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Interview of H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Daily Sabah, 4 December 2016, Beirut

FM Çavuşoğlu: Turkey, US can once again become allies motivated by common vision with Trump administration

FM Çavuşoğlu said Turkey believes it can cooperate with the incoming Trump administration in the U.S. as many of Ankara's concerns overlap with that of Trump, and the two allies can once again become motivated by a common vision

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has stated that they believe Turkey can cooperate with the U.S.'s new incoming administration being formed by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, while adding that many of Turkey's views overlap with them.

Underlining the importance of distinguishing pre-election rhetoric with post-election reality, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu has predicted that under the Trump administration "Turkey and the U.S. can once again become two allies motivated by a common vision."

Çavuşoğlu met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov last week to discuss bilateral relations as wells as the future of Syria. Speaking to Daily Sabah during his official visit to Lebanon on Friday Çavuşoğlu said that with Lavrov, they prioritized the implementation of a cease-fire in Syria.

Underlining that if Turkey and Russia are determined and the negotiations continue with sincerity, they can actually instate a cease-fire and talk about the political process to follow it. Çavuşoğlu also stated that they are taking some steps for this happen and added that they desire to conclude this process as soon as possible.

Commenting about the ongoing Mosul operation and the situation in the Turkmen populated city of Tal Afar, Çavuşoğlu said that there is a plan that foresees how and where each and every force within the offensive will attack, including the peshmerga forces, the Iraqi military, local forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi. He added that so far they have observed that the Mosul offensive was going according to the agreement.

Regarding the current state of Turkish-EU relations, Çavuşoğlu underlined that there is a crisis of trust between the Turkish people and the EU: "The people don't believe what the EU says anymore," he said.

Çavuşoğlu also added that presidential system was a good fit for Turkey and he added that it was also a fitting method to improve democracy because it would strengthen the separation of powers.

The new U.S. administration will take office on Jan. 20. How will the relations between Turkey and the U.S. be during Donald Trump's presidency?

I was actually expecting Trump to win the elections. I know he is a pragmatic person, we also know the people that may be appointed in his cabinet and their characteristics. Therefore, we can predict what they are against and what they support. In this sense, we believe the Trump administration is one we can cooperate with. Many of our views overlap. We should distinguish between pre-election rhetoric and post-election reality.

There are different names being thrown around for secretary of state. However, the important part is that we can once again become two allies motivated by a common vision. I know that the new U.S. administration believes that they should fight against terrorism, without favoring one organization to another. We share many overlapping views on other subjects as well. However, we can hold meetings, determine a common vision and act according to that. As long as this vision is created, I am sure that the new administration will do whatever it can to fulfill its duties.

The relations between Turkey and the EU are currently tense. If Turkey and the EU go their separate ways in the days to come, will this mean that Turkey is relinquishing EU values?

We are not against the common values of Europe and we will not forsake democracy; on the contrary we have to improve it. Laws and justice is needed by all. We are disturbed by how the EU has been approaching us. We have been expressing that we are troubled by their double standards, as we have clearly seen this, especially after the coup attempt. The sensible ones have become aware of this and feel ashamed.

We also see in Europe the increasing threats and escalating issues, which we commonly share. We are stating that this process may end catastrophically and we express that some EU policies have been unsuccessful.

We are clearly saying that the long and slow process of Turkey's full membership bid is EU's responsibility. This is what we are complaining about. Moreover, we are also critical of the EU looking down on non-EU countries. We are expressing that this is not a healthy approach to our colleagues in the EU, through official and unofficial channels. We have explained that some EU countries have very different standards than others.

We are telling them that they cannot achieve anything with this kind of approach towards countries like Turkey and Russia.

Firstly, they should see us as equals; we will never accept any inferior or substandard position. We know there are certain issues and that is why we are pushing many reforms. These are our complaints. We are just saying that Europe has to correct its mistakes. We have never said that we abhor democracy, human rights and freedoms and we do not think about terminating our relations with the EU – that notion is always voiced by them.

EU politicians are being influenced by anti-Turkish populist sentiments. Does that comply with EU values?

Racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Christian notions are all crimes against humanity which also do not comply with EU values. Nonetheless, there is a crisis of trust between the Turkish people and the EU; the people no longer believe what the EU says.

We have to talk about how we are going to salvage this situation and reestablish trust. We are always ready to discuss these issues. Turkish people are increasingly becoming critical of the EU and there is a growing anti-Turkish sentiment in Europe. We have to talk about how we can overcome this and reinstate trust.

No results about Cyprus came out of Mont Pelerin. Is a new negotiation possible?

The resolution of the Cyprus issue must not be delayed any further. The conference date and location for the quintet must be decided. The two leaders had previously agreed to talk with U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon about inviting the quintet for the meeting while they were on their way to New York. However, Anastasiadis seemingly stepped back.

