Peace at home, peace in the world

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Interview by H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu published in Nikkei (Japan) on 8 July 2015

ANKARA -- Turkey faces an ever more complex security situation along its 911km border with Syria. At the same time, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, finds itself seeking a coalition partner after losing its parliamentary majority last month.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with The Nikkei about these challenges in a recent interview. Turkey, he said, is at the forefront of international efforts to stop would-be militants from traveling to join Daesh -- an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

He also discussed the military advances of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, a Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. Cavusoglu warned that Ankara would not tolerate the group expanding the border territories it now controls.

The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

Q: Turkey is building up its military presence on the Syrian border. Could you talk about the current situation in the area?

A: There is a very complicated situation in Syria and clashes have intensified. In Syria, the [Bashar] Assad regime, Daesh, [and the] PYD/PKK are fighting with each other. Sometimes they agree and attack the Free Syrian Army.

Turkey is a stable and secure country in both politics and economy, and so far we [have not been] affected by these developments. However, as the situation is getting more complicated, we are increasing our security measures. ... There is no point in taking measures once things happen.

Q: The Kurds' capture of Tel Abyad from Daesh allowed PYD to connect two Kurdish "cantons" and there is speculation that PYD might seek to capture remaining territories which will connect the third "canton" they rule, thus forming a long belt at the Turkish border. Does this have any bearing on your security steps?

A: After the fall of Tel Abyad to the PYD, [there is talk of] such a risk of forming a belt. But the PYD and other groups deny such motives. In every sense, Turkey has to make sure that such developments do not take place.

There should be no developments on the other side of the border that could pose risks to Turkey or ... risk the future of Syria.

Q: What are the AKP's prospects for forming a coalition government? Do you think there will be an early election?

A: When we receive a mandate for forming a coalition government, we will of course talk to all political parties. However, this coalition must be a sustainable one. We have to agree on basic principles. ... Stable economic policies should be maintained without restoring to populism.

I think the possibility of forming a coalition is high. The electorate's decision [points to] this direction, and we have to respect that decision. But if it fails, there will be early election.

Q: How will shifting politics affect Turkey's foreign policy?

A: Our foreign policy has always been guided by the dictum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- founder of the Republic of Turkey: "Peace at home, peace in the world."

Over the last 13 years, we have [sustained this philosophy] by enhancing our political dialogue and cooperation with countries in our vicinity. ... The concrete benefits of these efforts are seen in our rising trade volumes, increased tourism revenues as well as enhanced social and cultural interaction with our neighboring countries.

I have no doubt that these efforts will be continued by any future Turkish government.

Similarly, Turkey's strong and strategic relations with Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community will remain unchanged. Membership in the European Union [has been] a strategic objective for the last 50 years, and Turkey will continue efforts to keep the momentum in our accession process. Likewise, Turkey will remain a security- and stability-generating member of NATO, dedicated to furthering the objectives of the alliance.

Q: Would a coalition government alter Turkey's policies regarding Egypt, Israel and Syria?

A: Wars, crises and the scourge of terrorism unfortunately lead to suffering in our region. [But] dismissive and exclusionary approaches toward certain segments of societies and repressive policies are dangerous; they will not contribute to an environment of lasting stability and peace.

Our criticism of the military coup in Egypt, the subsequent mass arrests and politically motivated death penalties is based on universal values and principles. It is inconceivable that stability can be sustained in a country of almost 90 million, when all opposition groups are oppressed and pushed underground toward radicalism.

While we are, in principle, in favor of normalization of bilateral relations, it is clear that there should be a change of mentality in Cairo.

Considerable progress was made in the normalization of our relations with Israel after Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu's apology to the Turkish people concerning the "Mavi Marmara" attack. The technical-level talks on compensation are completed and we are at the final stage. Additional steps in the normalization process will be possible after the settlement of the compensation issue.

Lifting the blockade on Gaza is another issue that we would like to be solved. ... Sincere and constructive engagement by Israel vis-a-vis the peace process will undoubtedly contribute to the normalization process as well.

Turkey has been impacted by the conflict in Syria more than any other country. The situation has become a threat to not only regional and international peace and stability but a direct threat to our national security. This includes the Daesh aspect of the equation, which we are fighting with all our capabilities.

On Syria, Turkey's policy has been clear and straightforward since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. We want the conflict to come to an end. This can only be achieved through a genuine political transformation process on the basis of the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

Q: Could you elaborate on Turkey's efforts to stem the flow of militants across your borders?

A: Turkey has been at the forefront of the struggle against the [flow of] foreign terrorist fighters to Daesh since the beginning of the crisis in Syria and the advance of Daesh in Iraq. Until now, we have deported more than 1,400 foreign nationals who were believed to have traveled -- or had the intention of traveling -- to the conflict areas without a valid reason.

Our no-entry list comprises names from more than 100 countries. Additionally, we have set up risk analysis units at major airports and border gates to enable passenger screening [and catch] potential [foreign terrorist fighters] whose identity has not been shared with us. As of [mid-June] more than 2,000 passengers have been interviewed and more than 900 travelers were denied entry to Turkey by these units.

Q: How might a coalition government affect Turkey's nuclear energy projects with Russia and Japan, as well as plans for a third plant?

A: With the construction of nuclear power plants in Akkuyu and Sinop, we plan to meet 10% of our electricity demand with nuclear energy by 2023.

We have an annual energy demand increase of almost 5%. More than 70% of our energy demand is met through imported resources. Therefore, Turkey will continue to work on various options to meet its growing energy demand.

Q: How do you assess the potential impact if Greece exits the eurozone? Would Turkey still want to join the EU?

A: Until recently, the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone was perceived as a catastrophe scenario. ... Should the Greek exit happen, on the EU side, the main fear was a subsequent chain reaction that would cause violent capital outflows from other periphery countries, such as Spain and Portugal.

However, having a functioning European Stability Mechanism in place and the European Central Banks' increasing role as a "buyer of last resort" might mitigate such concerns in the medium run.

We hope and believe that, in the medium run, the EU, eurozone and Greece will be able to solve this problem.

Mainly due to the Customs Union, the EU is our main trade partner. It represents 40% of our trade and 70% of the foreign direct investment inflows that we receive.

When we actually become an EU member state, we will need to analyze the situation carefully. If the eurozone has solved its problems, we will definitely consider being part of it. If not, we will stay out of the eurozone. But this does not alter our direction to be a member state of the EU.