepts. We must explain to countries that question the universality of these values that they are indeed the product of harmony and civilizations and the collectivism of all humankind. We welcome the point made on this score by President Bush in his State of the Union Address last week. In this sense, foreign policy in the 21st century, over and above the promotion of national interests, will be one of the avenues for sharing humankind's intellectual development among different societies.

One of the main obstacles for humanity to live together in peace and freedom in the 21st century could emanate from the lack of understanding among societies. We should not permit this to happen. We must allow collectivism to foster in a genuine manner that does not raise mutual suspicions among societies. We must demonstrate our goodwill with our actions. We must not disregard the global benefits that idealism based on rational realism has to offer.

Turkey, located in a difficult geography, perceives our own security as our No. 1 priority, but we also realize that our security will be threatened if our neighbors are not safe and at peace. This is precisely why we believe that our search for security must, above all, be a collective effort. We believe that cooperation and a determined and realistic stance is the most effective way to combat common threats.

This is an equally valid means to combat such global problems as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to address poverty, famine, contagious diseases, and climate change. The fight itself is far more important than the differences in approach that may arise, even among allies, at times in respect to the modalities of foreign policy.

As the problems we face are common to us all, we must elaborate common solutions. In determining the objectives and methods of this fight, we must act on the grounds where the international community is strong, not where it is weak. We must develop the means to make international structures more effective so that the solutions we find to our common problems are lasting.

The United States, as a superpower, has a rare opportunity in that regard. The United States, as a global power, must use this responsibility well to help the developed world be better understood by the developing one. We stand ready to assist in this task in any way that we can.

The close cooperation and solidarity between our two countries that spans a half century constitutes a solid foundation for our future common endeavors. Our collaboration with the United States in pursuit of peace and justice during the Cold War era was effectively continued in the first major conflagration of the post-Cold War era, namely the Gulf War. Despite the heavy economic toll of the sanctions regime it had to foot, Turkey's crucial support for the international coalition continued with Operations Provide Comfort and Northern Watch.

We have coordinated our efforts to peacefully resolve disputes and remove sources of conflict that threaten international peace in a wide geography. We have worked together from Somalia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, and Kosovo to Afghanistan. We have pursued common interests to bring peace and stability to the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. And today we continue our efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq. We seek the same objectives in consolidating the independence of, and promoting democracy and stability in, the Central Asian republics.

We have vested interests in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline venture that will tap the vast oil reserves of the Caspian Basin. The transportation of this energy resource to world markets via Turkey by early 2005 will have important implications for economic development and, consequently, regional stability.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, closing the gap between the developed and developing worlds, in both economic and political terms, will be the greatest guarantee of world peace.

To attain this long-term goal, the first steps to be taken must include a means to a better understanding of and dialogue between different civilizations. For Muslim countries to be better understood in the West, a more objective approach towards Islam should be adopted. It should be clearly seen that those who commit violence in the name of Islam do not represent this faith in any way. The allegation that there is an antagonism between the Islamic world and the West emanates from a misleading reductionism. There are people on both sides that are deceived by this fallacy. Intellectuals, politicians, and public opinion-makers in society must assume responsibility in preventing such misunderstandings.

The United States of America has the greatest resources to overcome this misleading perception on a global scale, with its wealth of knowledge, its prominent universities, and advanced level in social sciences. In this sense, American think tanks also have an important role to play.

We believe that the following can be realized in what we see as a realistic scenario, based on what we view as attainable and what we wish to achieve in terms of what Turkey can accomplish.

In the coming years, Turkey will achieve an exemplary level of success in its efforts to strengthen its economy, pursued with a sustainable development approach. In addition to maintaining the economic relations it enjoys with the West, it will effectively develop its economic potential with its neighbors in close vicinity. The Turkish government will set an example for good governance.

To this end, it will reinforce the notion of a transparent, compassionate, effective, and accountable system of government. It will facilitate, through such means as e-government, the creation of a healthy information society. It will open the gates for government, civil society, and private enterprise, yet at the same time take the necessary measures to protect vulnerable social groups from the ill effects of globalization.

Turkey will most likely become a member of the European Union within a reasonable time. The position that Turkey occupies in the wider sense, at the heart of the Eurasian geography, will assume greater importance on the East-West and North-South axis in line with the common interests of the whole region. With the help of ongoing projects in the field of energy, which is of vital importance for its development strategies, Turkey will not only be able to meet the ever- increasing domestic demands, but will also become a hub in the transportation of the Middle East and Caspian energy resources to international markets. In other words, with the investments made in the energy sector, Turkey will act with a strategic vision that not only prepares for, but shapes the future.

