A Conversation With Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu of Türkiye
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu discusses Türkiye’s foreign policy and U.S.-Turkish relations.
BRONNER: So with that, because we’re running a little bit late, we’ll get started. Minister, up to you.
Çavuşoğlu: Thank you. Thank you very much. Let me thank Dr. Haass and CFR for this invitation. Very happy to be here. In my opening remarks, I will briefly explain our reading of today’s global outlook and the Turkish-U.S. relations. Then we can go into more specific issues during the Q&A.
The system established by the peace of Westphalia lasted for more than 150 years. Then the system of Vienna Congress continued for about a century. The Cold War lasted around half a century. The brief relief period just after the Cold War lasted a short while only. And now today’s age is increasingly marked by uncertainty. So we see a pattern here. Systems’ lifespans get shorter, and periods of uncertainty tend to extend. And we face common challenges, such as climate change, conflicts, terrorism, food security, energy security. There is also our competition between those asking for a rules-based and law-based order. In any case, we need a serious reform of international system towards one that would be based on cooperation.
Dear friends, dear guests, as the saying goes, geography is destiny. And many rightly argue that geography is back. A simple look at the map is enough to see how volatile Turkey’s geography is. The Middle East, the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa are all in our vicinity. And Turkey is a leading actor in all these major foreign policy files. Sixty percent of the conflicts are in our surrounding regions. And we are also directly involved in tackling other global challenges, such as migration, energy security I just mentioned, food security, and terrorism. And we need to pursue a proactive foreign policy to minimize the effects of these conflicts to our stability and welfare.
After all, Turkey is a market economy that is integrated to global markets. And any conflict has a direct impact on us. Therefore, our activism on issues like Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Balkans, Central Asia, is not a choice but a strategic necessity for us. And this activism serves conflict resolution purposes in most cases. The U.N.-Turkey brokered Istanbul grain deal or our efforts in the Balkans or Libya are recent examples. Some see this activism as a challenge. Indeed, some EU members see Turkey as a rival in the Balkans, together with Russia and China. This is despite the fact that Turkey has been among the leading promoters of euro-Atlantic integration of the region. There is a clear lack of vision in this approach, I have to say, and prejudices are at play for narrow interests.
In this volatile environment, we are—we also need to walk a fine line in our relations with competing actors. For instance, it is not easy for us to go along with sanctions against our neighbors, unless these are U.N. backed, because we are paying the highest price and we cannot act as a mediator or facilitator if we don’t follow these careful policies. We are aware of our treaty obligations. Turkey is a strong NATO ally, and among the top contributors to the alliance. But we also need to be able to talk with various actors on critical issues. Finally, we constantly adapt ourselves to the changing dynamics in our region. Our normalization process with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Armenia are examples of that. We are realistic and we have to be pragmatic.
Ladies and gentlemen, whatever change occurs in the global scene, it reaffirms the relevance of Turkey-U.S. relations. Turkey is among the key players in most of U.S. foreign policy priority areas. Our relations have never been easy, as you also follow, but they are built on a solid basis. We can achieve a lot if we work together on various files. Yet, as you also follow, differences on three major issues undermine our relations. U.S. support to the PKK/PYG/YPG terrorist organization, Fethullah presence on U.S. soil, and CAATSA sanctions, all these issues are national security matter for us. And as an ally, we expect the U.S. to respect our national security concerns.
And we expect support in fighting terrorism. Using a terror group to fight another terror group is simply unacceptable and very dangerous. We are working together with the Biden administration to resolve differences in a constructive manner. And our president decided in Rome to establish a strategic mechanism. And we had our first ministerial meeting with Secretary Blinken in May. Let me express my condolences for his loss; his father passed away. And my colleagues, my deputy minister was also in D.C. for another round of technical talks a few days ago. And if the U.S. can address these three major issues, I think we can do a lot together in various areas of common interest.
It is natural to have different opinions and disagreements. And our job is to manage these differences. As long as there is a will, we all believe that we will succeed. However, we regret to see the unfair influence of some lobbyists on our relations. With these lobbyists at play, the U.S. follows a double standard approach towards Turkey on some issues. For instance, Greece’s continuous act of hostility in the Aegean Sea. They went as far as radar locking Turkish F-16s during a NATO mission, and while our F-16s were escorting American fighter jets. And a couple of days later, Turkish aircraft were again radar locked by their S-300 missiles in international airspace. Their S-300 missiles, located in island Crete.
And we are all talking about S-400 that we actually purchased from Russia, but they still have and they are using these. And nobody talks about these provocations. We only hear about the Turkish justified responses. And we don’t see equal treatment either. For example, waivers are rightly applied to India’s purchase of S-400 missiles, while Turkey, as a NATO ally, is placed under CAATSA for acquiring the same system. And tons of military equipment is provided to a terror group in Syria, I mean the PKK/YPG/PYD, while we as an ally are subjected to sanctions. And these developments are, of course, closely followed by our public. We only ask for an impartial stance towards an ally that has paid a huge price for euro-Atlantic security for decades.
Dear friends, the world is becoming more chaotic. A couple years back, nobody expected a conventional war in Europe, or a major global pandemic. And we cannot be sure whether other major challenges—which other major challenges may emerge. In these testing times, Turkish-U.S. relations should be handled with strategic thinking and wisdom. And they shouldn’t be overshadowed by narrow interests. I mean, our relations shouldn’t be overshadowed by narrow interests. And we are ready, as Turkey, to do our part. Thank you very much. And now I’m ready to take questions.
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