Al Jazeera TV

28.11.2009
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AL JAZEERA: Mr. President, first of all, I would like to ask you: I saw a lot of your pictures on the screen when I arrived here at the Presidency. You are always on the move, within the country or abroad, travelling all the time. Former presidents were not as active as you. What is your secret mission? What are you trying to achieve?

PRESIDENT GÜL: Welcome! You are a respected television production and broadcasting company in a wide geographical region. We all hold positions in which we may serve our countries, our region and our peoples. But these positions are only temporary. I believe that when a person has the potential, the knowledge and the experience to serve in this way, he/she should strive to do so. All my life, I have loved working hard, as I did in politics and during my term in office at the Foreign Ministry. Now, as President, I am trying to use my experience and knowledge not only for my country and my people, but for all the peoples of the world. Of course, one has to be kept abreast of developments. There are a lot of important events happening all over the world. In our region, too, things happen at a moment's notice. In order to keep up with events, one has be on one's toes. This is perhaps why you see me on the move all the time.

AL JAZEERA: Mr. President, it is indisputable that Turkey has taken great strides forward under your leadership as President and during the AK Party's governance of the country. There must be strategies behind this achievement. Could I hear from you what these strategies are?

PRESIDENT GÜL: It is obvious. We attach great importance to peace and stability. Atatürk said: "Peace at home, peace in the world". If there is no stability or security in a region, you cannot collaborate nor will you be able to develop the welfare of the peoples there. Large countries carry responsibilities in their regions, of course. In Turkey, we are conscious of our responsibilities to our adjacent neighbours and to our other neighbours as well. We are trying to establish relationships with them based on trust and stability. We are also making efforts to protect our region and we are encouraging other countries in the region to do the same. This region belongs to all of us, so we should protect it together.

If we have problems, we should solve them on our own; those outside this region are not able to settle these problems. We know about the region's cultures, its peoples, the fabric of its society and traditions, and we also know the cause of these problems. We are mature nations; so we should sit and discuss these problems, and protect our region, and thus we can bring security and stability to the region through collaboration. Beyond this cooperation will emerge a situation in which everyone wins, and contentment will reign. After all, we have a common history and similar cultures. All this will result in propserity. Even though this is the richest region of all - and God has blessed this region with every richness - unfortunately, lives here are far from prosperous and content. If this be the case, the richer part of the region cannot enjoy it, so the whole region will be vulnerable to instability. What we are doing is establishing relationships of mutual respect with other countries in the region, approaching them as equals. I think Turkey is making greater efforts to encourage others. We are more paying visits to other countries and increasingly, we are putting these issues on the agenda. I believe this has been very beneficial and I am pleased to observe that the whole region is viewing things in the same light as we are. Some may have been suspicious of our efforts at first. They may have wondered: "What on earth are the Turks trying to do?" However, time and our genuine efforts have washed these doubts away because in this modern world, everything and everyone is transparent. Whatever you are hiding will be revealed. So I am very satisfied with these results.

AL JAZEERA: Mr. President, I understand from what you have just said that stability, security and peace are crucial to you and of course to the wealth of the peoples of this region.

PRESIDENT GÜL: That's right.

AL JAZEERA: And you are saying that Turkey is making efforts to bring this about, and although some might have viewed this with suspicion, they will come to realise that Turkey has no ulterior motive. Is Turkey still being viewed suspiciously? Is so, who are they that view her in this way? Are they states, groups or individuals?

PRESIDENT GÜL: In the beginning, there were some, yes. Yet, after 5-6 years had passed, they all saw that Turkey's good will was constructive, including states, groups and whoever. I am underlining once again: both countries and their leaders are transparent; if you are open and honest, this will be understood.

AL JAZEERA: Mr. President, can you say now that Turkey is a disinterested country?

PRESIDENT GÜL: It really is. Let me explain this gladly: Turkey is a country whose friendship is needed and wanted, by which I mean that Turkey is trusted by others. In this respect, it is a disinterested country, of course. It is trying to approach problems fairly. Within the framework of these above mentioned principles, it is following these policies and trying to enforce them.

