A Conversation with Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Thursday, September 27, 2007

(Note:  Prime Minister Erdogan's remarks are through an interpreter.)

RICHARD HOLBROOKE:  Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.  And to the rest of you, let me tell you, you made a wise decision to spend lunch with the prime minister of Turkey today.  I can think of none -- no visitor who is coming to the Council in this over-charged week who is more important to the United States, to the stability of Europe and the Middle East, than our guest today.

There is no country in the world of more strategic importance to the United States at this moment in time than Turkey.  Turkey is to the United States today what Germany was during the Cold War, the frontline state with a very dangerous set of neighbors -- Syria, Iran, Iraq -- and complicated relations, to put it mildly, with -- with its southern neighbors, Greece, Cyprus, Armenia.  And our guest today speaks at a moment of great importance to our country as well as his.  I'm honored to call Prime Minister Erdogan a friend.  I want to tell you briefly, very briefly, about his extraordinary career.

He graduated from Marmara University Faculty of Economics and Commercial Science, became mayor of Istanbul in 1994, went to -- was imprisoned, or given a prison term because he recited a poem in public, and was removed from office.  After four months in prison, he created the AK Party in 2001.  This followed a military intervention, which most of us would say amounted to a military coup, in 1998.  And then in 2002 the AK Party got two-thirds of the seats in the Turkish parliament.  He was banned from becoming a deputy in those elections.  He participated in the next elections, in 2003, and became a deputy representing the province of Siirt. 

He became prime minister in March of 2003, among much controversy in Turkey and in the rest of the world.  I have been visiting him continually since then.  I have seen stunning economic growth in Turkey, its enormous efforts to bridge Europe and the Middle East, its attempts to deal with the incredible complexity of problems Turkey faces, including incipient instability and terrorism on its Iraqi border, with PKK.  And then, as I'm sure you all know, after another period of extreme tension with the Turkish military, he held another election on July 22nd of this year -- I was in Istanbul that day and watched the extraordinary results coming in -- was reelected overwhelmingly, formed the 60th government of Turkey, the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, and was able to get his prime -- or, excuse me, his foreign minister, Mr. Gul, chosen as president of Turkey.  What he says really matters to us and the world. 

Prime Minister, it's a great honor that you have joined the Council on Foreign Relations here today.  We welcome you to the stage.  We will have a -- earphone translation, and then we will take some questions.  Mr. Prime Minister, we welcome you. 


(Exchange off mike regarding headphones.)

INTERPRETER:  The microphone is not working, I think.  The Prime Minister's microphone is not turned on.  I cannot hear him.  (Pause.)  It's still not on.  I am sorry -- I can't hear the -- I cannot hear the prime minister.  Mr. Holbrooke's microphone is on; I can hear him, but I cannot hear the prime minister.

(Pause to correct audio equipment.)

INTERPRETER:  Yes, it's working now.

PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, greetings to you all.  I would like to first of all express how pleased I am to be with you today at the Council on Foreign Relations, which is one of the most prominent think tanks in the United States.  I also wish to thank all of those who took part in organizing this evening. 

The last time I was in the United States, there lay a challenging time ahead of us, and I had encountered many questions in that regard.  And indeed, 2007 was a very active year in terms of domestic politics in Turkey.

The successfully concluded general elections whereby the Turkish people's political will was reflected to the ballot box are now well behind us.  The turnout was 84 percent.  Of course, some of the votes are not represented in the Parliament right now, but I can say that the overall participation was indeed very good -- more than 90 percent. 

But there's another -- there was another important here because, since 1954, no political party has been able to increase its votes a second time while in government.  In 1954, what was called the Democratic Party then in Turkey had increased its votes in consecutive terms and AK Party now, in 2007, is since then the only political party that has managed to increase its votes from the previous election.  This was important for us because there were -- two things there important.  That was confidence and stability.  And our people voted for confidence and stability in this last election.  They were for confidence, they were for stability.  And they expressed their wish to live in a country which is stable and where they can live in peace.

Of course, as a result of the election, the Turkish Grand National Assembly was formed, and the newly formed Parliament elected the 11th president of Turkey.  And immediately after the election of the president, we established the 60th government of Turkey, and that government received a vote of confidence from the Parliament.

