BBC (Hard Talk)

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President Abdullah Gul’s Interview With BBC(Hard Talk)


BBC : President Abdullah Gül, welcome to Hard Talk.

President Gül: Thank you very much.

BBC : You are here in London to receive a Diplomatic Prize from the Queen, congratulations for that.

President Gül: Thank you, thank you.

BBC : But it strikes me as ironic because at this very time Turkey’s relations with some of its longest, strongest Western Allies are very poor, relations are bad. Why is that?

President Gül: I think the relation is not bad; maybe there are some differences because we are the Alliance. This Alliance, this word is very important, it is explaining everything. And we are alliance since 1952 and we are also a negotiating country with the European Union for the full membership.

The difference is this: The application of the policy sometimes is different. Otherwise all the fundamental principles are binding us and we have the same principles and we have the same stand.

BBC : But, if you have the same principles why is it that on really important challenges facing for example NATO today, and one can think of Iran, for example, why is it that Turkey’s response is so very different from other Member States of NATO?

President Gül: No, I mean as far as NATO is is concerned, we are very keen there because we are one of the main pillar of the NATO, although ….

BBC : Absolutely, but when it comes to Iran, another key pillar of the NATO, the United States has pushed for a long time for much more serious sanctions to be imposed upon the Iranian  regime. And this summer Turkey rejected that, voted against it.

President Gül: Okay. Here again let’s look at the fundamental side.  We are against the weapons of mass destruction.

BBC : You personally believe that the Iranian government is trying to require a nuclear weapon.

President Gül:  I am not sure about this really because, first of all nuclear, nuclear weapon is not going to help Iran or any other country. Nuclear weapon is a weight in fact since you are not going to use this you will be the target. And a country with a nuclear power always feels different. And that might encourage the country to be irresponsible or irrational. So therefore, I have, I always suspect about that and in any case, we are strongly against the weapon of mass destruction in the region.  So that’s very clear. 

BBC : Yes, well, I understand that, so here is the question, if you are very strongly against nuclear weapons in the region why do you not back the UN and the EU sanctions because at the moment Turkey is clearly not supporting the sanctions.

President Gül:  This is a very good question you see, it needs to be understood very well. I think many people they don’t understand. First of all Iran is our neighbor, one should not forget this. We are not talking about a country in the Latin America or very far away from us. If something is going to happen there, that will happen in our neighborhood. That means that the war, so we want this problem to be resolved in a peaceful way, in a diplomatic way.    

BBC :  But isn’t the whole point of sanctions to put peaceful diplomatic pressure on Iran to avoid the need for any sort of military action?

President Gül: Okay, let me ask you another question, now. Do you believe that the sanction will solve the problem? Can you show me any example in the world that this kind of restriction sanctions solved …

BBC :  So is it that when you have said to Steward Levy “I see you as a member of Obama Administration” who came to Turkey a couple of weeks ago and he said that he specifically asked the Turkish government for maximum cooperation in the imposition of the sanctions that have now been imposed to the UN Security Council. Now what would you say to them?

President Gül: No, we are cooperating very well with the United States, very well with the P -5 and we are applying the sanctions put by the UN Security Council…

BBC :  No, with respect Mr. President, but your Prime Minister Mr. Erdogan says that... 

President Gül:  No, no, no, but there is one thing about the sanctions …

BBC : But your Prime Minister Mr. Erdogan said that, he said that he wants to see a massive increase trade between Iran and Turkey. We know that and also…

President Gül:  Why not?

BBC : And also from sectors of Energy to Banking the insurance…

President Gül: Yeah, why not?

BBC : … your companies are still seeking business deals in Tehran and at the same time…

President Gül:  What about the British companies? What about the American companies? Now, we have to be very clear here, we have to be fair also. UN Sanctions, there are binding us, but you know literal sanctions are not binding us. And Iran is our neighbor definitely we want to see good friends there, definitely we want to strengthen our relation with the neighbors. 

BBC : There is a talk about Turkey mediating a meeting in November between the Iranians and the Permanent Five Members of the Security Council plus Germany as well on this nuclear issue. Do you believe that Turkey can, in a sense, help to deliver a solution here?

President Gül:  Yeah, I believe this, that’s why Turkey used its vote in the UN Security Council in order to keep Iran on the table. You know Tehran Agreement that was supported by all the main countries. And now it became the window of opportunity and the meeting is going to take place in Turkey. When I was in New York, when I met with President Ahmedi Nejat he promised me and now they are fulfilling their promise.

BBC : Can the International Committee trust Ahmedi Nejat?

President Gül: I cannot say, you see about…

BBC : It is just an interesting question because we have seen the pictures of you going to Tehran and hosting Mr. Ahmedi Necat. Always there are big smiles and slap each others on the back and it is creating an impression that it is not just relations with Iran but it is also your support for Hamas, some of the other stands you take, or friendship with Syria…     

President Gül: No these are all…

BBC : … which makes people wonder whether Turkey

President Gül: No, no, no…

BBC : … whether Turkey has made a decision to become a leading player in the Muslim World by any sense taking sides in a new way.