Turkey, being aware of the importance of regional cooperation and interdependence in all fields, will play a central role in the security field as well. To this end, it will contribute to the defense and security policies of the European Union on one hand, and assist the maintenance of transatlantic links on a realistic and sound basis on the other.

As I am nearing the end of my speech, as a stable country with a successful development model, its place within the Western world, its rich historical heritage and identity, Turkey will become a symbol of harmony of cultures and civilizations in the 21st century. Turkey will achieve this not only through its economic and military power, but with its capability to contribute to universal values and to facilitate the interaction of these values among different regions. In this regard, Turkey will be a reliable power for the maintenance of security, a partner for economic development, and an ally in overcoming existing instabilities in its vicinity, primarily in the Middle East. Thus, Turkey will become a source of inspiration for the countries in its region in taking steps which will prevent them from becoming failed states. And of course, as the chairman has already stated, I, as a man of peace, am taking it upon myself to create peace. Thank you. (Applause.)

PETER PETERSON: Thank you, sir.

Mr. Prime Minister, we come to the question and answers now. And let me presume the—(Confers off mike.)

Okay, very good.

Let me exercise the chairman's privilege for one question, sir. As you will learn, in our country, Americans are very focused at this time on the Iraq situation, which you briefly referred to. Originally, as you will recall very, very well, our country reportedly made offers of substantial economic incentive to encourage you to cooperate with our military action in Iraq. Given the attitudes that existed in your country at that time, your country found it not only very difficult, but impossible to accept those offers. Over time, the situation changed, and now we are in the postwar era in Iraq. I would be interested in your recounting the history of the attitudes of the Turkish people and the Turkish government; what they were originally, what they are now, and how this affects U.S.-Iraq relations—U.S.-Turkey relations, excuse me.

ERDOGAN: Thank you. First of all, let me try to very briefly summarize the process. Before my prime ministry, we had our government which had another prime minister, but it was again our party which was in power, and at that point, I would like to divide the two phases—before and after the war.

Before the war, the first phase, there were, both on our side and on the American side, some miscommunications. I believe that was an important issue. And as a result of these miscommunications there were, in Turkish-American relations, certain difficulties before the war. In fact, in the U.S., U.S. Congress has...(inaudible). In the same way as the Congress in the U.S. is independent, in Turkey, too, the Turkish Parliament has its own free will, as in any democratic country. And so we all have to respect that as people who respect democracy.

And in fact, in our country the negative result of the parliamentary measure was an appreciation of the Turkish Parliament, and as a result of the decision of the parliament, it was not, in fact, rejected. It turned out to be negative because of the number of votes. In fact, the yes votes were higher, but we did not have the necessary number of yes votes for the resolution to pass.

Then the U.S. had a request from Turkey. That request was for us to open our air corridor. The deputy prime minister and foreign minister of the moment, Mr. Gul, spoke to the secretary of State, Mr. Powell, next to me, and I was there personally to witness their conversation. And he said that—or he asked, rather, whether the U.S. wanted the air corridors to be opened, was that the only request, or whether the U.S. requested the land and the sea corridors to be opened as well.

What we were told was that it was only necessary to get the overflight rights, the air corridor to be opened. And so we gave the necessary permissions for that, for the overflights, and the overflights started flying. And then the war ended.

When the war ended, let me say a few words on the postwar period. We were always in an effort to keep our relations close. Of course, many things were said in—there were many negative things in the American press about Turkey. There were negative statements in the Turkish press. And all of these statements negatively affected our people. And all of the press statements here in the U.S. are immediately reported in the Turkish press, so the Turkish people were immediately informed of what was going on here in the American press. These were all the things that affect the Turkish people. Unfortunately, there were some very unfortunate characterizations of Turkey in the American press, which played very badly with the Turkish public. And so these were all some of the difficulties in the process.

And we finally came to the last parliamentary vote. Our undersecretary of Foreign Ministry came to the U.S. prior to that vote, and the foreign minister, Mr. Gul, also visited the U.S. And in those visits we were asked to send troops to Iraq. And for that, our government sent a vote, a parliamentary measure, to the Turkish parliament, and we worked to see what we could do to help the democratization of Iraq immediately in the aftermath of the war. And we were looking for ways of making sure that the Iraqi people would be more integrated into the democratic process. And we believed that this measure was very important, and we had a majority of the Turkish parliament vote in favor of this vote.

