Turkish President Abdullah Gul has given an interview to globally acclaimed foreign policy magazine Foreign Affairs, Anadolu Agency reported.
Gul responded to questions by the magazine's Jonathan Tepperman on issues such as relations with the United States and Europe, the Syria crisis, relations with Israel as well as the Arab world, Iran's nuclear program, and democracy in Turkey.
Turkey's importance for the US and Europe
Responding to Tepperman who asked how Gul thought Americans and the West were getting Turkey wrong, the Turkish president said that Turkey was a bridge between Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, adding that each of Turkey's neighboring countries had a different government and administrative style.
Turkey, he further said, was a vast majority-Muslim population along with democracy, human rights, and a free-market economy, and that made the country unique in the region
"From a geographic and geopolitical point of view, Turkey belongs to this region, and we have historical relations with all our neighbors. But from a values point of view, we are with the West. If we look at the future, it's almost a mathematical fact that the world's economic and power balance will shift toward Asia. So politics must shift, too. The United States and Europe must start recognizing Turkey and its importance. And Turkey must become more important for them."
"Turkey has a place in all European bodies"
Asked whether Turkey was turning away from the West and if he still saw Turkey's future in Europe, President Gul expressed his objection to the argument, saying that that was an unfair criticism.
"On the one hand Turkey has an ongoing negotiation process for full accession to the European Union. We are forcing our way through each door en route to full membership and Turkey has a role, a place, in all European institutions and bodies. So the fact that we have become more active in our region, dealing with regional matters, should not be interpreted as Turkey's reorientation or distancing itself from Europe. We are constantly adopting EU standards. I consider such remarks shallow and not well grounded, and I wonder if our friends from the EU might be using them as a pretext to escape from their responsibilities regarding Turkey's membership," he said.
In response to another question whether Turkey still wished to join the EU despite the current economic and political crisis in Europe, the president said that the current circumstances for Europe were only temporary: "If you go back through history, no depression is endless. After each such depression in the past, countries and continents have come back even stronger and this goes for Europe as well. The Europeans made huge mistakes, but they will draw lessons from those mistakes and enter a new era. But if Europe wants to prevent long-term stagnation, the Europeans have to come up with a broad strategic vision, and they must not attempt to limit their territory, their borders. Of course, the enlargement process can continue within a different structure. Currently, the existing EU composition is being questioned, so perhaps a new composition might be envisaged. The United Kingdom, for example, is not a member of the monetary union, and it doesn't fall within certain other processes. Now there are talks about different forms of Europe for the future."
Asked if the downing by Turkey in mid-October of a plane suspected of carrying arms from Russia to Syria represented an escalation in tensions, Gul underscored that the problem in Syria was not a bilateral issue between Ankara and Damascus, saying that there was no conflict of interest or settling of accounts between the two countries.
"The problem in Syria is the grave human rights violations being committed by the regime against the people, who have legitimate demands," he said, adding that it made the matter something that related to the whole international community.
"Of course with Turkey being a neighboring country and sharing a land border with Syria of 900 kilometers [about 560 miles], the repercussions for Turkey are different. For instance, we have 150,000 Syrians who have come to Turkey as a result of the problems in Syria. This has led to some security issues and border clashes or clashes on the border between the regime forces and the opposition, which also affect us. From the very onset of the crisis, we have always opted for a controlled and orderly change in Syria. As a result of the escalation of events, we made it clear to everyone that Turkey, in unity with the free world, will support the Syrian people in their demands. But from the very beginning, I have argued that both Russia and Iran should be invited to engage with the transition in Syria to prevent further bloodshed. I believe that Russia in particular should be treated properly", said the president.
Gul recalled that Russia supported the West in Libya, but, he said, the Russians were then excluded from the transition process, suggesting that in Syria, Russia should be engaged, given a guarantee it would be made a part of the process and that its concerns would be taken into account.
Asked about his emphasis that a new Syrian government would have to take a strong position on the Palestinians, the Turkish president said that the Palestinian issue was the most critical pillar used by the Syrian regime to legitimize its existence with its people.
"The new regime in Syria will have to demonstrate links with Palestine to show that Syria is independent, sovereign, and acting in line with the demands of its own people. This will also send a message to countries such as Russia, Iran, and China that the new regime in Syria is not remote-controlled," he said.
Turkey's relations wıth US and NATO as part of Syrian issue
When asked if he was frustrated that the United States and NATO were not doing more to help on Syria, especially on the military side, Gul said Turkish citizens had been killed as a result of artillery fire from Syria and recalled that after the incident on October 3, the the United States and NATO displayed sincere solidarity.
"And within the internal structures of NATO, the necessary technical efforts have already been made with regard to the possible use of chemical or other ballistic weapons. But we are not at war with Syria, so we don't expect anything further from [the West]. On the other hand, if you compare the military power of Turkey and Syria, the results speak for themselves", he said.
International communıty's stance on Syria
When Tepperman asked if Turkey wanted a multilateral operation to end the fighting in the style of Libya or some other more limited measures, such as a no-fly zone, humanitarian corridors, or a buffer zone [in Syria], the president said that Turkey wouldn't consider it right to have an explicit foreign intervention like the one in Libya and he underlined that the international community's attitude toward Syria must go beyond simple rhetoric.
