Unofficial Transcript of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Sppech at the SETA
Dear Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to extend to you my most heartfelt greetings, and especially emphasize my joy to gather with you at the grand opening of the Washington Branch of The Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research.
There has been an increase in the creation of think tanks in Turkey in recent years. They have published many important reports and organized events. They have produced many compelling studies in areas ranging from economy to foreign policy, from environmental issues to human rights. Frankly, I perceive of these accomplishments as truly promising developments for the enrichment and spread of democratic thinking. As the current government, we always value the opinions of non-governmental organizations. I occasionally convene with them and receive briefings. I would like to mention that, every time they brief us, I find strength in the outlook of a different future. We have and we do take into consideration the opinion, criticism, and input of non-governmental organizations in all our work. I would like to congratulate SETA Foundation, which has shed light over Turkey’s problems and claimed itself a special place for itself thanks to the reports, research papers, and books they have published. I wish them success in their future work.
I am aware of the fact that my current visit to the US coincides with the anniversary of a tragic event in American history, Pearl Harbor. I would like to take a moment at the beginning of my speech and honor the memory of those who have lost their lives in this bitter event sixty-eight years ago, this day on December 7th, 1941.
Dear participants, I am sure we all know and feel that the current outlook of the world does not present us with a pleasant view. Honestly, I do not intend to make a grim speech filled with pessimism. Shortly before, the Senator surely entertained you. I would like to be like that as well, however, I cannot help but bring to your attention certain realities. For I believe that every problem definitely has a solution. I truly have great hopes for the future. Yes, our world is confronted with many important problems from wars to economic crisis, hunger and poverty to terrorism, energy security to climate change. Today, while we are gathered here, the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen has started. Especially, economic problems with their social consequences are haunting our lives and affecting all of us. It is now distinctly clear that we need a new vision and alternative approaches for the solution of global problems. Now, we are in a position that we need to establish a new order that embraces everyone. One that is just and equitable, that perceives differences as richness, that is based upon trust and has democratic legitimacy. We should feel obligated to build a world that is reflective of human dignity, that does not push anyone away from the table, and one that does not treat anyone as “the other.”
I personally believe that it is possible to transition from a worldview based on risk and threat to a global order that is based on trust and cooperation. We especially need to be aware that, as Eastern and Western, Muslim and Christian, pious and secular, rich and poor, black and white, we are all like the teeth of a comb with humanity as our common denominator. Humanity is the quality we all share and it is our most fundamental and universal value. It is definitely, but definitely, within our grasp to transform the 21st century into a century of peace and tranquility. A political
approach that prioritizes power over humanity, self-interest over values, utility over principle cannot contribute to the solution of problems neither at the national level nor at the global level.
We now need to acknowledge this: It is not possible to solve our problems in the 21st century with brute force and military methods. We need to combat terrorism everywhere. We need not only to keep safe our civilians and innocent citizens, but the real art would be to win over the hearts and minds. Can a force that has not conquered the hearts be legitimate and constructive? Can it assume the role of a civilization-building actor? As Turkey, we have been in the pursuit of positioning our foreign policy within a framework that is focused on peace and humanity and we are resolutely pursuing this journey. Today, Turkey is implementing with success a political outlook that is just, equitable, and all-embracing. Thanks to this policy, which we call “the zero-problems-with-neighbors policy,” Turkey has set its problems with its neighbors on the path of resolution, and has brought its relations to a very good place. We cannot remain oblivious and careless about the developments in our region and our world. Just as we want peace and stability within Turkey and we spend our energy to that end, we endeavor to do the same for our region. For it cannot be imagined that Turkey alone would enjoy peace and tranquility in an environment filled with problems, conflicts, and chaos. On the other hand, the problems in our region are, at the same time, problems that concern everyone with global implications. Because of this, the constructive and peaceful policy we have pursued in our region has served not only regional but also global peace.