Now what about the Turkish public opinion? The Turkish public opinion did not have thoughts which were parallel with the vote, the outcome of the vote, in the parliament. But we did what we did despite the public opinion in Turkey, and I always say that.

What happened afterwards? The groups in Iraq had some negative approach. And as a result, the U.S. administration expressed that it would not be appropriate for Turkey for the moment to send troops, and so we ended up not sending any troops.

Now on the humanitarian side, our work is still ongoing. Every day we send about 2,000 shipments of food and fuel and all the other urgent needs. In addition, as of the beginning of January, Turkey also responded positively to the U.S. request for the rotation of its troops, and approximately 60,000 troops are being rotated, and our Incirlik air base is being used for the rotation of these troops. And U.S. troops in Iraq come to Incirlik air base and there, through the base, they rotate and go back or come back home to the U.S. And this process will continue till the beginning of May. These are indications that our relations with the U.S. are moving in a very positive direction, and as I mentioned in my speech, this is one dimension of our strategic partnership, and this process will, hopefully, grow in a positive way. This is the wish of our government. Thank you.

PETERSON: Thank you very much. Thank you, sir, very much. Over here.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for that speech. My name is Roland Paul. Following up on Mr. Peterson's question, what do you think would be the maximum degree of autonomy for the Kurdish community in Iraq that the government of Turkey would find acceptable?

ERDOGAN: As Turkey, we are not in a position to express our will in the formation of the government in Iraq, but we are able to express our views in meetings such as this one and various discussions, et cetera. At the moment in northern Iraq, the demand in northern Iraq is a demand for a federation, as you know. Our basic principle here is the following: Be it an ethnically oriented federation or a sectarian federation, these kinds of federations are not welcomed by us; we do not view them favorably. In democracies, these are not very healthy approaches and they do not serve for the formation of a healthy political structure, and it would put Iraq in an even more difficult position in the future, and it would create a negative development as far as expectations from Iraq are concerned. And our approach as a country is as I have stated.

PETERSON: Yes, there, please, on the aisle. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Bruce Gelb, former director of [the United States Information Agency]. Mr. Prime Minister, you mentioned that there were things in the American media that were said that angered the Turkish people and had an influence on your activity. Could you enlighten us a little on the kind of things that you're referring to?

PETERSON: This is not an easy forum to take questions, Mr. Prime Minister. (Scattered laughter.)

ERDOGAN: Now, unfortunately, there have been some very ugly caricatures about Turkey. I do not wish to further describe what they are. And they are immediately copied and they immediately appear in the Turkish press. And I believe you remember them very well. I don't want to keep talking about them because yesterday was yesterday, and we are here today, and tomorrow is the future. (Applause.)

PETERSON: Mr. Prime Minister, you gave one more good reason why you're such a successful politician! (Laughter.) Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER: George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. I wonder whether you would care to comment on your policy regarding the unification in the island of Cyprus?

ERDOGAN: With regard to Cyprus, the developments thus far have generally been, unfortunately, negative. Our government, from the very beginning, has said that having no solution is no solution. This has been our approach. And at the moment, following the elections of December 14th in Cyprus, a new government has been established, and we are working with this new government, and we have to make good use of the process until the first of May. And we have to look for ways for contributing for a solution as a guaranteeing country, guarantor country, what could Turkey do, and what could the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus do? We are negotiating—discussing that amongst ourselves. And we accept the good offices of the U.N. secretary general [Kofi Annan] and we take as a reference the Annan plan. And we would like to keep this process moving forward.

Here, as we express our goodwill, we also expect the same kind of goodwill from the Greek Cypriots as well as from Greece. If all the parties can succeed this, if we all can succeed in all of this, then I am sure that we can very rapidly solve this problem.

Of course, if we are going to speed up the process, we may have to take up certain narrowed-down topics. If we work on the whole plan and if we start going into each and every detail of the plan, the time won't be enough for us to complete the process. So we have to work on the basic principles, on the constitution, on the map. If we can achieve a speedy agreement on this, then we can do a lot.

What we say here is the following: There may be different formulations. If the Greek Cypriot side takes certain steps, the Northern Cyprus side will always be one step ahead of the Greek Cypriot side in all the efforts that are put forth by the U.N. secretary general. What is important here is for the Greek Cypriots to take the positive steps; the Turkish side will always be a step ahead.