President Gül: To all this questions, I am sorry but all this questions are all confusing everything you see. Let’s talk one by one, let’s take Iran first, why Turkey is applying this policy. First of all, we are on the peaceful solution there. There should not be another war in the region.

BBC : Yes, but the bottom line is, the bottom line…

President Gül: No, no, no…

BBC : … all of your partners, all of your alies as you call them in

President Gül: No, no, no, we don’t want to see…come on…

BBC : In NATO, including the United States, the United Kingdom where you are right now, have always said “Of course will do everything possible to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon short of military action.” ,but in the end we cannot take military action off the table. You are saying military action has to be off the table.

President  Gül: No, would you like to go to the war without trying the peaceful solution first? 

BBC : Well they have tried the peaceful solution. They are still trying and now with sanctions.

President Gül: Okay, let’s think there is another war, the war is not a joke and it’s not easy. Look you have fifty thousand people in Afghanistan and you have some causalities there, what’s happening here. If another war take place in our neighborhood, do you thing that will be easy for us? So it’s our right and responsibility to contribute to help to the peaceful solution, it’s what we have been doing, you see. This doesn’t mean that we are tolerating nuclear Iran, no, we made it very clear; we don’t tolerate nuclear weapon of mass destruction in our region and if there is a nuclear power in any neighborhood country in that region  that would be a threat to us before you use it. So, that is a very serious issue but we have to work hard before going to war and apply all the diplomatic efforts you see. That’s what we have been doing now. And Turkey is a chance you see, for the alliance and I am sure that all the leaders here, in America and in other countries, they value this.

BBC : And what about Hamas and what about Turkey’s decisions? And we won’t talk too much about what happened with the Flotila and Israel’s use of military force to stop those boats reaching Gaza, but nevertheless it was a big issue for Turkey and Turkey now says that its relationship with Israel cannot be restored unless Israel provides an official apology which of course the Israelis  have not done. So, America wants to know why Turkey is taking this sort of stand.  

President Gül: Well, the Turkish people also want to know why the Gaza is blocked. Why the UN, P -5 Countries, President Obama or all the leaders, they are saying that this blockage to Gaza is not good. It’s up to Israel, I am very clear here because they have to realize that their act was wrong. Killing people in the international waters and attacking the humanitarian aid convoy in the international waters, this was against the International Law. So, in the past, the countries they used to declare war to each other. In the modern age,  International Law solves the problem. So it’s up to them, you see.

BBC : So you say that all the Turkey’s friends in the West and the European Union should be happy to see Turkey playing such a strong role.

President Gül: Yes, yes of course.

BBC : But they are not happy, are they?

President Gul: You are right; some of them are not happy.

BBC : Why?

President Gul: …not the state wise you see. They are some…

BBC : More than some. Let us look trough at the reality of the European Process that Turkey is in. You have been intimately involved with it from 2002. You have pushed harder than any other Turkish politician to speed up the process of the membership in the European Union. 

President Gül: Yes, yes.

BBC : You must acknowledge with me that that process right now is stalled, It’s not working. And I wonder why?

President Gül: You are right. Because, unfortunately some member countries they have short right policies.

BBC : Which members? Which members?

President Gül: I don’t want to talk about them, okay.

BBC : Well let’s talk about Germany for example. You have just received Angela Merkel in Turkey and she says that…

President Gül: Look…

BBC : … Turkey can never be a full member of the EU.

President Gül: They don’t have strategic approach; they are not focusing on the future of Europe. Twenty, forty, seventy years later what is going to be happen, what we are going to be like they don’t thought this, they don’t think on this. They are very much busy with the conjectural domestic issues, you see. So this is the lack of strategic visions you see. In Europe there are some movements, political movements, they think that Turkey is going to take their share in the same cake. No, Turkey is going to add big things. Turkey is going to make the cake bigger, than will take its share. Turkey is the large…

BBC : Fear, we are talking about fear. You are saying that are so many who are fearful of Turkey and I saw in the recent opinion poll, only 16 % of people in Germany currently favor the idea of Turkey being a full member of the European Union. So my question is how do you overcome that fear? 

President Gül:  Now, we are negotiating what we expect that this negotiating process should be completed successfully. There are some countries; they are going to have referendum on Turkey. We will very much respect the results that time. So there is no hurry here and they should not be afraid, you see. That time, when the time comes they will decide if Turkey is going to be burden on them they might say “no”. We will very much happy that time, you see. Maybe Turkish people will not say “Yes” although we complete the negotiation process successfully but that’s enough, we don’t know like the Norwegian people, they did  you see. That is the negotiation, you see.