From this point of view, we have made efforts to establish good relations with everyone in a vast and dynamic geography stretching from Europe and the Balkans to the Caucasus and the Middle East. We have applied to foreign policy the same multi-dimensional political approach, which we have implemented domestically. We have been striving to improve mutual communication and cooperation with all the
countries in the region and in the world. Look, it has now become impossible in today’s world to solve problems by focusing on one problem area, be it a domestic issue or a foreign policy issue. Now, no one, including us, has the luxury to say, “Let me first solve the economic problems and let democratization come afterwards.” The approach that says, “Let us solve the problems domestically and then we can focus on foreign policy” also no longer works in today’s world. We are obliged to give equal weight to every problem area, approach it with the same intensity, and solve each one of them simultaneously. We do not have the luxury of establishing preferences; you have to confront them at the same time.
We are convinced that foreign policy too had to involve such a multi-dimensional approach and, from the first moment on, we have conducted our foreign policy in a flexible and all-embracing manner. It was, so to speak, a turning point for our foreign policy when we started the EU accession talks in 2005. Yet, while spending a lot of energy for the accession negotiations, we did not neglect our relations with the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Far and the Near East; we made great efforts in those areas too. It is a very clear reality that Turkey’s foreign policy has experienced a great and substantial change, however, I very sincerely state the following: the claim that there has been a change of axis, or a change of direction, in our foreign policy is completely unjustified and baseless.
It is not possible to conduct foreign policy in a uni-directional, static, and inflexible manner for a country that has increased its GDP from $230 billion to $742 billion in seven years, its exports rose from $36 billion to $132 billion as of the end of 2008, its foreign direct investment increased from $1 billion at the end of 2002 to $18,5 billion as of the end of 2008. Turkey will naturally be in communication and cooperation with Iran. Our border with Iran is our longest border. Iran is a neighboring country, with which we have had no major problems for centuries. The fact that Turkey is in communication and cooperation with Iran is a unique opportunity to resolve many
problems the Western world has had with Iran. Turkey, in that sense, is an important door for the West as well. Thus, Turkey has addressed the issue of nuclear facilities from the very beginning. The same with Syria. Thanks to Turkey’s constructive contributions, hesitations and pressures over Syria have decreased considerably. On the issue of Syria’s integration into the international community, Turkey has made very meaningful contributions. We have played and effective role in the solution of the Lebanese crisis. We facilitated Israeli-Syrian talks. Turkey assumed a constructive role in the solution of the Georgian crisis. Rather than that of a change of axis in Turkey’s foreign policy, these are clear and conspicuous signs that Turkey can offer global peace a chance for success.
Unfortunately, the recent obstacles placed before Turkey by the EU are ignoring the contributions Turkey presents. We are a country that can speak with both the East and the West, and the North and the South simultaneously. And while speaking to one, we cannot consider the other nonexistent. We speak with all of them and we will speak with all of them. And the EU will become stronger by including Turkey as a member, and therefore will create new opportunities. However, we see that Turkey is being presented with various alternative membership options by European circles where shortsighted, irresponsible, visionless, and horizonless leadership exists. The EU has an acquis communautaire and when this acquis communautaire is put forward, all the principles are put forward. Offering Turkey, after 50 years, something that does not even exist in the acquis communautaire cannot be made intelligible. This cannot be explained with any reason or logic. When we say this, there are those who get uncomfortable. So, why are you getting uncomfortable? If it has a place within the EU’s acquis communautaire, then let us respect that. It does not. The match has started and we are at the 43rd minute of the game, the penalty rule changes. Can there be such a thing? The rule is clear, we have to continue as it is. However, no. Right away, the sovereign power, the ruling power says, “No, I wish it this way and it will happen this way.” And as Turkey, we say, “we have done our homework, we know our affairs.” If you do not want to walk down this road with Turkey, if you are honest and sincere, get out there and declare it. Say, “we do not want to accept Turkey into the EU.” It is as simple as that. For Turkey has not been propped up because of the EU. It has stood on its own feet. What did you say? “The Copenhagen Criteria.” Ok, then. We will name it “The Ankara Political Criteria” and continue our road. What is it? “The Maastrich Economic Criteria.” Then, we will name it “The Istanbul Economic Criteria” and continue our road. Everything is clear, principles are clear; if so, the institutions are clear as well. Turkey has already done its structuring according to this. Turkey has already realized all this. However, take a look at the 12 countries in addition to the 15 European countries that have been admitted into the EU during the enlargement process. When you weigh these countries on a scale, Turkey weighs heavier. When you ask why Turkey is not being accepted despite weighing heavier, there, you will see the political attitude. And think for a second, 50 years is not easy; Turkey has been stalled for 50 years. But despite this, we are patient and we continue our course with patience.