The Turkish Republic is a democratic, secular social state governed by the rule of law, and throughout this process this year, Turkey has gone through an important test of democracy and came out stronger than before from these elections.

I'm also happy of another fact, which was that in about five hours after voting ended, we were able to get almost the final results.  So that was important to me, and this is something that I think is very important.  It's something -- it's an exceptional state, perhaps even in the most developed of democracies, we don't always get the results as quickly everywhere.  And we were very happy that we were indeed able to find out the results of the election in such a short time.  And all of us, all the political parties, were informed about the results as a whole.

Turkey is a developing country that looks into the future with great confidence, and it has a greater influence and its constructive contributions are widely solicited.  In that sense, it's a valued regional and international partner. The factors that contribute to this situation are our stable political and ever-growing economy, our balanced and constructive foreign policies that instill confidence, our modern and power military assets and capabilities. 

The solidarity we always seek to display with the international community on the basis of international law and effective multilateralism are compared to the advantages in dealing with new and diverse problems and our determination to establish a belt of peace, harmony and prosperity emanating from our region and expanding to other parts of the world.

It is on this premise that we conduct our foreign policy.  Our policy is based on making friends, not enemies.  That has been the core of our understanding in our foreign policy.

When we first came to government about five years ago, our relations with some of the countries in our region were almost non-existent, whereas now we have changed that situation.  We have friendly relations with most of our neighboring countries.  We have relations in political, economic, social, cultural, commercial, military areas with many of the countries in the region.

So these characteristics of Turkish foreign policy indicate that it is executed in a reliable, constructive, stable and proactive manner.

Distinguished guests, we also highly value our strategic partnership with the United States, which is one of the fundamental bedrocks of our foreign policy.  And I want to underscore this in the strongest and clearest terms.  The deep-rooted history, shared values and common interests in our relations with the United States, which are advancing on a multidimensional basis, constitute the solid foundation of our alliance.

Our solidarity and unity of purpose on many issues of common concern may be expressed in different forms, depending on the circumstances of each given situation.  From time to time, the respective roles we assume to achieve similar objectives may differ, and our specific approaches may have certain nuances in the context of our own realities.

The close cooperation and solidarity which we demonstrate by complementing our respective diverse capabilities reflect the promising future of our relations.  Our alliance offers wide-ranging opportunities, both for Turkey and the United States.  Therefore, we have strong faith in the future of our strategic partnership.

I would like to draw your attention to two major issues which are of utmost importance in terms of Turkish-American relations.  The first one of these relates to the draft resolutions aiming to give legitimacy to Armenian allegations that have been submitted to the U.S. Congress.  Should this draft reach the floor and the Congress of our ally pass a unilateral political judgment of no legal bearing on such a sensitive and controversial issue, which is directly related to my country's national conscience, it will deeply offend Turkey and the Turkish people.

It will also seriously impair Turkish-American relations, with wide-ranging implications in our overall cooperation.  This is a sincere assessment and a necessity of my straightforwardness and directness.

In 2005, Turkey made a historic proposal to Armenia to candidly take up this issue together in good faith.  I was the one who actually made that proposal.  The proposal was to accept the fact that this is a job for the historians and that we should establish a commission that would be made up of historians and legal experts and archaeologists and other experts so that they would look into this matter.

We said that we should open our archives, which we did.  And so far more than or almost up to 1 million documents have been reviewed in our archives.  And we suggested that Armenia and third countries, if they have any information, should open up their archives and work should be carried out in those archives, and the results should be presented to the politicians, and then we would, as politicians, speak based on these documents.

But when we don't have such documents in place, and diasporas in some countries lobby for resolutions in the parliaments of other countries is like an extrajudicial -- it's an extrajudicial execution because there is no factual-based process here.  So this is something that Turkey cannot accept this.  So this was our offer to the Armenians, but we have not yet received a response to this proposal.  And we announced this many times.  We told our friends, but we still do not have a response.

So our proposal sought to establish a joint commission, and so both sides would engage in an open dialogue with a few to shedding light on disputed events and reach a mutual understanding on this painful period of our common history.

When we first established our government, when the Armenian airlines could not fly, we opened the Istanbul airport to them.  We opened the air corridor.  We did not open the land corridor, and there are certain reasons for that.  There are Armenian citizens living in Turkey and we live in peace.  We do not have any problems.