BBC : But there is about to be the next month the latest EU Progress Report on how Turkey is doing on matching up to the requirement of the membership, to be a modern, democratic, political system. And frankly the signs are not good, there are particular areas where appears to be waggling badly. One of them is the Free Press, free expression.

President Gül:  No, no, no, no. These are all wrong. You can express everything in Turkey, you can write everything in Turkey, I like or not without advocating violence.

BBC : Well you can’t, you see, I mean you tell that to Ismail Saymaz, who writes for Radikal, a newspaper in your country who faces nine separate legal cases, a total of potentially 79 years in jail for his writings.    

President Gül:  Okay, now again I think there is a need for clarification here. There is no problem for the expression of opinion. One can express, right whatever they think; there is no problem for that. We do not have any differences with any other European Countries. I think that problem you just mentioned, it’s because of the court cases, and they released some secret documents, not because the expression of opinion. No, no, I will come to your …

BBC : Mr. President this is the point. Your Laws at the moment are so carefully written that many forms of journalism that are acceptable in all other parts of Democratic Europe are not possible in Turkey.     

President Gül: No. I will ask you another question. How we start the negotiation with the European Union? The European Commission declared that Turkey fulfilled the Copenhagen Political Criteria that means that the democratic standard sufficiently, okay, should be enough at the free press expression of opinion, expression of ideas. There should be free otherwise you cannot start the negotiation. I mean why I am saying this, why I am so much insisting here I don’t want to be, I don’t want Turkey to be seen that: one cannot express his opinion, one cannot write whatever he or she wants. No.   

BBC : Before we end, I want to bring us back to the beginning of this interview and Turkey’s relationship with Allies, for example, with NATO. The NATO members want to sight some of the installations for the new Missile Shield in Turkey. You have to decide whether you are willing to do that? Are you willing to do that?

President Gül: Well, nothing is automatic; I mean we are going to debate, we are going to talk, the negotiations are going on in this between our experts and we are going to meet in the NATO Summit meeting and I am sure that at the end we will have a good decision all of us.

BBC : You see, Iran says that this Missile Shield is deeply suspicious and would be a threat to their national interests. Will that influence you?

President Gül: No, I mean in this meeting there are some issues. One of them is this and I am sure that we are going to have some decisions there. Because NATO…

BBC : What do you believe Turkey should do? Should Turkey accept the Missile Shield?

President Gül: Not only Turkey. You see, there is Indispensible Defense Policy in NATO, so therefore we are talking all this things as we will take decision all together. I mean, NATO is important for us because we sacrifice a lot there. We have the second largest army in the NATO, and we have been participating in all NATO activities. That is something else, this is not the EU. We are talking about defense, we are talking about military issues and we are taking all those things very serious.

BBC : And Turkey has contributed to the NATO Force in Afghanistan.

President Gül:  We have been contributing there.

BBC : Absolutely. I want you to think about President Obama, because obviously, the United States, hugely and inluentially, NATO and the operations like Afghanistan. Obama in 2009 in Cairo made a hugely important speech when he reached out to the Muslim World and he said he wanted a new beginning and the said that in term of conflicts from the Mid-East or other parts of the Muslim World America would stick with a patient program of trying to build dialogue and make peace. Are you disappointed with what has happened and what Obama has done since?

President Gül:  No, I think he has a good heart; he has been doing good things with sincerity but he may not succeed. I think the Muslim values were what Obama said. But it is not on the Muslims, the others also they have to listen to President Obama you see, he has to convince the others also in order to reach what he had said in the region, for instance peace in the region, you see, not on the one side but on the other side also. The other said should also pay attention what Obama is saying.

BBC : And a final question. You here in London are giving a keynote speech when you receive your Chatham House Price. It’s all about Turkey and Europe and looking ahead to 2025. Will Turkey be in the European Union by 2025?

President Gül: I am not sure about that because at the end some countries they will go to referendum. Maybe Turkish people will not wish to join the EU at that time when we finish the negotiation process. Of course the gravity of the world economically, politically, it is shifting to other sides you see. So I don’t know what people is going to, I mean what they are going to think then but there is one think certain we will push hard to get the full membership and we will do what is necessary from our side, we will do our homework and we will fulfill all the requirements, what needs to be for the full membership. We will do everything from our side but from the EU side I am not sure, I have to be very honest because I see some very artificial unfair obstacles during the negotiation process.

BBC : And you smile about the situation but you are obviously a very frustrated man when it comes to Europe.  

President Gül: No, I am very clear you see here and Turkey is very clear. It is our strategic issue; it’s above the daily politics and all the political parties whatever they think on the other issues  and at the end its good for us and I believe it is good for Europe also. Because a strong Turkey, economically and politically, is good for Europe and for all the European people, so I am optimistic for the future you see, even if the chapters are not open officially we will fulfill all the requirements. So we are very determined on this way.

BBC : President Gül, thank you very much for being on Hardtalk.

President Gül: Thank you, thank you for this opportunity.

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