And there is no such thing as change of axis or anything like that. This is exactly a normalization process and Turkey is continuing its course within this process of normalization. And if there is a change of axis, that is a change of axis in the EU. Definitely, this is so. This matter needs to be addressed urgently and seriously. At this point, I see benefit in repeating a point. Shortly beforehand, we have spoken of this. I see benefit in making a statement to those who criticize Turkey’s sensitivity and approach to the Gaza issue, for, I see this as a requirement of our understanding of justice. Today, I see this as one of the most important issues in international relations. Look, let me state this in a very open and clear manner. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is a dangerous situation for both our region and for the whole world. However, I say, “Is it not necessary for those who warn Iran and urge Iran to give up this route to act themselves justly?” Or, “would these calls not be more effective in the public opinion of the world if one were to act justly?” “Would double-standards not cause you to move from a righteous position to an unrighteous position?” So, now, you have nuclear weapons and you are going to go up there and say to another country, “You, do not build nuclear weapons.” You see, this does not carry weight. Now, there is work being done against the spread of nuclear weapons. This is a good development. Now, we say, “let the whole world make a serious effort, and let them rid their countries of these weapons. When they do this, their words will be taken seriously. But, now, you are saying to one country not to do this, but right in geographic proximity, a neighboring country has those weapons. So, of course, an uneasiness surfaces. It says, “Why do those who advise me in this way not say the same thing over there?” The problem resides right here, and the unjustified country assumes the role of the aggrieved nation. Because you have applied a double-standard and making it look like the justified one. Frankly, the same is true for Israel.
Now, I am someone who likes speaking frankly. I do not have a secret agenda, I have to speak openly. We speak openly so that we can get somewhere. But, they say, “do not say it, someone may feel hurt or take offense.” No, let one not be hurt or take offense. A friend can speak bitterly, but speaks the truth. We are friends, because of that, we are going to speak the truth. And, surely, Israel’s security is important but I think that it would be more effective and get better results if it does this within the law, within international law, and with justice. Now, they say, “They are firing rockets at us.” When you ask how many people died, they give you numbers, 3-5 people. Then, bombs, phosphorus bombs are being dropped against those who fired rockets. How many people died? 1,500 deaths including children, 5,000 injured etc. Now, these are not ordinary events. When a whole area gets leveled to the ground, is it not necessary that something be done against this? Here, are we looking at what religion they belong to? Are we looking at whether they are black or white? What age do we live in? We need to leave this type of action in the past. How are we approaching this, as humans? What is our human response to this? We need to consider this. Then, I believe, humanity will achieve peace and tranquility. We have commenced the 21st century in this manner. We have said that this century will be the century of global peace and when establishing the Alliance of Civilizations, we did it with this perspective. And this was the way Turkey’s entry into the Alliance of Civilizations happened. When I spoke with my colleague Mr. Zapatero, we examined this. We said, “Let us do such work that the EU be ‘the address’ of the Alliance of Civilizations, the center of it.” Let us take this step. Let us bring the Islamic World and the Western World closer and let us achieve this. There are things we can do for this purpose. The only country with a Muslim population within NATO is Turkey. The rest is known to everyone.
Now, since that is the case, Turkey has representative power in NATO. The same is the case with the Coalition of Civilizations, which currently includes more than 100 countries and organizations. This is the situation and it is getting stronger day by day. In addition to this, we can make a contribution to world peace with serious solidarity. However, I cannot continue without making the following observation: how can peace come to this world if about 1 trillion dollars are being spent annually in the defense industry? That is the situation. We are not taking into consideration humanity’s education, health, living conditions, and what they eat and drink. Right now, more than a billion people are hungry, destitute, and poor. What are we looking at? That fact is obvious. More armament. How many nuclear weapons do I have? Such calculations are being made. The number of rockets. How are we going to acquire missiles with a longer range? That is what is being done. Then, if you do it, I will do it too. There is the competition. I think these are the issues to be dwelt upon.