In my political party, there are Armenian citizens of our country and there is no problem with working together and living together.  And most recently we renovated a church in the eastern part of Turkey, in the province of Van, and the money to restore this Armenian Christian church came from the treasury of the government of the state.

So these are all positive messages.  These are the positive messages that we are trying to convey.  But unfortunately, while we try to give those positive messages, we are faced with some other attempts, and some are trying to play games in Turkey or about Turkey.

Here, of course, this draft in the U.S. Congress is important.  And we urge our American friends to assume responsibility in the efforts to prevent this draft, which will inevitably do irreparable harm to our relations.  I know that we have friends here who work on this, and I would like to thank them for the support that they have already shown.  So it would not serve the interests of either one of our countries to let this issue place the future of our relations at stake.

The second issue I would like to bring to your attention relates to terrorism.  Turkey is a country that has suffered immensely from the scourge of terrorism.  We must not only eradicate the manifestations of terrorism, but we must also eliminate its sources.  And no country can do this alone.  We can succeed only if we all work together.

The Pentagon was probably the best-protected place in the world, but terrorism attacked even the Pentagon.  When we look at the developments since 9/11, we have seen how important an issue terrorism has become.  And it is very clear that we have to work together to combat terrorism, to fight against terrorism.

Since 1990, we have unfortunately lost more than 30,000 people in Turkey because of terrorism.  And we continue to fight against terrorism.  And yesterday, two Turkish soldiers fell because of terrorist attacks.  So our fight continues, but one country -- any country alone cannot fight terrorism.  All countries have to cooperate.  It is for that reason that we sent troops to the NATO forces in Afghanistan.  Upon also the urging of our American friends, we tool command of the troops there twice and our troops are there a third time, and we are also doing some reconstruction work in the Wardak region in Afghanistan. 

We are -- we have taken upon ourselves some work with the Provisional Reconstruction Teams to help reconstruct Afghanistan.  The reason why we are trying to work on this is because we know that we have to fight jointly against terrorism.  We also look at it from a humanitarian point of view because terrorism does not recognize any religion, any race, any nationality, any homeland, and one cannot act with the idea that "your terrorist is good my terrorist is bad."  That is not the approach we ought to take.  All terrorists are bad.  All must be condemned and we must fight against all of them, and we must act jointly against them all. 

We have also problems with the separatist terrorist organization and its presence -- ongoing presence in northern Iraq, and the attacks it continues to launch against Turkey from this territory poses an extremely serious threat for us.  No country can tolerate the presence of a terrorist organization just across its borders which threatens its security stability and territorial integrity.  So our expectations are very clear on this point.  The Iraqi authorities and the United States must urgently take concrete measures beyond simply paying lip service to the compact with the PKK.  But unfortunately, so far we have not seen any concrete step.  The bloodshed each day at the expense of innocent lives as a result of this terror intensifies the collective trauma and exhausts the patience of the Turkish public, limiting the political choices of our government.

Distinguished guests, another important topic as it relates to Turkey is another milestone of our foreign policy, which is accession to the European Union.  Accession to the European Union constitutes a fundamental objective of our foreign policy.  We have initiated our accession talks and we are making progress towards this goal.  We have encountered some ups and downs in the process, which are not always directly related to the specific context of the accession talks.  We know that this is a challenging process, but we are determined -- both the 58th, the 59th and also now the 60th government in Turkey are determined for EU membership, and we will continue to -- with this determination. 

I always say and I will say it again -- I don't know what the European Union may decide on Turkey, but we have as Turkey certain principles and where we have determined certain objectives for ourselves.  We fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria and we completed the legislative framework for that.  The implementation phase is ongoing.  It is perhaps -- it's somewhat easier to prepare all the legislative background, but more important and perhaps more difficult is the implementation of that legislation because that requires a change of mentality, where people have to start doing things differently.  And it's not so easy to do that.  So you have to try to break the habits of decades -- of centuries, and it's not always easy to create that change so quickly.  But Turkey is very much engaged in trying to make that change come about and this Turkey is doing in a very participatory manner with the participation of the NGOs, the academics, the media groups, political parties and all. 

