Speech Delivered by H.E. Ali Babacan at The Council on Foreign Relations, New York, September 22, 2008


Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like, first of all, to express my appreciation to the “Council on Foreign Relations” for organizing this event. This esteemed institution continues to make unique contributions to the deliberations on the major foreign policy issues of our time, and I am happy to be here with you today.

There is no doubt that the international system is in a state of transition. Last month, as the Olympics got off to a grand start in Beijing and all eyes turned to China, the drastic developments in the Caucasus reminded us all, once again, that we do live in volatile times.

To many academicians who study geopolitics, the diverse regions surrounding Turkey are all fascinating case studies. For us, they are a fact of daily life where, unfortunately, there is never a dull moment. The Caucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa; these are all regions with their distinct dynamics and intractable issues. This is why Turkish foreign policy is endeavoring to find feasible solutions to the many regional disputes and frozen conflicts we are faced with.

We do this not just because it is in our interest to promote security in our immediate vicinity, but also because, as experience shows, the cost of inaction is almost always much higher.

With this understanding, immediately after the hostilities began in Georgia, we started a round of intense shuttle diplomacy with Moscow and Tbilisi as well as other major actors.

Our goal was to bring an end to the hostilities as soon as possible and get the parties to start talking to each other in a meaningful manner and not through a megaphone diplomacy.

During our contacts, we emphasized the importance we attribute to the need for restoring stability in the Caucasus, ending all hostilities, and adhering to the twin principles of non-use of force and resolving existing disputes through peaceful means.

While doing this, we were very careful in staying on the message about the need to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and not getting into a blame game. During our efforts, we stayed in close coordination with the US, the UN, the EU and other influential players.

In our contacts which were conducted at the highest levels in Moscow, Tbilisi, Baku and Yerevan, we proposed an offer to create a regional platform for cooperation and stability that would cover the countries of the Caucasus. This new initiative, which we called “the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform”, aims to bring a new impetus and a functional process to the region.

Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation changed the parameters and made the situation much more complicated. Now, we must all work together to find a way forward in the Southern Caucasus. Clearly, there will be no quick-fixes and the solutions may involve making some hard choices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sometimes opportunities present themselves based on chance and it is incumbent on us to take the big leap forward.

Just two weeks ago, I accompanied President Gül to Yerevan to watch, together with the Armenian President and Foreign Minister, the World Cup soccer qualifier between Turkey and Armenia.

This trip allowed for a significant exchange of views on the issues affecting both bilateral relations as well as regional security. We hope to be able to build on the dialogue we have started with Armenia. There is no doubt that the path ahead will have its fair share of challenges. And, it will be difficult to overcome some of the historical baggage that continues to haunt us in the region. But, working together with all the nations in the Caucasus, we can bring about positive change for today and future generations.

Distinguished Guests,

The events in the Caucasus have shown to all how complicated Turkey’s neighborhood is. But it has also brought home, once again, the importance of our traditional ties. The enduring bonds between Turkey and the US have always been characterized by friendship, alliance and mutual trust. Our two countries share the same set of values like democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. These basic tenets underpin our strategic partnership.

The long and diverse list of issues we are cooperating on speaks for itself: for example, ensuring secure energy supply to Western markets, fighting terrorism on a global scale, ensuring stability in the Balkans and the Caucasus, stabilizing Afghanistan, bringing security and stability to Iraq, supporting Pakistan in its efforts to find internal harmony, safeguarding the political transition in Lebanon, working for the success of the Middle East Peace Process, preventing a new arms race in the region. These are all matters which are crucial to both US and Turkey. These are crucial for our national interests and for regional and international stability.

Today, I met with my US counterpart, Secretary of State Dr. Rice. When we both look at our top priority policies; we see that most of them out of the first ten are almost same. When we look at the many issues on our agenda, we see a broad consensus between Turkey and the US on the ideals and objectives related to both regional and global issues. We also see a common resolve to move forward on the critical issues we are all faced with. This commonality of vision and resolve gives us confidence today and reinforces our strategic partnership as we look to the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Turkey believes that the quest for peace, security and stability in the Middle East is a noble and necessary endeavor. The region is faced with many challenges and the grievances, in some cases are centuries old. We are in need of lasting solutions to the problems which today have largely become interrelated.

