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Policy of Zero Problems with our Neighbors

Aware that development and progress in real terms can only be achieved in a lasting peace and stability environment, Turkey places this objective at the very center of her foreign policy vision. This approach is a natural reflection of the “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” policy laid down by Great Leader Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. Besides, it is a natural consequence of a contemporary responsibility and a humanistic foreign policy vision.

Turkish foreign policy is founded on solid traditions and takes its strength from Turkey’s characteristics of being a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law. As significant changes are engulfing the world, Turkish foreign policy is being conducted in the center of a geography where the above mentioned developments occur in the most intensive way. As the world is witnessing rapid developments, both cooperation opportunities and the risks that problems may pose spread and deepen greater than ever before. Anchoring peace, stability and security on firm foundations in such global environment is ever more difficult. Besides, it also acquires greater importance and becomes a necessity.

It is thus incumbent on Turkey to assume more responsibilities in her region. As a matter of fact, one of the rare common denominators of many countries, which have significant disagreements over deep-rooted problems in our region, is their confidence towards Turkey. Likewise, the level reached by Turkey in the field of economic development and democracy has broadened her foreign policy outreach and increased her power of impact in this domain. This has made the resolute and constructive foreign policy adopted by Turkey ever more needed and sought after in the region. Today, being aware of her increasing tools and capabilities, and the responsibilities emanating from these, Turkey pursues a multi-dimensional foreign policy which is pre-emptive rather than being reactive. In other words, Turkey steers developments by taking initiatives rather than merely watching them unfold and determine a stance accordingly. Besides, Turkish foreign policy is result-oriented, pragmatic and realistic. Furthermore, the most important characteristic of Turkish foreign policy is being a visionary one. Security for all, political dialogue, economic interdependence and cultural harmony are the building blocks of this vision. Turkey aspires eventually to reach a stage where all countries live in a state of welfare and carry the integration among them to the most advanced level by creating a zone of peace and stability, starting from her neighbors.

While implementing her foreign policy on a global scale with this understanding, Turkey attaches special importance to seeing its positive outcomes in her immediate vicinity, that is to say, in her relations with neighbors. In this context, the discourse of “zero problem with neighbors” is a slogan summarizing Turkey’s expectations with regards to her relations with neighboring countries. Turkey wants to eliminate all the problems from her relations with neighbors or at least to minimize them as much as possible.

While resolutely pursuing this policy, Turkey never puts realism aside and does not forget that “zero problems” approach represents an objective and an ideal. As a matter of fact, it is not quite possible to envisage that all problems in our region which have deep-rooted history can be solved in a short period of time. Moreover, there exists a web of relations free from problems nowhere in the world due to the very nature of international relations. However, the fact that some problems cannot be solved quickly -no matter how intricate and deep they are- does not diminish the need to take constructive steps in order to settle them and to exert active efforts in this direction. Once steps are taken in this direction, even if the problems are not solved immediately, favorable conditions for their eventual solution can finally be created. With this understanding, Turkey rejects the concept of freezing problems with her neighbors and also trying to take advantage of them. On the contrary, Turkey upholds the aim of exerting active efforts to solve problems in line with a win-win approach through peaceful means.

Turkey has covered great distance in this direction up until now. This can clearly be seen when Turkey’s relations with her neighbors are briefly reviewed.

As a matter of fact, Turkey is in multidimensional dialogue process with Greece since 1999. Turkish-Greek relations are developing through significant mechanisms such as regular political contacts, exploratory talks on Aegean Problems, confidence-building measures, High Level Cooperation Council meetings, besides high level dialogue. Turkey is of the view that the positive atmosphere prevalent in the bilateral relations will further facilitate the solution of common problems in the future.

Turkey has brought her relations with two other neighbors in the Balkans, namely Bulgaria and Romania to a remarkable level. Furthermore, Turkey solved all the fundamental problems with Bulgaria and Romania, former opponents of the Cold War period, and added the NATO alliance dimension to strengthening bilateral economic relations.

In our relations with Ukraine too, we made a substantial progress and increased bilateral trade volume fivefold in the last 10 years. We abolished visas and established the “High Level Strategic Council” with Ukraine and we aim to conclude the Free Trade Agreement whose negotiations started in December 2011. This will ensure the free movement of people, goods and capital and integrate the two great markets of the Black Sea basin.

Turkey has also developed her relations and cooperation with the Russian Federation since 1990’s with an increasing momentum, thus attained the objective of “enhanced multi-dimensional partnership”. Turkish-Russian relations, carried out in the framework of the High Level Cooperation Council established in 2010, are based on a multi-dimensional and balanced understanding; besides taking the deepening mutual cooperation and sincere dialogue as basis. Visa exemption between Turkey and the Russian Federation constitutes yet another important window of opportunity for further developing bilateral relations.