But then there are also some interesting developments as well.  For example, in December 2004 during the EU summit that the people in Turkey -- 70 -- by 75 percent -- the Turkish people by 75 percent supported Turkey's membership to the EU.  But when the question was asked whether they thought the European Union would accept Turkey as a member, the response went down to 55 percent.  So that was the situation then.  And as we progress in that path, we see that there are sometimes some political considerations which create or which inflict themselves in some political statements against Turkey's membership, and they also have an impact on Turkish -- on the Turkish public opinion.  And we see now that the pro-EU sentiment in Turkey is now about 55 percent as opposed to the 75 before.  When we asked the question, "Do you think the EU will take Turkey in?" that response -- the result there is 40 percent or sometimes a bit less than that. 

So if you look at the legal process -- our association with the European Union, that dates back to 1963 -- more than 40 years, and there's no other example.  Turkey is the only country with that long a history with the European Union and Turkey has been at it since then.  And in 1996, Turkey achieved a Customs Union with the European Union without being a member, which is also unique because normally speaking, most countries -- or all countries -- actually become members first and then achieve a Customs Union.  Whereas in our case, we are a part of the Customs Union but there are certain hesitations about Turkey's full membership to the EU.  Despite all this, we say that we are determined to carry this process forward. 

So far one chapter of negotiations has been completed.  Three chapters have been opened for negotiation and they have not been closed yet.  And in the upcoming EU summit, we will continue to work to see if we can change the situation there because some of the chapters have been suspended as well, and the reasons behind this mostly come -- are because of Cyprus.  Now, however, I -- we hear some Europeans saying that it was wrong -- it was a wrong decision to take Cyprus as a member.  In the past, these political leaders supported the entry of Cyprus as a member.  But now they say that that wrong decision because this was a hasty political decision to take Cyprus in without allowing for all the conditions to be met because geographically speaking, you look at Cyprus and it doesn't fall in the geography because that was an argument that was brought before Turkey as well -- the geographical argument.  Turkey has land in Europe and is also the gate of Europe to Asia, so the geographical argument failed. 

So how to fit Cyprus -- or southern Cyprus to the EU because it's not in Europe, Asia or Africa -- it's an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, and some of that island -- some part of that island is southern Cyprus.  And there is no peace between the north and the south, whereas peace in an essential factor for membership and there was no peace.  These two parts of the island are divided.  And so what was done was an effort which was -- the Annan plan at the time -- we tried very hard to get that process going. 

Mr. Annan was hesitant because he had tried before, but upon our request, he did get involved and we worked very hard to move the process forward.  And in 2004 -- in April of 2004 -- 24th of April, 2004 a referenda -- or referenda were held in Cyprus.  And the northern part of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the Annan plan by 65 percent; whereas the Greek Cypriots voted against the plan.  But nevertheless, the Turkish Cypriots were punished and the Greek Cypriots were rewarded.  Whereas at the time, EU member states, the EU council and the commission had told us that the most important thing was to get a favorable vote from the Turkish Cypriots in the north for the Annan plan.  But although that was the case, nothing came of the commitments that the Europeans made.  There were commitments -- political and economic commitments -- which so far to date have not been fulfilled.  They still want us to give, but that's not possible -- not anymore.

Turkey is a guarantor country and the Turkish Cypriots, as a party to this problem -- we had nothing else to give.  First, we would expect those who made promises to us to fulfill those promises.  And we would like to be reciprocated by the sincerity -- same sincerity that we display.  This is what we have based our foreign policy on -- honesty and sincerity -- and this is how we would like to continue.  And we believe that that sincerity, that honesty, will at the end of the day prevail. 

Turkey and Europe have many times in the past expressed that the future lies in a full membership and integration.  Why are we in the Alliance of Civilizations?  We are in the Alliance of Civilizations exactly for that reason -- because we would like to see the European Union as the place of an alliance, not a clash of civilizations.  And we are right now working with my distinguished colleague, the Spanish Prime Minister Mr. Zapatero, on the Alliance of Civilizations under the auspices of the former Secretary-General Mr. Annan.  And currently at the U.N. General Assembly, there is work that is ongoing on the Alliance of Civilizations.  Participation has been high.  It has actually increased and we are very happy to see that.  So of course, the Alliance of Civilizations is not only confined to the borders of Europe, it is something that covers the whole of the world and that's the way it has to develop, because this is the biggest remedy in our opinion to terrorism.  And our work in this regard will continue in the future.