AL JAZEERA: You claim to be a disinterested country, but you are a NATO member. You have a stance on certain problems such as the Palestinian one. Does this affect your objectivity?

PRESIDENT GÜL: Don't misunderstand this word ‘objectivity'. If you understand it to mean "come what may, whether right or wrong, I will close my eyes to it all", this is completely mistaken. To be objective means not getting involved in others' people's business and staying at an equal distance to all parties regarding the problems in our region. Even so doing, we do assume a moral stance towards developments and to those who do right and those who do wrong. We tell people to their faces when they have done wrong. We openly stand by the one who is right and the downtrodden.

AL JAZEERA: Has this particular approach led to tension with Israel? Prime Minister Netanyahu says: "We don't trust Turkey's mediator role any longer!"

PRESIDENT GÜL: I would like to tell you this. This modern world is not the same world as that of 4 or 5 decades ago. Today's world is quite transparent. Whatever is going on in this modern world can be heard by everyone. Today, you cannot cover up wrongdoings. If a country takes a misguided path or follows a misguided policy, we do not hesitate to tell that country what we think. But what we are saying is all constructive. We are insisting that Israel is pursuing a misguided policy on the Palestinian problem, as with these policies, peace will never be achieved. We are also saying that, as a country with a relationship with Israel, it is actually harming itself by following these policies.

I honestly believe that Israel follows closely what Turkey is saying because Turkey does not say these things blindly but from a principled perspective. If you examine the Goldstone report, you will see that both the report itself and the U.N. are saying the same about this problem in parallel with Turkey. Hence, we are not speaking on this issue emotionally. We are genuine and from time to time, we have shared our arguments with them. Our demand is clear: and that is the establishment of peace in the region. There are other problems there, but the main problem is the Israeli and Palestinian problem. We consider the settlement of this issue to be vital. It is not a problem between only the Palestinians, the Arabs or the Muslims and the Israeli people. It may be considered the source of other problems all over the world. It is a very deep-rooted problem indeed. Turkey has always shown her good will towards solving it. Of course, Turkey is not a party that can be directly involved.

Nevertheless, as a country with a historic relationship not only with Israel and Palestine but also with the Arab countries, it is constructively making efforts. It is a fact that the grief is not confined to Palestine, but is felt throughout the world. Take the events in Gaza. Forty years ago, the repercussions would have been confined there, but in this modern world, it is no longer the case. People in the streets of Cairo, in Riyadh, in Damascus, in Ankara, in Istanbul kept abreast of the events in Gaza. Anyone with a conscience protested against them. When such events occur, they also harm Israel. Therefore peace negotiations should restart. There should be two states living side by side based on the 1967 borders within the U.N. parameters. The longer the solution takes, the worse it will be for Israel; first as it has provoked the negative reaction of the whole world due to its policy, which is not good at all. Like certain other countries, Turkey wanted to contribute to the solution and it has indeed done so. But if Israel doesn't want Turkey to mediate between the two parties, then what can we do? On the other hand, I don't think they can ignore Turkey.

AL JAZEERA: You have mentioned Syria, Mr. President. Of course, there has always been tension coupled with suspicion between Turkey and Syria until recent years; however, your relations are very good at a strategic level. Apart from Turkey, Iraq and even Iran are in the region. Is such a strategic meeting appropriate?

PRESIDENT GÜL: Of course, the same strategy applies in Iraq too. We attach great importance to our relations with Iraq not least because it is our neighbour. Turkey's border with Iran hasn't changed for centuries. Our relationship with Iran is also of great importance to us. Stability and security apply in all these countries. I am not saying that this is significant only for our bordering neighbours. Every single country in the region, whether we share borders with them or not, needs stability and security, including the Gulf countries. Turkey is like a generator that spreads security in its region. Turkey is also seeking constructive ways for solutions to problems in the region. I think we have proved this to the whole world already. It is important that there be good relations not only between Turkey and other countries but also that good relations exist between the countries themselves.

