U.S. Talks Iraq, Turkey Talks Europe

  • Share
  • Read Later

Egemen Bagis

Although it has long provided the base for Anglo-American missions policing the northern "no-fly" zone over Iraq, the Turkish government has little enthusiasm for a new confrontation — and the recent election victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party has raised concerns in Washington that Turkey may not offer strong support for a U.S. war effort. President Bush will try to change that when he meets the Turkish leader at the White House Tuesday. Erdogan's party has been portrayed as a moderate Islamist group — a characterization the party firmly rejects — and that together with traditional worries about the economic impact of a war and Turkey's concerns to avoid an outcome that creates any Kurdish national entity on its border has been viewed as potential sticking points.

In an interview with TIME's Tony Karon, Erdogan's foreign policy adviser Egemen Bagis says that Turkey will abide by any UN resolution on Iraq. And that Ankara's own priority is winning continued U.S. backing for Turkey's efforts to join the European Union:

TIME: When Chairman Erdogan meets with President Bush, the U.S. will presumably be asking Turkey to allow greater deployments of U.S. personnel on Turkish soil in the event of war with Iraq. What is the outlook of the Justice and Development Party on the question of Iraq?

War on Iraq
TIME.com's ongoing coverage of the U.S.-Iraq conflict

 After Saddam
Who will step in to fill the void?

 Tools of the Hunt
 On Assignment: The War

 Perry: Street Fighting in Karbala
 Robinson: Chaos at a Bridge
 Ware: Last Stand for Saddam

 When the Cheering Stops
Jubilation and chaos greet the fall of Saddam's regime, leaving Iraqis and Americans puzzling over how to rebuild the nation
 The Search for the Smoking Gun
 Counting the Casualties

CNN.com: War in Iraq
Egemen Bagis: We would not want to have a war with Iraq, but we would not want to live with weapons of mass destruction in our backyard, either. We are hoping that Saddam will comply with UN resolutions, and that any weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated. If Iraq does, indeed, have weapons of mass destruction, then their greatest threat would be to the people of Turkey. So, the Justice and Development Party would like to see the results and reports of the UN weapons inspectors. And these have to be discussed at the United Nations. As a member of UN, Turkey will be obligated to comply with any UN decision.

TIME: Has the Bush Administration thus far shown Turkey any evidence that Iraq does possess weapons of mass destruction that might threaten your country?

EB: Not to my knowledge, no. This matter has not been discussed yet. It might be discussed when Chairman Erdogan visits the White House.

TIME: You say Turkey will comply with any UN decision on Iraq. But what if the Bush Administration chooses to launch an attack without UN authorization?

EB: Let's cross that bridge when we come to it. But I do believe the U.S. would not mind going through the UN. Chairman Erdogan will also meet [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan on Tuesday night, where these questions will be discussed. After he has held discussions at the Pentagon, the White House and with the UN, we will make our own analysis and act in the best interests of a peaceful world.

TIME: Is the ruling party's view in accord with that of the military on the question of Iraq?

EB:Of course. The JDP is a party founded in Turkey to pursue prosperity and a better standard of living for the Turkish people. The military is there to secure the Turkish people. Our interests are common. We are lovers of the same country, servants of the same people. Any decisions that any one of the sides makes will be to better the lives of the Turkish people. Therefore common sense and logic will prevail.

TIME: In the event of a war to oust Saddam Hussein, what would Turkey regard as an acceptable alternative?

EB: Turkey strongly believes that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved, and that there should be a democratic regime elected by the people for the people of Iraq, who deserve to live a better life than they have now.

TIME: Is there a danger in Iraq that the goal of territorial integrity and of democracy could come into conflict?

EB: Not necessarily, because these are the values shared by all of the players in the game, all countries concerned about the situation.

TIME: What concerns will Chairman Erdogan bring to the White House?

EB: His main goal is to share his appreciation for, and to ask for a continuation of U.S. support for Turkey's accession to the European Union. The EU will hold a crucial summit in Copenhagen later this week to discuss the question of enlargement. Turkey is the only applicant that has not been given a date to begin negotiations over becoming part of the EU. We believe that Turkey does deserve to be given a date. We have made 48 constitutional amendments and many reforms over the past 18 months, and another reform package will be voted on in parliament this week. Turkey is fulfilling all of the political criteria, and should be given a date. This is how we will prove Samuel Huntington wrong, and show that civilizations need not clash, but can actually be united. [Huntington has famously written of the inevitability of a "clash of civilizations" in the wake of the Cold War.] We will have Turkey, with a predominantly Muslim population as part of the European Union, and this will have profound effect on the views of the people of the Middle East, the Caspian Sea region, the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions towards the EU. Europe has a great opportunity to prove that EU is not a Christian club, but based on democratic values.

TIME: Why, in your opinion, has the European Union been reluctant to start the process of assessing Turkey as a candidate for membership?

EB: It's an interpretation problem on their part. Turkey has long been a part of Europe. Some 4 million Turks live in Europe, and the country is represented in most European institutions. It has long been a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and of NATO. Turkey has been in the frontline of defending European values during Cold War and after, and it's a great shame not to begin the process of admitting Turkey to the EU. I guess the reluctance is based on a view of the EU as a club of Christians. But it's up to the members of the EU to prove that it's a union of democratic values, not of religious values.

TIME: Do economic concerns play a role in the EU's reluctance?

EB: A country can only become a full member once it has fulfilled the economic criteria. Turkey does not claim that it is economically ready for membership. But it is ready to start negotiations, which take years, during which time the economy will be reformed to meet EU criteria.

TIME: Media reports often categorize Justice and Development as an "Islamist" party. . .

EB:No, that's not correct. It is a democratic party, not based on any religion, and its members include Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of no faith.

TIME: You spoke of Turkey's eventual accession to the EU sending a powerful positive to message to the Arab and Muslim world. Can Turkey serve as a model to those countries?

EB: Turkey is the only applicant for EU membership that has not been set a date to begin negotiations. So, there are suspicions in and around Turkey that the reason is simply that Turkey is a majority Muslim country. To eliminate these suspicions, the EU must give Turkey a date. We must show civilizations unifying and working in harmony. Turkey has proved for past 80 years that Islam and secularism can coexist. It's a great model for countries striving for democracy.

TIME: Yet the very fact that Chairman Erdogan as head of the party that won the election can't be made prime minister [on the basis of a law forbidding religious expression in politics] suggests there are some limits on Turkey's democracy.

EB: Reforms currently underway in Turkey will strengthen democracy, and even if we don't get into the EU we have embarked on a process of extending freedom of speech and other democratic freedoms. The people of Turkey deserve to live under European standards, and we will do everything to achieve that. People should have the freedom to criticize us. Our goal is to expand the individual freedom and rights of Turkish people in all aspects of their lives.