Let me also say that we are ready to be always one-step ahead of the European Union, politically speaking.  We are ready to provide, in other words, one-step more than what is required of us.  What we would like to see from Europe is to be treated equally.  We do not want to see an unfair treatment.  Turkey's membership to the European Union will undoubtedly be a project of unprecedented historical significance given its wide-ranging ramifications.  Our accession will not only enhance the strategic leverage and expand the reach of the union, but will also demonstrate in a most striking manner that genuine harmony between cultures and civilizations is indeed possible.

Let me say one more thing about Cyprus.  The president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus most recently made a proposal to Mr. Papadopoulos and he said that he is ready to do everything to resolve this issue by the end of 2008.  And he's been waiting for a response, but Mr. Papadopoulos has responded, saying that this is not possible.  So who is for a solution and who is not?  I think this is quite clear. 

As the guarantor country, Turkey, we would like to see a solution to the problem.  In the same way, we would expect the same from Greece, which is a guarantor country.  We know that the British are also keen on a solution.  So we have to work to achieve a result, a solution, and I think if that happens this will be a very important result for the island, but also for the Mediterranean region as a whole.

Distinguished guests, I want to say a few words about Iraq as well.  Developments there continue to preoccupy us all.  We are, as a neighboring country, directly affected by what is taking place in Iraq and we therefore follow the developments closely.  Turkey wishes to see a territorially intact and nationally unified Iraq regain a dignified place within its region and the international community -- without any further delay.  And all of our efforts are geared towards this objective.  And so we are determined to pursue our constructive efforts and to intensify our cooperation with the central government of Iraq.  And we encourage the countries in the region to take constructive steps in the same direction.

We established the process of neighboring countries of Iraq -- us, Turkey -- and this platform of consultations among neighboring countries of Iraq, the brainchild of Turkey, is going to hold another meeting in Turkey.  This is going to take place at the end of October, beginning of November.  And Turkey in the future too will continue to use its channels of communication with all groups and factions in this friendly neighboring country in a transparent and constructive manner to help assist political dialogue for a national reconciliation.  What we would like to see is to have a successful meeting in Istanbul -- Istanbul summit -- and have a secretariat established so that it becomes a turning point for the future of Iraq. 

Distinguished guests, the fallout of the conflict in the Middle East is also felt beyond -- well beyond the region -- and the hostilities that run in the region and the daily acts of violence provides a fertile breeding ground for radicalism and leads to unpredicted new sources of instability, which could lead to perhaps some unexpected crises.  And therefore, we're all worried about the region.  And the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the question of Palestine, as well as the ongoing humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people, continue to await a long overdue solution. 

Turkey is a country that has traditionally close ties with the countries in the region and good relations with the parties in the Middle East dispute and works to exert every possible effort, despite the odds, to help cultivate conditions conducive to creating a climate of peace and stability.  Turkey is in favor of a just and lasting peace in this troubled geography and we support a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.  And we are ready to assist in any way that we can for the realization of this vision.  And I want to underline our readiness for help, once again. 

We have also indicated our desire to contribute to a prospective international meeting to be convened for achieving peace in the Middle East.  We also have contributions to the political process in Lebanon.  We have significant contributions to UNIFIL there and these are all tangible expressions of the constructive role Turkey can play for stability in the region.  Our endeavors to engage our neighbor Syria in international cooperation, as part of solutions rather than problems of the region, should be interpreted in this same context.  Our understanding here is the following:  Turkey can play a crucial role in keeping the doors open and Turkey can play a very important role in ensuring a greater diplomatic communication and relations.

Within the framework of Iran's nuclear program which has caused problems in the international community and tensions in the international community, this is also a major cause of concern for us because Turkey believes that, of course, all countries are entitled to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  At the same time, however, as a party to all relevant international instruments on nonproliferation, we are strictly opposed to any part of the globe, including our own region, from becoming the stage of a race for the pluralization of weapons of mass destruction.  And therefore, Turkey has acted together with the international community in the process of dealing with Iran's nuclear program.  We also continue to convey the necessary messages to Iran in our bilateral contacts, and we continue to do that.  Our hope is that a diplomatic solution can be found to this issue and we will continue to be at the disposal of all multilateral efforts to this end.