"A year and a half ago, during the outbreak of the crisis, we worked hard for an orderly change, he said. We established contacts, we maintained our relations with the regime to urge it to change. And back then, I remember very well certain friends from the West were not willing to give us any time. So I urge them to act in a more meaningful manner now", Gul said.
When Tepperman further asked if Turkey was working now with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to help arm the Syrian rebels, Gul said, "No! Turkey is a neighboring country, its doors are open to the Syrian people. We are welcoming them, and we are providing them with all necessary humanitarian needs."
When answering a question if he saw any prospect of reconciliation with Israel, Gul said, "First of all, the current situation between Turkey and Israel is the outcome of the Israelis own preferences and the mistakes theyhave made. The entire world knows this. Even the allies of Israel, who cannot express it directly to the Israelis, clearly say it to us. Second, the current situation in Turkish-Israeli relations has not impacted our military options or our armed forces. It's true that wehave procured drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, from them in the past, and some of them still do exist. Others were canceled or not bought. But I want everyone to clearly understand that the Turkish armed forces are in no way relying or dependent on Israel in that sense, or in any other sense. We have no weakness or lowered capability with regard to Syria because of the current level of relations with Israel."
"Israel's embargo on Gaza must be lifted"
With regard to the Gaza blockade, Gul said the issue did not relate only to Turkey, adding, "It is a matter that relates to everyone including the EU, the United Nations and the United States because everyone knows that the embargo must be lifted. But let me here reiterate and underscore that our country, Turkey, and myself personally, as the president of the Republic of Turkey, have been working hard and making every effort to contribute to the peacemaking process between the Israelis and the Arabs. But the Israeli administration has a very shortsighted strategic stance. What we want from the Israelis is to appreciate the friendship displayed by Turkey."
Turkey's stance toward Iranian nuclear program
In response to a question why Turkey did not seem as concerned about the Iranian nuclear program as are other countries in the region and countries in the West, the Turkish president said that Turkey did not want to see any neighboring country possess nuclear weapons. "Turkey will not accept a neighboring country possessing weapons not possessed by Turkey herself. We are not underestimating this matter in any way. But we are more realistic, and what we need is a more comprehensive solution and approach to this problem. What matters here is to guarantee the security of Israel in the region, and once that is guaranteed, then the next step must be to eradicate all such weapons from the region. This can be done only through peace", Gul said.
When Tepperman asked if Gul believed that the key to stopping the Iranian nuclear program was Israeli disarmament, the Turkish president said, "That is the way I see it. Because that route will help them solve the fundamental problems in the Middle East that affect the whole world."
On Turkey's democracy
Over a question if Gul shared the concern of some foreign and Turkish observers that the Turkish government was backsliding on democracy, the president said that was not true at all that democracy in Turkey was backsliding.
"On the contrary Turkey is moving forward, and it has many deep-rooted reforms put in place every day. Of course, there are certain wrong practices, and that's why I have drawn attention to them. I talked about these wrong practices to make sure they would not cast a shadow on the whole reform and democratization process. I mean, you rightfully asked a question about these matters. That's what I mean by a shadow cast on Turkey. It saddens me deeply, so that's why whenever I observe such a wrong practice, I immediately issue a warning", he said.
Turkey's rise in the international arena
In response to a question over an increased international role Turkey, Gul said that what mattered was not to become a world power. "What matters for a country is to have its own standards raised to the highest possible point, enabling the state to provide its citizens with prosperity and happiness. And when I say standards, I mean standards such as democracy and human rights. That is the ultimate objective for Turkey. When you raise your standards, your economy becomes much more powerful and you become a real soft power. Once you accumulate all this know-how and once you succeed in raising and realizing your standards, then you start being followed very carefully by other countries; you become an inspiration for them. And once that happens, what matters is to combine your hard and soft power and translate it into virtuous power for your immediate environment, for your region, and for the whole world", said the president.
What 'virtuous power' means
"A virtuous power is a power that is not ambitious or expansionist in any sense. It is a power where the priority lies with safeguarding the human rights and interests of all human beings in a manner that also entails the provision of aid to those in need without expecting anything in return. That's what I mean by a virtuous power: a power that knows what is wrong and what is right and that is also powerful enough to stand behind what is right", said Gul.
"We are not assuming a role in the Arab world"
Responding to another question whether Turkey was playing a role in the new Arab democracies, Gul reiterated that the country was not assuming any role at all in the Arab world.
"If others take us as an example or are inspired by us, it is their call. Turkey acts in solidarity with them because every nation experiences ups and downs over time," he said, stressing the significance of displaying solidarity with those who are struggling with weakness.
"All countries are equal, and all nations have their dignity, and no one can write a script and assign roles to other countries. You do not prioritize, and you do not patronize. Of course, we are happy with the fact that they take us as an example because we are a Muslim country, a democracy, and an economic success story. They believe that they can achieve the same things as well. As an act of solidarity, we help them and we share with them the reasons behind our success. But we have no intention to act as anyone's big brother", Gul said.