Therefore, It is important that Iraqi-Syrian relations should be very good and that Iran should approach issues in the region positively as is Turkey. [LCB1] We put all these on the agenda and whenever we get together as leaders, we discuss them. Our region has suffered a lot, so if we leaders cannot learn from this experience, we have God to answer to first.

AL JAZEERA: Mr. President, what you are saying is all well and good, but when you look at the matter from a strategic mass point of view, a strategic cooperation between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Jordan has already been brought forward by Bashar Assad. Do you really view this type of gathering as a strategic cooperation? Do you support this?

PRESIDENT GÜL: I am not talking about just these four countries, but about all the countries in the region whether they border Turkey or not. That includes Saudi Arabia or the Gulf countries as well. You cannot build a bridge on one side only. That is, you need to get together. And no one can say it is too difficult to do. If there is anyone who thinks this is impossible, one needs only to look back at the situation in Europe 60 years ago. One needs to look at the Europe of World War II. The chaos, conflict and bloodshed were much worse in the Europe of that time than the conditions that exist in our region today. Therefore everyone needs to make a positive agenda a priority before doing anything else. We are in close cooperation with the Arab League. We conduct joint forums in which Turkey acts as an observer; we participate in all their meetings. We are in strategic cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Its last Ministerial Meeting was held in Istanbul a while ago. Its Inter-state Ministerial Meeting was held between Iraq and Turkey at the highest level. We are doing the same thing with Syria.

AL JAZEERA: Speaking of Iraq, Mr. President, elections will be held there soon. Do you think these elections will bring peace to Iraq, or do you have worries about this? The reason I am asking is that we are reading in some reports that Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and the US, has a secret role in Iraq and that certain old established groups are being formed there. Can we learn the truth of the matter from you?

PRESIDENT GUL: There is no need for rumours. If one seriously follows what Turkey has been trying to do in Iraq, the truth is obvious. Let me explain this first: our policy in Iraq is based on establishing political and territorial integrity there. This is obviously primarily the business of people of Iraq, but secondarily, it is also the business of its neighbours. Moreover, we are in active contact with all of them - including all these groups and factions - and we stand at an equal distance from each. Now, by looking at our stance, one may see if this rumour is true: we are in contact with all the Arab, Shia and Sunni populations, or in terms of ethnicity, we have relations with Kurdish, Turkish, and Arab populations. They all visit Ankara. We meet with all of them. We exclude none of them. And our recommendation is "Hold on to your country, hold on to your land, and end this pain". Of course, multi-party elections are on the table in Iraq now. It is their call now. Coalitions are established, they walk alone; the people of Iraq should decide these matters on their own. We cannot interfere in this from the outside; it would not be right. We, Iraq's neighbours, underline very frankly the importance we attach to the political and territorial integrity of Iraq. We're doing whatever it takes to encourage this. However, the internal conduct of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq. It is their business.

AL JAZEERA: Certain initiatives and agreements have been made on this matter. Are these done with the Kurds in Iraq, the Kurds in Turkey, or with the PKK?

PRESIDENT GÜL: Well, let me shed light on this. Neither the ethnic origin nor the religion of citizens of the Turkish Republic makes any difference to their status. All are equal in the Republic, all have the same rights and are subject to the same laws. Likewise, of course, the Kurds in Iraq and the administration in the north of Iraq are subject to the constitution in Iraq. These two have nothing to do with each other. What I want to say is: just as Turks can be citizens of the Turkish Republic, they can live in many countries in the Middle East as well. Arabs are not grouped in only one country, either. Arabs live in many different Arab countries as well and they all have their own states. And the Kurds, in this entire region, are the citizens of the countries they reside in. Our relations with the north of Iraq are important in this respect: the terrorist organisation, the PKK, has settled and camped in another country: Iraq. And they are not in Basra or Baghdad, they are unfortunately in Northern Iraq. This is the territory where the Kurdish Regional Government is in power. But there are certain territories that they cannot control; they are unable to do so because of the mountainous regions in the area. Our contacts for this problem are obviously the central government in Iraq and the regional government in Northern Iraq, and our talks with them are concerned with removing the terrorist organisation from Iraqi soil. We are striving in Turkey to raise the overall democratic standards in Turkey.