Distinguished guests, whether we like it or not, Turkey's agenda is both a regional and a global one.  Turkey is a responsible and reliable partner, well-placed and equipped to make significant contributions in a troubled region that is of fundamental importance for global stability.  And we are conscious of the many responsibilities this entails for Turkey, and we conduct our foreign policy accordingly.  No doubt, Turkey's efforts alone cannot solve all the issues.  However, if we can act together and elaborate on lasting, global solutions rather than some passing solutions with limited effect, then I think there will be a greater chance that future historians will speak kindly of us.

I would like to conclude my comments, and thank you very much for your attention.  And I would like to thank everyone who is involved in the organization.  Thank you very much.


HOLBROOKE:  Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for an excellent review.  Before I go to the floor for questions, let me follow up briefly on your comments of Iraq.  We appreciate your stated goals.  As you know, the United States is in the midst of a historic debate over the Iraq issue, the greatest debate we've had in foreign policy for over 40 years.  What advice do you want to give to the United States for its policies?  Their view sort of range staying in Iraq with at least as many troops as we have now to immediate withdrawal in Iraq if it's possible.  And in that connection if the United States starts to withdraw, will Turkey let troops withdraw through Turkey?  (Inaudible) -- southern parts -- (inaudible) -- Basra could be extremely dangerous.

ERDOGAN:  Let me first of all say that the political unity and territorial integrity of Iraq is of utmost importance for Turkey.  I mentioned this in my remarks as well.

Another point has to do with the sectarian violence in Iraq and steps that ought to be taken to help overcome this problem.  Those steps have not been taken in the best way possible so far. 

Another point is to have a --

HOLBROOKE:  Prime Minister, could you clarify what you just said about steps on the sectarian side?

ERDOGAN:  As you know, there are different sects in Iraq.  There are the Shi'ites, the Sunnis and there are also, ethnically speaking, Kurds and then the Arabs and the Chaldeans and many others.  And it is important to have an equitable way of ensuring that everyone, all groups can benefit from the resources that the country provides to its people so that the people live in peace, and they feel confident about their future.  So this is a must.  This must be done.

The constitution that exists now is not sufficient to ensure this, because there is the issue of Kirkuk, and Kirkuk must have a special status.  It must belong to all of the Iraqi people, to Iraq as a whole.  But then, one group comes up and says that Kirkuk is ours, or another groups states that it's theirs.  So this kind of an understanding is like a time bomb.  And the constitution must ensure against these kinds of situations.  For example, at the moment, there are steps taken about the oil law, and those steps are not very sound, because it is important to ensure equality in sharing those resources.  Whereas now it's sort of like a first come, first serve; whoever is stronger, whoever has more political power has a better chance of getting better conditions for themselves.  It is sad that this is all under the control of the central government.  But in reality, that is not the case.  There are people who are marketing those rights for oil.  And we have to make sure that there is an equitable distribution here.

Now, with respect to your question about U.S. troops moving out of Iraq, in my opinion, I am not one of the ones who would agree to an immediate withdrawal of all the troops.  I believe that there should be a timing, a timeline for that withdrawal.  The coalition forces should leave Iraq within a timeline which must be announced, because if it is announced, the Iraqi people will feel better, because we know that there are terrorist groups in Iraq, there are also the insurgents and then there are the people of Iraq who live there.  Of course, the people who live there are looking for peace.  They're looking to be able to live there.  And the security forces are trying to do it for them, but the terrorist groups are a cause for concern for them all, because they all want to see those terrorist groups gone.  They are, of course, concerned, because they would always be concerned if those terrorists remained there.  And that's why they do not want to see those terrorists there.

So when the coalition forces announce, if they announce, a timeline, then the Iraqi security forces will take full responsibility.  Because at the moment, they don't have to take full responsibility, because the coalition forces are there already.  And they are there to provide for security, so they probably feel more confident to let some of the coalition forces take care of security issues to a greater extent.  Whereas if there's a timeline and the necessary training and within a strategic program, I think this will also help Iraq.  We have always said that we're ready to provide any sort of training that we can for the security forces, either there or in Turkey, to the police or to the military.  We've always expressed this.  What's important is to, at the end of the day, overcome the problems that our neighbor Iraq faces. 