There must be a final solution to the Palestinian problem, based on two-states, living side by side, within recognized and secure borders, in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. The Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative are crucial tools in this regard. We continue to support the political process started at Annapolis and believe that it must succeed against all odds. The rift among the Palestinians, which is harmful to both the Palestinian cause and the peace process, must be bridged as an indispensable part of a peace agreement and must also be given priority.

The Middle East Peace Process will be incomplete without agreements in other tracks. We therefore attribute special importance to the Israeli-Syrian indirect peace talks which have started under Turkey’s auspices after an 8 year interval. We commend the two countries for taking the courageous step in an attempt to settle their problems through negotiations. There is goodwill on both sides and we are hopeful for a successful outcome at the end of the process.

We have noted with satisfaction the recent positive developments in Lebanon. We expect the Doha Agreement to be fully implemented and we believe that the international community must fulfill its commitment for stability in Lebanon. Turkey’s contributions to the reconstruction of Lebanon and participation in the expanded UNIFIL are concrete manifestations of our resolve in this regard.

We welcome the recent contacts between Syria and Lebanon and the decision to establish diplomatic relations as an important step in the right direction.

Turkey is committed to peace and security in the Middle East and we will continue to do our best to help achieve this. In this context, we have continued to expand our ties across different but affiliated regions during the last year.

At this juncture where the Middle East is facing many challenges and threats, the only way to overcome the interrelated and multidimensional problems is through collective response. If we are going to counter these challenges with success, the countries of the region need to join their capabilities and enhance their coordination and cooperation with the ultimate aim of establishing a common area of peace, security, stability and prosperity.

History stands as testament that problems in a region are best addressed by the countries of that very region, through their own institutions. The OSCE in Europe and CICA in Asia are prime examples. We could try to replicate this notion in the Middle East as well.

In this regard, we believe that it is time for us to establish a system which will contribute to not only the peaceful settlement of existing disputes and crises, but also the prevention of the emergence of new ones. We will pursue the issue in consultation with our partners in the Middle East.

Distinguished Guests,

Stability in the Middle East cannot be attained without stability in Iraq. In light of the present conditions in Iraq, I can say that we are reaching a critical turning point. At this critical stage, we should think and act in a realistic way. We should concentrate our efforts on building on the achievements in the field of security and help the Iraqis with the ongoing political process. An essential prerequisite for the success of this process is national reconciliation among all components of the Iraqi society. We need to do our best to ensure that this reconciliation is based on a common understanding with regard to the future of Iraq. This should include a fair solution to the problem of the status of Kirkuk that does not victimize any indigenous group.

We in Turkey continue to hope that such a common vision will be reinforced as the problems that have recently risen with regard to the Provincial Elections Law and the Hydrocarbon Law are resolved. Nevertheless, we must take into account the fact that the security situation is fragile. If the provincial elections can be held in a climate of prudence and wisdom, we may be able to see lasting political gains.

Turkey deems it essential that the international community work together to support the genuine steps being taken by the Iraqi government towards strengthening its security forces in order to maintain Iraq’s territorial integrity and national unity.

For its part, Turkey is determined to continue with its efforts to bolster reconciliation between the Iraqi groups and to help with the rebuilding of the country. We in turn expect continued and sincere cooperation from both the Central Government and the administration in the north of Iraq in the fight against PKK terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The issue of Iran’s nuclear program is also one that continues to preoccupy many in the international community as well as in the Middle East. We believe that a solution through diplomacy is achievable. We firmly believe that a possible solution should take into account the right to make peaceful use of nuclear energy, but in conformity with the IAEA norms and the NPT obligations. In this context, the concerns of the international community, regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction should also be addressed.