AL JAZEERA: Certain new agenda items will be put forward when the US forces have withdrawn from Iraq. Do you, before anything else, support the withdrawal or do you have certain concerns? There are rumours that there will be more violence in Iraq. If there is, as a neighbouring country, your national security might - as a matter of course - be affected by this situation. How do you view the issue?

PRESIDENT GÜL: First of all, the normalisation of Iraq will have reached a crucial point with the withdrawal of the occupation forces in Iraq. Furthermore, the US administration has already declared a schedule for this. Also, the sovereignty of Iraq has been handed over to the Iraqi government through security agreements. There should be no step back from this. And why should Americans constantly keep their children, their soldiers, in other countries? That is to say, we have already discussed with the US administration and President Obama the withdrawal of US soldiers from Iraq, and we support it. Iraq also needs to establish its own security forces. And we are all providing our help with this. We are ready to help even more, ranging from all kinds of training to all kinds of cooperation and armament in defence industry. Because a strong national Iraqi army is a must. Of course, we can provide all sorts of help, we already are, and we can do much more. Everything can be done, primarily in training.

AL JAZEERA: There is a natural tension between the West and Iran. And certain people speak of possible attacks. In the past, it was suggested that the US forces should strike Iran. Are you worried about this? What would your reaction be in such circumstances? Besides this, would you support it as a NATO member?

PRESIDENT GÜL: I am worried about this. Nuclear matters are no joke. Do not forget that Saddam Hussein made mistakes. Yes, he did this: although he did not have any nuclear weapons, he pretended he did. I mean, did the Western countries know that he did this to appear bigger and stronger than he really was? Of course, they knew the truth. But he gave them an opportunity and they took it. It is clear, then, that nuclear matters are no joke in today's world. Of course, it is every country's right to have nuclear power. It is Iran's right as well, with peaceful aims or energy-related aims. But if weapons of mass destruction are in question, this of course would be highly dangerous. We in Turkey have repeated over and over again that we want all our region, the whole of the Middle East, to be clear of nuclear weapons. I delivered a very emphatic speech about this to the Bahrain Parliament. We believe it is crucially important to resolve these matters through diplomatic means. I mean, there are such accusations about Iran as well. That is, some countries, as you also know, have certain doubts.
We believe that it is right to solve these issues through diplomacy, through talks, and through politics. War is not the solution. A war begins, yes, but what direction does it take, what happens next, who is harmed by it? These are matters which are too far-reaching to be calculated with any accuracy. We are in close cooperation with Iran as it is our neighbour and our friend. Likewise, as a permanent member of the UN, when appropriate, we are using our facilitating and constructive role in all these negotiations between the 5 + 1 and Germany. And we will continue to do so.

AL JAZEERA: As far as I gather from your responses, you do not wish to provoke any military tension; you do not wish to see it in this region. In such a case, though, what would your reaction, your stance, be? Which side would you take?
PRESIDENT GUL: To be candid, we would not take part in such a [LCB2] war. I underline again that one must solve these matters through diplomacy. But of course, as these matters are so dangerous, Iran needs to prove itself, leaving no vestige of a doubt in anyone's mind, because Iran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. When you are a member, you receive benefits from it. In return for the benefits, you have to fulfill the condition of being sufficiently transparent. Responsibility rest on everyone in this respect; on both Iran and the 5 + 1 countries.

AL JAZEERA: Mr. President, you have met President Obama. The USA has not been able to achieve success in establishing peace and stability in this region, on this subject [LCB3] so far. Mr. Obama has almost completed his first year in the office. Do you think he is encountering some obstacles?

PRESIDENT GUL: Now, I would like to ask this: why should we expect everything from Mr. Obama? I believe that the President is sincere and has a strong wish to follow his policies. I mean, I have talked about this very extensively. I know it. But it would be a big mistake for us to forget that we are the owners of this region, and for us to expect everything from the USA, from President Obama. I mean, firstly, the countries in the region, the leaders in the region, need to claim ownership by saying "this region is mine". And everyone needs to meet on common ground. All this disunity, this divisiveness needs to be got rid of. Only after that can it be said to the USA: "This is our position, you come too and take your firm position in this business". Frankly speaking, I hold the view that we are a bit late for that, because I believe that many opportunities arose in this area during the first couple of months after Mr. Obama assumed office. I observe that these opportunities are about to be lost, and this is regrettable.