Now, with respect to your question about American troops going through Turkey, we would look at this positively.  We would, of course, have to assess the situation as to the modalities of how that would have to work. 

First of all, the U.S. is a strategic partner for us, and we would have to look to see how we can help.  But, of course, we would do an evaluation and assessment, and then we would take whatever steps are necessary.  

HOLBROOKE:  Thank you.  A lot of hands out there.  Very little time. 

Bill, you're the tallest.  We'll start with you. 

QUESTIONER:  Bill Drosdack (sp). Mr. --

HOLBROOKE:  Maybe we'll take two questions before you answer, because there's so many up there. 


QUESTIONER:  Mr. Prime Minister, the latest opinion polls show that only 9 percent of the Turkish people have a positive view about the United States.  Is this wave of anti-Americanism in your country entirely related to Iraq?  Are there other causes?  And what do you think needs to be done in order to reverse this trend? 

HOLBROOKE:  Ken Rolph (sp). 

QUESTIONER:  Mr. Prime Minister, on the question of EU accession.  French President Sarkozy has said that he sees no place for Turkey in the future European Union.  What will you do to change his mind to reopen the door?  And what has been the consequence of the position, of him and other European leaders, for your efforts to create a civilian, rights-respecting democracy in Turkey? 

ERDOGAN:  First of all, on the question on the polls, 9 percent only being in -- or feeling friendly towards the Americans, we did not conduct any polls ourselves, but I know that there is a serious amount of anti-American sentiment.  But I would say that this has to do mostly with Iraq.  It's the middle -- the policies in the Middle East.  So this is mainly the reason.  And I mean here, the developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq.  So these are the issues which contribute to that situation.

Another important point, of course, is the separatist terrorist organization, the PKK, and the fact that they can base their -- themselves in Northern Iraq.  And recently, some American weapons were found in possession of PKK terrorists -- small and heavy, all different types.  And this has, of course, created some problem.  And we were, in fact, challenged about this during the election by the opposition parties in Turkey. 

And in the PKK camps, unfortunately, some heavy weapons -- tanks and other weapons, U.S.-made, were found in the PKK camps.  And the terrorists, when they were caught, it was also found out that they had -- they had American weapons.  And the American officials actually accepted the fact that they had those weapons.  Some were said to have been left behind.  It was said that some were smuggled by arms dealers and sold to the terrorists. 

But all of these developments, of course, had a very negative effect on the Turkish people.  And we are -- we have not, to date, seen the stance -- the position that we would like to see from the American side on this point.  And, of course, we've discussing this, we expressed our expectations.  In a very short time I will have a meeting with the president and we've also talk about this.  We've already spoken to the secretary of State, and they told us that they would show the necessary sensitivity.

The other question about the French President Sarkozy and his statements about Turkey not being part of Europe.  I spoke to President Sarkozy twice after his election, and then we had meetings where we had our advisers meet each other.  And most recently here this week I had a meeting with him.  President Sarkozy -- I did not see and -- approach in him about Turkey not being part of Europe.  In fact, he told me the opposite, he said that he supported Turkey's accession. 

Of course I don't know the exact circumstances to the previous statements he made; I did not hear those directly.  I just tell you now what I heard from him myself this week.  And our foreign ministers will continue to work on this, and we have special advisers who are also in contact.  And once they complete their work, I will visit President Sarkozy in Paris and we will then discuss how we will proceed further. 

HOLBROOKE:  That is very encouraging.  I should say that, among a very distinguished Turkish delegation here, we have Ali Babacan, who has been the chief negotiator with the European Union, and is now also the foreign minister and has done a wonderful job under very complicated circumstances. 

Yes, sir. 

QUESTIONER:  Mr. Prime Minister, critics of the AK Party say you're trying to turn back secularism in Turkey, and they cite the example of a president's wife wearing the veil, for instance.  Do you believe you're being subjected to a double standard in the sense that, in The West, many leaders make a show of going to church or being religious, and there are faith-based charities at the core of policies?  Do you feel that a double standard is being applied to the AK Party in Turkey? 

