Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister of Turkey, sat down with Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal for a comprehesive interview in Doha. He revealed his views on Turkey’s latest diplomatic row with Egypt – caused by expelling of Turkish ambassador – and other regional issues.
Q: Why do you believe Egyptian authorities have taken the decision to expel your ambassador now and what impact will it have on bilateral relations, particularly economic ties between the two countries?
A: First of all, let me underline one important issue – Turkey and Egypt are two important regional players and Turkish and Egyptian people are old historic friends. Throughout the centuries we lived together with Egypt and Egyptian and Turkish societies have deep love for each other. Of course, because of the recent dynamic situation in our region, there is certain turbulence in several relations in the region, but our policy vis-a-vis Egypt was clear and it will continue to be so. Our statements against the military coup in Egypt was not because we are supporting one group against another, it was because of our respect to the choice of the Egyptian people because the election in 2012 was the only free and fair election with multi candidates in the history of Egypt and it was the Egyptian people’s choice that President [Mohamed] Morsi was elected as president. If another person was elected, Turkey’s position would have been the same as a democratic country respecting the right of choice of the people everywhere in the world and also in Turkey. Therefore our position was clear, we made several statements, Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan from the first day of the military coup had a clear position. This was not something new that Turkey is criticising the military intervention and coup in Egypt.
Unfortunately, Egyptian government, which was established after the military coup, decided to send our ambassador back to Turkey and we reciprocated in the same way. As I said yesterday in my press conference, this type of crisis is temporary, but Turkish-Egyptian friendship is permanent until the end of history. Turkey will be siding with the Egyptian people and whatever the Egyptian people decide Turkey will respect. Whoever is acting against the will of the Egyptian people, Turkey will be against them. Egypt is the backbone of the Arab world, the backbone of the region, the stability and prosperity of Egypt is very important for us and strategically very important for the region.
Therefore, in spite of all these difficulties we are facing the country, our government always encourages Turkish investors to do more investments in Egypt in the last three years. Many companies, many countries left Egypt, but Turkish companies continue to function there and having tens of thousands of Egyptian brothers and sisters have job opportunities in these investments. Turkey will continue to side with the Egyptian people, will continue to support the legitimacy and democracy in Egypt. This type of crisis is expected when there is an extraordinary situation in a country and when there is military intervention and an interim government. But this crisis will be over – Turkish-Egyptian friendship will prevail.
Q: During last government visit during Morsi’s tenure dozens of bi-lateral deals were signed. What’s the status with those agreements?
A: From our perspective they are still valid and the endorsement process is either completed or will be completed. Our solidarity with the Egyptian people continues. Turkey has a state tradition, we do not approach such a country based on a temporary government, which was established after a military coup. Therefore, we will keep our good relations with the Egyptian people and I am sure Egyptian people understand and support Turkish approach to Egypt as a brotherly, friendly nation.
Q: There has been a lot of support from many countries regarding the deal struck by the United States and Iran. I know you are flying to Tehran on Monday. What is Turkey’s stance with regards to this breakthrough?
A: Firstly, let me express our support to this deal. Two weeks ago, Iranian foreign minister was in Turkey, last Monday I visited Washington and two days ago I was in St Petersburg with Erdogan meeting [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. This Wednesday, William Hague was in Turkey and also I spoke with [French Foreign Minister] Laurent Fabios in detail on several occasions. As Turkey, we have been encouraging this agreement, we are happy and we congratulate [the both sides] for this agreement. As you know from the very beginning of this crisis, Turkey tried to contribute to solve it. In 2010 we even signed a trilateral agreement based on the request of P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France – five permanent members of the UN Security Council – plus Germany) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with Iran and at that time there was no 20 percent enrichment and that agreement was assuring that Iran would not continue to 20 percent if certain things completed. Today such a deal is progress. For us Tehran agreement was a missed opportunity. If it was implemented, I’m sure the situation would have been much better today. But this time we are happy that this opportunity has not been missed and we hope that this first stage of agreement will be implemented fully. Any attempt at easing the tension in our region, any attempt to prevent nuclear weapons in our region and to assure all the powers to have right to peaceful nuclear technology will be supported by Turkey. Therefore, we are happy and if there is anything that we can do to help we will support.
Q: One thing you do not agree on [with Iran] is Syria. The crisis still goes on there, there is word that Lakhdar Ibrahimi will announce a date for the Geneva II conference later tomorrow. Do you think it will make any difference?
A: All these diplomatic meetings in the last 10 days with all the parties in Washington and Russia with British, French colleagues as well as with Iranian friends. And today in Qatar, we had excellent meetings as usual and we shared our views. From here I will go to Bahrain, I will have a chance to meet many other foreign ministers who will be attending Asia cooperation dialogue meeting tomorrow and we are in constant contact with London 11 group countries. We support Geneva II and we hope it will be a successful effort based on the principles of London meeting of the core group of Friends of Syria, where the basic principles were – it should not be an open-ended process, there should be a new transition governing body with full executive power, those who have blood on their hands should not have a role in the future of Syria, and that both sides, the opposition and government, will be represented in two delegations. With all these principles, if Geneva two meets and becomes successful that will be another breakthrough in our region. As Turkey, we will support this initiative, if that initiative goes to a new process led by transitional government, but with full executive power, leading to, at the end of the day, a chance for the Syrian people to decide their own destiny. Tomorrow I will be in Tehran and we will talk with them based on this.
Q: Many people have accused Turkey of facilitating the movement of or even supporting al-Qaeda-linked groups on the border with Syria. What is your response to that accusation? Are you playing a role in financing or supporting them in any way, shape or form?
A: This is a lie and a campaign against Turkey. From the very beginning our position was clear. First we tried to convince the Syrian regime not to suppress their people through bilateral engagement in 2011, in the early 10 months of the crisis. Later, when the regime continued to attack Syrian people by all means – I mean by snipers, artillery tanks, air planes, helicopters, scud missiles and chemical weapons, of course Turkey did not have any other choice except to support the Syrian people – those who came to Turkey as refugees, and also those who are inside Syria who need humanitarian assistance. But Turkey never supported or tolerated any al-Qaeda affiliated group or any terrorist group. This is against our policy regarding our commitment fighting against these types of radical groups.
Why did these groups spread? Because some circles want to create scepticism about the rightful demands of the Syrian people and Turkey and other regional countries’ support, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other support Syrian people. Turkey never accepts this type of an accusation and we never tolerate any activity in Turkey or on the border of Turkey of these radical groups. But there should be a clear and consistent policy against the foreign fighters on the ground – all foreign fighters from all the circles should be out of Syria, we should not be forgetting that there are tens of thousands of foreign fighters supporting the Syrian regime as well, neither al-Qaeda nor these groups should be existing on Syrian soil. Syria belongs to Syrians and only Syrians can decide for their own future. The presence of this type of radical groups does not legitimise the crimes committed by the regime against humanity, including the use of chemical weapons and scud missiles. None of these groups could be acceptable by anyone, but also Syrian regime could not be acceptable by anyone. There should be a new way out where those who have blood on their hand should not have any place in Syria. Only those who are Syrians and who have a clear vision for Syria as a democratic pluralistic country based on rule of law.