And when the children in Gaza were being killed, defenseless women were being killed, when children in parks were dying, I assume that was not something that happened with simple weapons. There, we saw the phosphorus bombs on TV. And, some of the injured came to my country. I saw how they had been burnt from phosphorus bombs when I visited them at the hospital. I am a father, and when I saw
this, it was kind of a determination on the spot. So, what is Gaza? Gaza is an open-air prison. You cannot enter there just like that. No matter what color of passport you may carry, you cannot enter. With red, or green, or a normal passport, you cannot enter. It is by permission only. Where are you going to get the permission? If Israel permits it, you can enter. If it does not, you cannot enter. No matter who you are even if you are a prime minister or a minister. I actually went to Palestine during normal times. They had me waiting for half an hour. Half an hour. However, when someone comes from Israel, we easily take them – the gentlemen – from the VIP section. At least, show the same level of respect that we show. What is it? They say, “your own security of life.” Leave it alone at this point, I trust my own security, believe in it and I go there. Now, we need to secure this mutual trust. As long as we cannot establish this, global peace will be vulnerable to detonation at any moment. And the sight that comes about is unfortunately a continuous tragedy even today. And we see these realities. Right now, there are no steps taken to remediate the problem of the destroyed houses, hospitals, or infrastructure. And we have talked about all of this and deliberated but we were not able to achieve any results. Thus, the UN Secretary General saw all this on the location and he too told us these things. During this time, the school and hospital that belonged to the UN were also bombed.
Dear friends, our most fundamental aim and principle is to defend the rights of everyone who has been subjected to injustice, regardless of their ethnic and religious identity and wherever they may be in the world. Surely, we will be in the pursuit of one thing: we will never allow unlawful organizations and together we have stood against steps aiming at terrorism and will continue to do so. In the same way, look, we played our part in the Israeli-Syrian talks and we were able to take it to 5th round. Our hearts wished that it continued. If they want to start it again now, we, Turkey, are ready for it again. We are never on a certain side and we will never be. We are on the side of the justified and what is just. We clearly declare this.
And yet another important step is especially related to national unity and brotherhood, that is, the democratic opening process. In terms of this process, the fight against terrorism has priority. In addition to this, ethnic groups have problems, minorities have problems, faith-based groups have problems, and there are also economic problems etc. Our priority is to minimize the problem areas. We are striving to realize this. We are taking these steps and those who want to move this process forward are around. Yes, they exist. And during this process, we would like to get the support of all of the non-governmental organizations, academicians, written and visual media on this matter. And the one project of the state, the one purpose is the nation. Continuing this process in this way, our aim is, God-willing, to make Turkey a country that has attained a much more advanced democracy where the rule of law reigns. We are continuing this process as a country that has embraced and internalized democracy, secularism, respect for the rule of law and a social state. I believe Turkey, with these characteristics, represents both a source of inspiration for the region and an opportunity for the Western world.
Turkey has now, in addition to our strategic partnership with the US, launched a model partnership process and with the hard work of our friends from both sides, God-willing, we will continue these relations. I believe there will be an increasing variety and rich relations. To that end, both sides will do their best and, God-willing, we will soon get results. I also believe that it is very important that Turkey’s rising profile both in its region and at the global level be explained and communicated to the American public at every opportunity. And surely, we will share this with all our friends and the American public with the help of our non-governmental organizations. Within this framework, I would like to mention that a great share of responsibility falls on the shoulders of Turkish and Turkish-American non-governmental organizations in the United States. I believe that SETA will serve an important function. I would like to express, once again, my joy on the occasion of the grand opening of the Washington branch of SETA. I would like to congratulate all my friends who have labored in this endeavor. I wish them further success going forward. I greet all of you with love and respect.