I mentioned this to Mr. Annan [at the World Economic Forum] in Davos as well. Up until today—of course, it's impossible for Mr. Annan to take care of every single detail in the process; this is against the nature of his position. And the people he assigns for this position have to do a good job. But there is a certain wearing off of those people because there have been certain unsuccessful attempts and there [are] difficulties.

Therefore, we're saying that an independent and impartial country should get involved, but the country that has the political weight to help to resolve the issue. So when Mr. Annan isn't able to take care of this negotiation or when he's not able to be there, there has to be somebody else who could take this on, on his behalf, and we believe that such a process, such an approach will speed up the solution of the problem. I don't know if I have been able to express myself.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Prime Minister, my name is Richard (inaudible). I'm a journalist. You say Turkey wants to work for peace in the region. You have good relations with Israel. You now have normal relations with Syria. Will Turkey take a mediating role between Syria and Israel in the name of peace?

ERDOGAN: I see a triangle there, but you might look at this as the Middle East in general. However, if we were to prioritize what we need to do—Syria, Israel, Palestine—in that triangle, if there is an offer for Turkey to get involved, Turkey is ready to mediate. We say that Turkey's ready to mediate in the Middle East, in the triangle. And on this point, the previous [Palestinian] prime minister, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, who visited Turkey two weeks ago, they say that they would be happy to see Turkey as a mediator. They have expressed that.

And of course, for Middle East peace, as I mentioned in my speech, we place a lot of importance to peace in the Middle East because they are our neighbors. Any instability our neighboring countries is a cause for concern for us. So we would like to see our region in peace, and we would be willing to do, with great pleasure, what we could do to achieve that kind of peace. And we also have relations, good relations, with all three countries—Syria, Israel and Palestine. And we hope that our good relations with these countries will help us in any effort we may have for mediation.

PETERSON: Thank you. Yes, the gentleman there, please.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Prime Minister, my name is Khalid Azim. Would you mind commenting on Turkey's policy regarding head scarves in the public sector; and also, if you would, your reaction to France's recent policy in that regard?

ERDOGAN: I do not wish to see this issue dominate the agenda here. Before the 3rd of November elections last year, I said something during the campaign and I will say that again. On the head scarf issue, 98 percent of the Turkish population is Muslim. Turkey as a country, as institutions, the head scarf issue is a common issue for the whole country. What we say to that is the following: We need to solve this problem through a social consensus.

With France, the approach there has different dimensions, and that approach and its place in the EU, the Copenhagen criteria, freedom for association, human rights, freedom of religion, et cetera, when you take all these factors into consideration, it's difficult to explain, at least to me, how that decision could be take in France, because regardless of what faith you have, a person has, we should be able to allow the people to be able to exercise their faith in a free way in any country. I believe that this is an enrichment.

PETERSON: Thank you. From the back, please? Two more questions. Way in the back there. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Sir, speaking about northern Iraq, you said that ethnic federations are not healthy for a democracy. I wonder if this applies in the case of Cyprus? (Scattered laughter.)

ERDOGAN: With regard to Cyprus, our idea is not having an ethnic group separation or a sectarian one. If you look at the Annan plan, and if you look at the population movements in the Annan plan, and if you look at the reorganization of land, we take many factors into consideration. And there, there is no structure based on religion or language. What is expected or wanted in Iraq is a federation based on an ethnic structure or a religious structure. We are saying that that kind of a demand is not right. In Cyprus, there is no such demand. In Cyprus, on the contrary, the ethnically based structures, or the religiously based structures, or language-based structures are to be genuinely preserved, and that is also in the Annan plan.

PETERSON: Thank you. Do we have a question on this side? I'm sorry, I not prejudged here. I don't see any here. Yes, sir? Down here.

QUESTIONER: Welcome to New York, Mr. Prime Minister. My name is Mansoor Ijaz. Your defense minister, last month, made some very strong comments about Iran, citing it as a grave national security threat to Turkey. Do you agree with that assessment, and if so, why?

INTERPRETER: You said which country?


ERDOGAN: Our minister of national defense is here. (Laughter.) He didn't say anything like that.

QUESTIONER: It was reported in the press that way.

(Off-mike comments, followed by laughter, applause.)

TURKISH MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE VECDI GONUL: (In English) This questioning, myself I have to answer. It was—I did not say it was a threat—and I was worrying about the Iranian nuclear development. If that's a threat, if it's a threat, it's a threat for all [the] world, not only for Turkey. But later on, they are, [they] accepted that examination of international commission. So I think we are in a better position. Thank you.

PETERSON: Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much. Perhaps next time you can sing a song for us. (Applause.)







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