Peace at home, peace in the world

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Article by H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu published in Daily Star Newspaper (Lebanon) on 31 July 2009

Turks and the Lebanese as well as the whole of the Arab peoples are bound together by deep rooted, historical ties. They have lived together for centuries and today, they continue to share the same geography, face the same challenges and opportunities. Their common vision of peace and stability in the Middle East and prosperity for their peoples has drawn them even closer.

Reflecting this long and common history, we share a vast cultural heritage which is still alive in our daily lives today. In this context, one can cite monuments such as the Grand Serai, that houses the Prime Minister’s office today or the watch tower in Tripoli among many others.

The Middle East today is unfortunately confronted with a series of problems and sources of instability that preoccupy the agenda of the international community. The grim realities of the region are shaped by developments ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict and the stalled Middle East Peace Process, to securing and maintaining stability in Lebanon and Iraq, from the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to the current challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Turkey, as an active regional actor, cannot remain indifferent to these developments in its immediate neighborhood. Turkey, while not a party to any of the conflicts in the Middle East, has a large stake in their resolution and the maintenance of regional peace and stability. Given the fact that it traditionally maintains good relations with all the countries of the region, it is also well equipped to substantially contribute to this objective.

Turkey genuinely believes that problems inherited from the past must not be allowed to put our common future at risk. Therefore, actively contributing towards the resolution of conflicts and establishing a belt of peace, stability and prosperity in its wider region have all along been a major foreign policy priority for Turkey. To this end, Turkey pursues multidimensional, proactive, constructive and forward looking foreign policy initiatives aimed at complementarity rather than competition. It also employs a “zero-problem” policy with all its neighbors. A non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Turkey’s strategic location, its economic performance ranking as the 17th largest global economy, its historical background, geographical and cultural ties, its stature as a reliable and trusted partner, its insight to the issues and accumulated experience are important assets in the conduct of its policies towards the region.

Our vision for the Middle East entails a region free of all the problems that have impeded its political and economic development and prospering in peace and stability based on the ideas of security for all, political dialogue and deepening of the democratic process, economic interdependence and cultural coexistence.

Developments that take place in one particular part of the Middle East inevitably have a wider impact in the entire region. In fact, it is widely acknowledged that as long as the Palestinian problem remains unresolved, it will continue to fuel other sources of conflict in the region. Accordingly, when formulating our policies, we need to adopt a comprehensive and all encompassing approach.

The Palestinian cause is high on Turkey’s agenda who believes that a two-State solution with the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, is the only viable vision for a just and lasting peace. To attain this goal overcoming the political rift among the Palestinians is also imperative.

Turkey stands ready to assist, as before, in moving the Peace Process forward, not excluding the necessity of facilitating the Israeli-Syrian track.

In order to realize the vision outlined above, we need to promote democratic processes throughout the region by upholding such principles as good governance, transparency and accountability. Only this way can we encourage a sense of ownership of the problems in the region. It is Turkey’s conviction that lasting solutions to the issues engulfing the region must come from within through combining our energies and efforts.

Economic development is also vital for regional security and political stability. Therefore, Turkey supports closer economic links among the countries of the region. To this end, it has recently established institutional ties through a strategic dialogue with the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League on a regular basis. These ties serve to further enhance political and economic cooperation with the region.

The increase in the trade figures between Turkey and the Arab world is a concrete testament to the promising potential in this field. We are pleased that the trade volume between Turkey and the Arab world, which was only 13 billion USD in 2004, soared to 37 billion USD in 2008. These figures represent a significant increase of 63%.

Turkey and Lebanon have taken major steps in further developing relations in all fields to a level of excellence. Mutual high level visits have been instrumental in improved relations. In that regard, visits of Prime Minister of Turkey, His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2007 and 2008 and the visit of the President of Lebanon, His Excellency Michel Sleiman to Turkey in April 2009 have given further boost to relations. Developments in the economic, military and cultural fields have been very encouraging and promising.

Lebanon has become one of Turkey’s rising trade partners. The trade volume between our countries has recorded a remarkable 76% increase just last year, pushing the 1 billion USD mark. Furthermore, the increase in our bilateral trade since 2005 is an astonishing 454%. That is, trade between Turkey and Lebanon has quadrupled within the last four years. Moreover, bilateral investments also constitute an important dimension of our commercial relations.

Recognizing the importance of and its role in the Middle East region in general, Turkey actively contributes to the stability and security as well as reconstruction of Lebanon.

In this context, Turkey participates in the UNIFIL with a construction and engineering squadron, two Turkish navy gunboats patrolling the seas off the coast of Lebanon and five officers serving at the UNIFIL headquarters.

Moreover, Turkey has engaged in a number of reconstruction projects ranging from building schools and playgrounds for children to establishing health clinics and a specialized hospital. In this regard, up to date, 41 schools have been built and five playgrounds have been donated. Construction work for a further 16 schools, two health clinics and a rehabilitation and trauma center are underway.

Last month’s parliamentary elections that took place in a calm environment promised to open a new chapter in Lebanese politics. To complement the Lebanese people’s efforts and to show once again Turkey’s unwavering support for their aspirations, we dispatched observers to monitor the election process. As a genuine friend of all Lebanese people regardless of their confessional backgrounds, we hope that a strong and viable government will be formed soon.

Turkey will continue to support Lebanon and stand by its brotherly people.