We hope that all parties concerned will seize the opportunity provided by the current negotiation process. However, the differences in views and also perceptions seem to be very wide and the continuing lack of confidence on all sides is hindering the attempts at reaching a breakthrough. Turkey will continue to do its utmost to contribute to the diplomatic process and help finding a way out of this impasse. We are also talking with the six countries who have made a proposal to Iran.

Distinguished Guests,

While dealing with all the difficult crises around us, we are also moving forward with our long-standing goal of full European Union membership. The comprehensive process of reforms in Turkey to meet the EU criteria for membership is ongoing and we are pressing ahead with our accession negotiations.

While the political will to accelerate this effort and bring it to a conclusion exists in Turkey, we feel that the European Union is not always showing the determination that it did in the last round of enlargement. There may be some explanations for this. But ultimately, if the European Union wants to be a truly global player, with a healthy and vibrant economy, it must include Turkey among its ranks.

At a time when drastic developments are taking shape in the regions surrounding Europe and Turkey and our collective security, stability and cohesion are once again in doubt, the European Union is certainly not doing itself any long term strategic favors by keeping Turkey at an arm’s length. We believe that we have much to contribute and we will continue our drive for membership.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would also like to say a few words about Cyprus as the days, weeks, and months ahead will be critically important in the work to find a just and viable settlement to this issue.

As we have shown during the past several years and particularly in 2004, Turkey is committed to maintaining its constructive approach towards a settlement and we believe that the year 2008 offers a window of opportunity for achieving this. That is why, we have supported the positive approach by the Turkish Cypriot side to start full-fledged negotiations as soon as possible.

The two leaders had initiated a preparatory process in March and finally on September 3rd, the comprehensive negotiations have been launched under the good offices mission of the UN Secretary-General. We welcome this wholeheartedly. As a result of the negotiations, we hope that a new partnership State will be established by the two Constituent States of equal status on the basis of the UN parameters of bi-zonality and political equality of the two sides; where the 1960 guarantee system would be preserved.

On the other hand, the forty-year long isolations imposed on the Turkish Cypriots are still in place. We expect the international community to act in conformity with the position of the former UN Secretary-General, who, in his report to the Security Council, made a call for the removal of all the restrictions on the Turkish Cypriots.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Turkey is much aware of the developments and potentials beyond its immediate vicinity. Africa is one of them. We are further developing our relations with the continent. The African Union has recently announced Turkey as one of its very few Strategic Partners. We became a member of the African Development Bank this year. We recently held the very first Turkey-Africa Summit in Turkey which was attended by several presidents and ministers from 63 countries. The Turkish Cooperation Agency, TİKA, is active in 37 countries on this continent. In order to consolidate our ties with Africa, we are currently in the process of opening 15 new Embassies in Sub-Saharan Africa.

By the same token, we are in full trottle to establish 4 new Consulate Generals in India. A new phase in our relations with this country has just started.

We are also paying particular attention to the challenges faced by the Pasific Island States in the light of emerging environmental calamities. This year we hosted the Foreign Ministers of these states in Istanbul for the very first time. For some of them, it was their first time not only in Turkey, but in Europe as well.

Last, but not least, we held a High Level Meeting between Turkey and the Caribbean States in August in Istanbul to further increase the level of our cooperation with them.

Distinguished Guests,

As we approach to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, it is clear that when it comes to international relations and what the foreseeable future holds; there are more questions than there we have answers. The dynamics at play are more complicated, multifaceted and intertwined, than ever before.

This new reality, in a new Century, requires new thinking, flexible approaches and collective action. If we cannot adapt to the new strategic environment and take steps to shape our own future, history will surely not be kind to us. Such action requires political will, leadership and also ownership.

This is why Turkey is working as a promoter of positive change in so many different domains and trying to create new avenues that will complement existing ones and open the path to more security and stability on an international scale.

While many resign themselves to events and await the emergence of a new world order by itself that may never come, we are working, day in day out, to affect positive change, address regional problems and build security, stability and prosperity from the ground up. We are convinced that, by working together, we can take ownership of the future and constructively shape events, rather than let events dictate the terms for us.

Thank you.