At Mont Pelerin, the date and location was to be determined, however, first the Greek Cypriot delegates pardoned themselves and abruptly left the table because their demands were not fulfilled. The Greek Cypriot administration wants to keep as much as to themselves while going to the final meetings. This is against the understanding of negotiations and the joint statement made on Feb. 11, 2014.

I talked with the Turkish side. President Akıncı, the ruling party and the opposition are all saying the same thing: The date of the conference must be decided. Until then, they are saying that they will keep meeting with the Greek Cypriot administration and they will continue trying to come to agreements on some issues. In short, they are trying to do as much as they can before the conference, to resolve issues during the conference and then hold a referendum according to the decision. This is how a party wanting to resolve the issue would behave. This process has been being discussed frequently and intensely since 2015, however, they cannot keep this up for another decade. Therefore, it has to be resolved as soon as possible.

Cyprus is also a crucial issue in Turkish-EU relations. How do you evaluate the situation in this context?

I can honestly say that we never acted in a calculated way while trying to resolve the Cyprus issue. We never thought about whether the EU would open another chapter or would our relations improve. We didn't do it, even though this issue was always brought to the table. This means that we sincerely want to resolve the issue in Cyprus. The advantages and opportunities of a resolution in Cyprus and Turkey's contributions afterwards would be significant. The Greek Cypriot administration is aware of this potential. Therefore, because so much progress has been made, both parties should have a strong will to resolve the issue.

The constitutional amendment is the hot topic of Turkish domestic politics. How will the new presidential system affect Turkish foreign policy? What will change?

I believe the presidential system, regardless of how it is referred, fits Turkey. It is also a fitting method to improve democracy, as it would strengthen the separation of powers. For instance, right now legislation is not being done by the Parliament; it is being done by the executive. The bureaucrats prepare the legislation and the ministries submit them to the Parliament. In the new system, it will completely be prepared by the Parliament. Checks and balances will also improve. As the ruling party has the majority of the seats in the Parliament, Parliament cannot oversee the actions of ministers and the government effectively.

There will be stability in Turkey. The discussions about coalitions will end. The Parliament will of course reflect the diversity of the public; however, the government will be stable. The more stability Turkey has, the stronger its foreign policy is going to be.

It will also be a turning point for bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is usually considered slow and sluggish; the bureaucrats are actually the ones who suffer from it. Reducing bureaucracy will mean faster decision-making for Turkey and faster growth of the economy. Today, a country's economy determines the effectiveness of its foreign policy. If you don't have funds, you cannot finance humanitarian aid or development projects. Moreover, it is also essential for being represented and being active in international organizations. In this sense, there will be a sort of dynamism in policies, including the foreign policy.

Of course, foreign policy will still have to have stable and powerful principles, and these should be implemented successfully. Furthermore, one's understanding of diplomacy must also be effective and diverse: Multidimensional, proactive, economy-dominated and based on strong humanitarian foreign policies.

What is your take on the discussions about the Shanghai Five?

It is a result of our multidimensional foreign policy. You should always have alternatives, as they complement each other and you will not be dependent on a singular entity. If you don't have alternatives, it is problematic, as we can see it in the instance of the EU. They keep delaying and looking down on you as if you're dependent on them. Moreover, they try to get away with double standards, even though you point them out.

On the other hand, if you have strong relations with an alternative, the relations with the other institution will also be strong. The better relations we have with Asia and the Middle East, the more powerful we become in our relations with the EU. Similarly, the better relations with the EU mean a more powerful Turkey in the Shanghai Five.

Last week you met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Antalya. What was discussed concerning the future of Syria?

We prioritized the implementation of a cease-fire. As you know, we regularly meet with other political actors of Syria such as Iran and the Syrian opposition, however, if Turkey and Russia are determined and the negotiations continue with sincerity, we can actually instate a ceasefire and talk about the political process to follow it.

We worked hard to resolve the Syrian crisis on international platforms, but unfortunately it didn't yield any results instead it became a blame game. Today, Turkey and Russia has the common will and determination to instate and maintain a ceasefire. We are taking some steps for it and we desire to conclude this process as soon as possible.

Did either the Turkish or Russian party propose a road map for a permanent peace in Syria during the meeting?

We are working together on this road map. This road map is more about how the cease-fire will be instated, how humanitarian aid will be provided, what we will do after the cease-fire and how to transition into the political resolution process.

Where is Assad situated in this political resolution?

We haven't talked about whether Assad will stay or go. The main issue is to instate a ceasefire and separate the Nusra Front from the moderate opposition. We know that if we talk about how the political resolution will be, we will not be able to progress. Still, Turkey and Russia have diverging opinions about Assad. Therefore, Turkey is maintaining its initial disposition towards Assad. Nonetheless, we are still not at a point where we can discuss this issue and try to persuade Russia to adopt our view.

Is the cease-fire negotiations only taking place between Turkey and the U.S., or are there other countries included in the process?