AL JAZEERA: Now we observe that the USA seems content with your policies in this region. It also seems pleased with your initiative towards Syria, your position towards Iraqi Kurds, the Palestinian issue, and even with the tension between Turkey and Israel. Does the USA view your policies from the same perspective as you?

PRESIDENT GUL: I do not know, but as an important country, Turkey is dealing with many issues in the region and so is the USA. They might possibly be glad to see that we have been acting constructively. However, if you are saying that Turkey is negotiating with the USA, getting its instructions from them, and fulfilling these instructions, this means you still don't know Turkey very well. I don't direct these comments to you, so please, don't take this personally. But there may be those who talk like this. There are many people in Turkey who talk like this. In Turkey, there are many who accuse us of getting instructions from the USA even on the slightest matters.

There are many of these people among us. I mean, I view this issue from one step ahead. And I tell you the truth. Let me give you an example: You have mentioned many times the relationship between Turkey and Syria. When Turkish and Syrian relations were developing, the USA was very much against it, as you know, but Turkey pursued its own policy because it believed in it. Today, I am delighted to observe that the USA has reached the point of realising that this policy was correct. I assure you that Turkey is developing her policies based on principles and ethical values. And we believe that isolations, exclusions and so on in this region are all wrong.

AL JAZEERA: My last question, Mr. President. I've just come back from Beirut. I would like to ask you these questions about Lebanon. First of all, Turkey is playing a positive role for things to change for the better in Lebanon. But there was a final surprise. Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah made a very important statement regarding Turkey. He talked very positively: "If Sunni Turkey, as opposed to Shiite Iran, is sincere in its attitude and stance, we are ready to accept the leadership of Turkey." What do you think about this statement? And another matter: You have launched an initiative towards Armenia, in which you have played a major role. Yet you also know that there are those who do not support this rapprochement, and there must be some who reject it altogether - most prominently being the Armenians in Lebanon. What do you think about this situation?

PRESIDENT GUL: Well, Lebanon is also one of the significant sources of problems in the region. I am glad to see that a government has been formed in Lebanon and they have reached a reconciliation amongst themselves. Besides, we also believe that the peace negotiations between Lebanon and Israel are of great importance; we have always emphasised this, because they also have territory under occupation. I was one of the first people to set foot in Lebanon after it had been bombed and razed to the ground in 2006. And I saw all those ruins with my own eyes. First, I want to emphasise that we are by no means in competition with any country in the region. Certainly, we are glad to hear positive things being uttered about Turkey. I mean, of course, we are very pleased. This is an indication of the level of trust placed in us, and it also increases our responsibilities even more. We hope that Lebanon continues determinedly on its path.

Turkey has soldiers in UNIFIL. They have both military and social responsibilities there. All the Lebanese, both Shiite and Sunni, all of them, embrace these soldiers. And we are very glad about this. Besides, our responsibilities in the region are of course all reciprocal, I want to underline this as well.

Armenia is also a neighbour of Turkey. We want to normalise our relations with not only our Muslim neighbours but also with all our neighbours, with everyone in this region, and thus with Armenia; and we also view the establishment of stability in the Caucasus of the utmost importance. In this respect, we consider it important to find solutions to problems in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus and to free Azeri soil from invasion. But all these things can be solved through dialogue. I began the dialogue with Armenia by writing a letter when Mr. Sarkisyan was chosen President. Then came the football matches. He invited me, I attended, and I invited him in return. And I am hoping that in a matter of time, the problems of the entire Caucasus, the issues in both Turkey and Azerbaijan will all be solved. Of course, the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon, in the USA, and in some European countries might think differently. However, they need to understand this as well: the normalisation of the relations between Turkey and Armenia is to the benefit of all. I mean, you cannot serve humanity through hostility or by passing down to the future generations never-ending feelings of hatred.

 

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