What is Turkey up to? A stalwart member of NATO, many believe it is now tilting east. In May, it sealed a nuclear-exchange deal with Iran, and in June Ankara voted no on U.N. sanctions against Iran. Then, the killing of nine Turks aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla by Israeli forces led to a crisis between the longtime allies, and further questions about the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy. Semin Gümüsel Güner and Selcuk Tepeli of NEWSWEEK Turkey recently met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss these issues. Excerpts:
You said relations with Israel would be broken off. What happens now?
There is an action, a crime here. Turkey’s demand is rather lucid: since there is a death, the killing side is acknowledged and an international commission should be formed and make its decision with respect to this fact in the frame of objective provisions of law. If Israel does not want an international commission, then it has to acknowledge this crime, apologize, and pay compensation. If the international community and the international law do not ask about the causes of these deaths, we, as the government of the Republic of Turkey, have the right to ask. Turkey-Israel relations will never be on a normal footing until we have an answer. And Turkey has the right to one-sidedly apply its own sanctions.
“Relations would never get normalized” and “breaking off relations” have different meanings.
The relations would go into a breaking-off trend. And if this trend continues, that is the stance the relations would reach. But this does not mean something will happen tomorrow or in a week, 10 days, one month. If the right steps are not taken, the relations would go in the direction of a break-off process. However, I cannot share with you what I have told them behind closed doors. They know what kind of sanctions we would impose.
Ankara’s foreign policy has been “zero problems with neighbors.” If relations are cut off, what would the foreign policy look like?
“Zero problems with neighbors” is a value. But another equally important value is to establish peace. If any actor blocks peace processes, keeps civilians under blockade, massacres civil people on international waters, the peace value could not be disregarded for the sake of “zero problems with neighbors.” These policies of Israel are a menace to regional peace. Excusing these policies that go against peace just to develop zero-problem relations is out of the question.
Turkey and Brazil signed a nuclear-exchange deal with Iran. Were you surprised that the U.N. Security Council permanent members criticized it?
Turkey has worked alongside its allies from the beginning. During the entire process, since then–director general to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei brought the idea of a deal to us, we tried to create an atmosphere of confidence, and the IAEA and the U.N. encouraged us to deliver on the agreement with Tehran. This is not something we wanted to do on our own.
Turkey voted “no” on further sanctions against Iran. Might Washington have taken this as a vote against it?
We have explained several times that it was not a “no” against the U.S. or Mr. Obama. That was a “yes” vote for diplomacy.
Can Turkish foreign policy continue these moves toward the East at the risk of losing the West?
We are a part of the West. If the West sees us as outside and an object that can be lost or won, their logic is wrong. We have an equal right to speak in NATO as any other country. No one has the right to see the Western alliance as its domain and name another as inside or outside of it. If Western values are soft power, economic interdependency, human rights, then we defend them. We, however, are now facing a test. Nine civilians were murdered on the high seas. Are we going to voice objection when human rights are violated by an Eastern or Muslim country but remain silent when Israel violates human rights? If this double standard is a Western value, we are not for it.