We have held bilateral meetings with Iran on this subject. On the other hand, we are also holding multilateral meetings with numerous countries, however, these meeting are yet to yield any results. Russia is another country that we are having bilateral meetings with.

Operation Euphrates Shield has started to slow down as forces near al-Bab. What is the reason for this and where will the forces head after capturing al-Bab? Afrin, Manbij or elsewhere?

This slowdown is a part of the strategy, as we observe increasing resistance from Daesh around al-Bab. A more fierce resistance is expected once we reach the city center. Currently, we are trying to surround al-Bab and prevent other elements from joining the fight. After completely eliminating Daesh forces in al-Bab, our forces will move towards Manbij to take the control of the city and normalize the region. Then, they will head to Raqqa, together with the local forces.
The aim of the operation is to gradually cleanse the western part of the Euphrates from Daesh and other terrorist organizations, including the YPG, making it a de facto safe zone.

In your latest statement you had said that there were 200 YPG militants remaining in Manbij. Are there any developments?

Some number of these remaining 200 YPG militants has retreated. We had proposed the formation of a joint commission to the U.S. to coordinate the YPG's retreat; however, besides this, we also have our own initiatives.

Did you talk about the airstrike that killed three Turkish soldiers around al-Bab during your meeting with Lavrov?

There are various opinions on this issue and there is a kind of blame game going on. Russia is affirming that they did not do it. There are many other elements in the region. After thorough investigations we will be able to pinpoint the perpetrator; so, now is not a good time to accuse any country.

Is Russia also stating that regime forces were not responsible for the attack?

They are not directly rejecting it, but they are saying that the Syrian regime's aircraft does not have that firepower and the regime does not have unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

You previously said that Operation Euphrates Shield aimed to create a safe zone. Will this safe zone also become a no-fly zone?

The U.N. Security Council's approval is needed to instate a no-fly zone. Still, this was what we have desired since the very beginning. Local forces are able to secure the land; however, in order for this land to be protected from airstrikes a no-fly zone must be instated. We are seeing increasing support to Turkey's idea of a no-fly zone as Syrian immigrants have started returning to their homes in regions that have been cleansed from Daesh in Operation Euphrates Shield. There are questions about instating no-fly zone.

Is there a possibility of conflict with the U.S. or other countries while moving onto Manbij?

We are aiming to cleanse the region of terrorism, not to fight with any other countries' forces, especially allied ones. We proposed to the U.S. to conduct a joint operation starting from Jarablus and moving southward with both countries' Special Forces. However, U.S. officials had said that it was not a right strategy and it would take many months to achieve. Nonetheless, local forces, which were supported by the Turkish military, reached Manbij within 48 hours.
Therefore, we are calling the U.S. to support the local forces with our special forces, instead of supporting the YPG. We have also stated that an approach which gives initiative to the local forces is better.

Turkey expressed its red lines in Mosul and Tal Afar. What is the latest situation? Are Turkey's demands being taken into consideration?

We are observing that the Mosul offensive is going according to the agreement. There is a plan which foresees how and where each and every force within the offensive will attack, including the peshmerga, Iraqi army, local forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi. Everyone is acting according to this plan.

The question is whether the Hashd al-Shaabi will stick to the plan until the end. They are confusing everyone with some statements made out of vengeance. The Iraqi administration, Haider al-Abadi himself, coalition countries including the U.S. and even Iran, are all saying that the Hashd al-Shaabi will not enter Tal Afar. The Hashd al-Shaabi controlling the airfield is within the boundaries of the agreement. In short, no one has violated the agreement yet. They are waiting a couple of kilometers away from the city to prevent Daesh militants from retreating west. Still, we have to be wary.

Moreover, the PKK is situated in the Sinjar region. They are trying to establish a base there, claiming that they are protecting the Yazidis. We are currently tracking their every move, while also discussing the issue with Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and international coalition. If the PKK tries to move east to Sinjar, we will take necessary measures against them. Some are reassuring that the northwest of Tal Afar is under control, thus the PKK will not be able to move through there to Tal Afar. However, we are taking the required precautions. There are different groups and different balance of powers. For instance, why are both the Hashd al-Shaabi and the peshmerga not entering Mosul? It is because if one enters, the other will have to too. We and everybody else knows this. Mosul can become a center of power for any of these groups. That's why we are asserting that it should be left to local forces and to the local administration. Currently everybody is approving this and I hope it will stay as it is.

Are you able to persuade Iran about the Syrian crisis?

We have the common belief that a cease-fire is needed. Iran wants a countrywide ceasefire within a short period of time. There have not been any differences in our views in our meetings with them; however, when it comes to agreement, plans and application, these change. This is the greatest challenge. As you know, many decisions have been made. The U.S. and Russia made an agreement between themselves, which we immediately supported. The International Syria Support Group made the same decision. However, then the blame game starts, one is accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. The only crucial disparity between Turkey and Iran's view is about Assad, otherwise, our stances overlap.