TBY talks to Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, on the country’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy, 60 years in NATO, and relations in Africa.
TBY The past year has seen Turkey play a significant role in the region. To what extent is the “zero problems with neighbors” policy still viable?
AHMET DAVUTOĞLU There has been no change in our policy of “zero problems with neighbors.” We still preserve our strong will toward developing relations with our neighbors and aim to focus on prospects for cooperation rather than perceptions of threats and divergences. However, we cannot control the developments that take place in our neighborhood, nor the stances that other countries adopt in the face of challenges. We stand by our values and work toward our mutual interests. The events that take place in our Middle Eastern neighborhood have the potential to produce global repercussions in terms of stability and security. We therefore pursue more proactive policies toward averting crises and steering events in a positive direction whenever possible. It is with this understanding that we have set the “zero problems with neighbors” policy, and have begun making positive contributions to stability, security, and welfare both in our region and beyond. This reflects the orientation of our foreign policy and should not be seen as a time-bound objective. The policy has been successful in creating more positive relations with most of our neighbors and has brought cooperation to the forefront. We established new mechanisms for cooperation, such as the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, and abolished barriers in order to pave the way for further economic cooperation. We also lifted visa requirements in order to ensure more people-to-people contact and create cooperation that forges a common and positive regional identity. In other words, we tried to lift obstacles in order to form more cooperation, interaction, and welfare in our region. Of course, no one expects every problem to be solved overnight; circumstances constantly change. Moreover, relationships are inherently two sided, which indicates that the outcome of efforts toward improving ties and enhancing cooperation depends on the attitudes of many. Our relations with Israel, Syria, and Armenia should be viewed from this perspective. The current difficulties do not arise from Turkey’s lack of determination to resolve problems, but rather from the policies of these countries, which are outside of our control. However, we are determined to work toward zero problems, as we believe that in the long run these efforts will lay the groundwork for solving problems.
What is Turkey’s strategy to use water as a catalyst for cooperation rather than conflict?
One of the main principles of Turkey’s water policy is to utilize its water resources in an optimal manner through cooperation among states. We are working to create the necessary environment of confidence so that we can share the benefits of water with our neighbors. To this end, Turkey has introduced modern irrigation technology and water-efficient cropping techniques as well as water conservation in urban areas. We have also built multi-purpose water infrastructure, including improved storage capacity, which is essential in arid and semi-arid regions.
To what extent do energy imports determine relations with neighboring countries—Iran in particular?
Turkey is geographically located in close proximity to around 72% of the world’s proven gas and around 73% of its oil reserves, in particular those of the Middle East and the Caspian Basin. Constituting a natural energy bridge between the source countries and consumer markets, Turkey meets a major portion of its oil and natural gas supplies directly from its neighbors, mainly Russia, Iraq, and Iran. Safe, secure, sustainable, and affordable energy remains a priority for the country. Therefore, Turkey attaches great importance to source and route diversification. Energy constitutes one of the most important dimensions of our bilateral economic and trade relations with Iran. Being a major regional oil and natural gas supplier, Iran has been an important energy partner for Turkey, based on our mutual commercial interests.
Is there a conflict in fostering relations with Europe and the US as well as the Middle East and China?
Turkey greatly values its alliance with the Euro-Atlantic community. Our membership in NATO and strategic relations with the US and other Western partners in Europe constitute a fundamental pillar of our foreign policy. However, this is in no way an obstacle to enhance our relations with every other country in our region. On the contrary, Turkey’s multi-faceted and multi-dimensional ties with countries in both the East and West complement each other in a mutually reinforcing manner. In other words, our relations with one region or one country are by no means an alternative to others. The fact that Turkey has good relations with Middle Eastern countries makes the country an asset for the EU, a region with which we share common goals and principles. Turkey’s accession process to the EU and active dialogue with the Euro-Atlantic community increases Turkey’s credibility and added value to its neighbors and partners in the East. Increasing the level of economic cooperation with as many countries as possible has become an important priority for the country. This is among the reasons why we have increased our cooperation and engagement over a vast geography, including the emerging powers of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, all of which have become important partners for us.
What role do you envision Turkey playing in Africa?
Turkish-African cooperation has gained momentum in recent years, and Africa today has become a strong component of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey has become a strategic partner for Africa through decisions made at the 10th African Union Summit in January 2008. In the context of our efforts to deepen our relations with the continent, we have opened 19 new embassies in Sub-Saharan Africa since May 2009. This has brought the number of the Turkish embassies on the continent to 31. This figure will reach 34 by the end of 2012. Our businessmen and entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly active in all corners of Africa, and trade volume with the continent grew to $17.1 billion in 2011, $7 billion of which was with sub-Saharan countries.
As Turkey celebrates its 60th year as a member of the NATO Alliance, what do you believe is the significance of its membership in this region?
Turkey’s membership in NATO is an integral part of its global identity. NATO, as a unique forum for Euro-Atlantic security, also provides Turkey with the opportunity to put forward its views and expectations regarding regional and international security issues, as well as have a strong impact on transatlantic initiatives. In this new international system with many political or economic threats and challenges, I believe that NATO has the necessary capabilities to move beyond crisis management to the setting of a new international order, based on cooperative security combined with soft power instruments. Security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and the Middle East are closely linked to each other. Turkey takes the lead in the development of NATO’s relations with countries in the Middle East through partnership mechanisms such as the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI). We will continue to add value to NATO’s outreach in the future. Today, Turkey not only takes part in missions and operations for collective defense and crisis management purposes, but also mobilizes its increasing “soft power,” using its deep historical ties with populations and countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Turkey has taken over the Chairmanship of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) for 2010-2012. What are Turkey’s strategic goals regarding its relations with the nations of Central Asia?
CICA is an Asian organization bringing together strategic countries stretching from Turkey to the Republic of Korea. Therefore, during its chairmanship of CICA, Turkey aims to foster an atmosphere of dialogue in Asia. Turkey believes that the establishment of an environment of trust in Asia constitutes a priority in maintaining peace in the world. With 24 member states, CICA carries the potential to be among the most important international organizations of the future, particularly taking into consideration the recent economic developments in Asia.
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