HOLBROOKE:  This will have to be the last question, but it's a nice way to end. (Laughter.)

ERDOGAN:  First of all, thank you.  I didn't realize that you were following things so closely over here in the United States.  Now in the 1982 constitution in Turkey there's a definition of secularism.  That definition is included in our party program.  1982 constitution in Turkey was made by the military, because, as you may know, since the foundation of the republic there has only been one civilian constitution that was prepared, and that was 1924 constitution.  Then the second constitution came in '61, prepared by the military; 1982 was the third constitution, also prepared by the military.  We are now working on the preparation of a civilian constitution. 

Now, first of all, we have no concerns whatsoever with respect to secularism, because the definition that exists in the 1982 constitution for secularism will be almost exactly the same in the draft that we prepare.  And, of course, we are going to talk about this.  We are trying to establish a collective wisdom here.  But unfortunately there are some people who would like to be the bearers of bad news, and of catastrophe.  And, therefore, you'll hear their echo over here.  You don't really get all the -- perhaps all of the aspects of it. 

You've said now, that a politician goes to church.  Nobody asks or questions why he goes to church.  In Turkey, if a politician's wife covers her head as a result of her beliefs, then no one should be disturbed because of the fact that she wishes to cover her head because of her beliefs.  But unfortunately, these are still issues under debate in Turkey.  And most recently there's been a situation -- actually Mr. Holbrooke is implicated in this -- and that has to do about whether Turkey will become Malaysia.

Is that right, Mr. Holbrooke? 

HOLBROOKE:  I apologize again, Prime Minister.  (Laughter.) 

ERDOGAN:  Mr. Holbrooke, you created a lot of disturbance in the country.  (Laughs.)  Of course, people try to put any kind of spin they would like to put on what has been said.  And unfortunately, the ones who write these pieces do not know Malaysia.  I'm not advocating Malaysia.  I'm not, you know, defending Malaysia here.  But I know Malaysia somewhat, and they give, in that comparison between Turkey and Malaysia, such extreme examples, that it feels -- if you look at the pictures in newspapers, it feels -- or you would think that there is no life other than the one depicted in those pictures. 

I don't know if some of you have been to Malaysia, you probably have.  And when I see those pictures in the newspaper, I can't really believe my eyes -- and this has been going on.  Once upon a time it was said that Turkey will become Iran.  And when they realized that Turkey is not Iran, or is not becoming Iran, they are looking for another way to somehow criticize us, and now they have chosen Malaysia.  (Laughter.)  And the ground for that argument is moderate Islam. 

Now we say this very clearly:  you don't have moderate Islam, you have Islam.  You don't have moderate, and not so moderate, but little moderate Islam.  You have Islam and that's all.  People who want to live their religion, do it themselves individually.  And in our religion, you can't force anyone to do -- different things about religion.  Everyone that chooses, makes his or her own choices and nobody should interfere with anyone else.  Everyone should respect each other. 

And our job, as the government, is to ensure that this is in fact, what comes to pass.  And I said very clearly -- I gave very clearly my messages on this when I spoke on election night.  I said then that we are not the government of the people supporting the AK Party only.  I said, from that moment on, we are the government of the 70 million people living in Turkey.  And we are responsible for all those 70 million people -- for protecting them.  Our laws are there, our constitution's in place and we will work according to the laws and the constitution.  But, unfortunately, there are sometimes some people who try to create some issues or a disturbance.  And we, of course, are -- we -- have to act for tolerance, and we have to be patient in working on these issues.  We'll do that in the future as well. 


HOLBROOKE:  Before I thank you, just for the record, Turkey is not Malaysia -- (laughter) -- Turkey is not Iran.  Prime Minister has corrected a politically incorrect remark I made in the Turkish context.

ERDOGAN:  (Inaudible.)

HOLBROOKE:  But the point I did want to make -- and everything you said in your extraordinary presentation supports it, is that you are leading Turkey in a -- in a tremendous way, in directions which I think we all feel wonderful about.  And I phrased it in, perfectly in a Turkish context, but my admiration for you and your government and your colleagues here is -- is of the highest.  And I think everyone here today can see why the United States, and the world, and Turkey are fortunate to have such a visionary leader.  And we thank you so much for your being here today.









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