Turkey, being conscious of the crucial importance of preserving the political and economic stability and territorial integrity of the Caucasian countries, pursues an active foreign policy with a view to resolving the problems in the region through peaceful means and by promoting regional cooperation. Turkey’s efforts geared towards launching the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform and creating an environment of dialogue and trust in the region are clear signs of this approach. Turkey also takes steps towards strengthening her relations with Azerbaijan, a country with whom we have close social, cultural and historical ties. Besides, while continuing to steadily develop her relations with Georgia, Turkey resolutely pursues a policy aimed at finding a solution to Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts within internationally recognized borders of Georgia.

Despite these major efforts, developing relations with Armenia seems like a weak link in Turkey’s endeavors towards fostering relations with neighbors. However, Turkey strives hard to find a solution and to develop her relations in accordance with the “zero problems” approach also in this issue.

After arduous negotiations, Turkey signed in 2009, two important Protocols aimed at not only solving current problems with Armenia, a neighbor with whom we share the same geography, but also facilitating the creation of sustainable peace in Southern Caucasus. Although there is no progress in the ratification process of the Protocols due to factors associated with the situation in the region, Turkey maintains her political will to move forward in the normalization process of relations between the two countries. Furthermore, Turkey does not lose faith in the fact that this normalization process can be lasting and sustainable if concrete steps are taken for a comprehensive peace in Southern Caucasus.

On the one hand, Turkey would like to develop her relations with Iran with whom she has a long common history and pays attention to preserving good neighborly relations on the basis of mutual interest. On the other hand, Turkey closely follows Iran’s nuclear program, which raises doubts in the international community, and spares no effort to settle this issue through diplomatic and peaceful means.

Turkey carries out intense endeavors both in bilateral and international fora so that Iraq can establish its political unity and territorial integrity and integrate fully with the international community. Turkey endeavors to ensure that Iraq can ascertain its own defense and has the capacity to eliminate terrorist elements, which also pose threat to our country. Furthermore, Turkey also strives hard so that Iraq becomes a prosperous country. In this respect, Turkey, maintains close contact with all political groups and aims to deepen her relations with Iraq in a multidimensional manner while benefiting from the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council.

Unfortunately, our bilateral relations with another important neighbor Syria has entered into a new phase due to the relentless violent reaction by the regime forces following the popular uprisings of March 2011. This is not due to a failure or inconsistency of our zero problems approach, but the approach of the Syrian regime, which through its actions, made it impossible to continue good neighborly relations.

Our policy vis-a-vis Syria supports the shaping of the future of this country in line with the legitimate aspirations of its people and maintenance of her territorial integrity. It also envisages the establishment of a pluralistic and democratic political system that would ensure the extension of fundamental rights and liberties to all groups irrespective of their ethnic and religious cleavages. Such a transition will consolidate the ground for Turkey-Syria relations with the advantage of close and special ties between our peoples

Turkey has adopted a constructive attitude for the settlement of the Cyprus issue, which she considers as a national cause. International community missed an important opportunity on the settlement of the Cyprus issue in 2004 when the United Nations Comprehensive Settlement Plan, accepted by the Turkish Cypriot side despite several negative elements, could not be put in effect due to Greek Cypriot side’s rejection. This has shown the entire world that it was not the Turkish Cypriot side but the Greek Cypriot one who is hampering resolution of the problem. Today, Turkey supports all efforts aimed at a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue based on established United Nations parameters. In this regard, Turkey also supports the ongoing negotiation process continuing in the framework of United Nations Secretary General’s good offices mission and endeavors intensely to ensure that the negotiation process yields result as soon as possible.

Aforementioned summary of the developments in bilateral relations with neighbors and the policy of “zero problems” adopted by Turkey shows clearly how sincere and determined she is on the way to peace and stability. However, we believe that this objective bears a much deeper meaning that goes beyond settling our problems with each of our neighbors. This means the transformation of our neighborhood, where serious problems and elements of instability exist, into a friendship and cooperation basin which will serve the interests of all mankind.

In this context, we believe that our policy of zero problems with neighbors has gained additional meaning and importance as the Middle East stands at the brink of a historical transformation. We hope that the current dynamic for reform advances in way that will meet the expectations of the people while also contributing to peace and security in the region. If this can be achieved, the spirit of cooperation that we are trying to develop on the basis of our zero problems policy will be further strengthened. We are sparing no effort towards this direction and we will continue to do so.

Turkey believes that the positive results of “zero problems with neighbors” approach which we started to witness even today will be seen further first in our region and ultimately at a global scale, like eventually broadening rings that a stone thrown into still water creates.