Speech Delivered By H.E. Ali Babacan, Foreign Minister of Turkey, the Atlantic Council,Global Leadership Speaker Series, 3 June 2008
Frederick Kempe: Well, Mr. Foreign Minister, it looks like we have a full house. I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and the CEO of the Atlantic Council of the United States and I want to welcome you to this installment of our global leadership speaker series. First of all, we’re honored to have such a distinguished group in the audience – and such a large group – and I don’t want to begin without thanking foreign minister Ali Babacan for being a part of this Global Leadership speaker series. I also want to acknowledge his Excellency, Nabi Sensoy, the ambassador of Turkey and one of the most respected ambassadors and active ambassadors, effective ambassadors in Washington, who, together with his impressive staff, has helped make this all possible.

I will not introduce you tonight – I’ll leave that to General Scowcroft – but what I do want to do is welcome you and your foreign ministry delegation to the Atlantic Council. I also want to extend my thanks to our board member David Aufhauser and his company UBS who have supported this entire successful speaker series.

Our distinguished speaker this evening, Minister Babacan, finds himself guiding Turkey’s relations with Europe, the United States, and the world at a time of true historic significance. You were at the European Union last week – we’re looking forward to hearing about that you – you have meetings; this is your first public event not only on this trip to Washington, but on your own as a foreign minister of Turkey in the United States. It’s a great honor for us to have you here.

An Atlantic Council event just after the 2007 Turkish parliamentary elections – at that event, our board member, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrook said that Turkey is to our national security what Germany was in the Cold War; he said that it’s our new frontline state. That underscores the significance. And as his fellow board member, a new board member of the Atlantic Council, Nicholas Burns – who is undersecretary of State – he delivered a policy speech here on Turkey and he said, “The Turkish people just concluded historic elections and these elections demonstrated the strong health of Turkey’s democracy. It’s the most impressive democracy in the Muslim world and the results were decisive. Turkey can now expect a period of renewal and growth at home and a period of challenge and greater responsibility in its foreign policy” – that’s quoting Nicholas Burns.

After Minister Babacan’s remarks on what exactly those challenges will be, we are going to engage in a Q&A session with the audience which I’ll lead. At this point, however, to introduce the foreign minister, it’s my honor to turn to a man who can actually introduce you best: the chairman of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board and the chairman of the American Turkish Council and also former national security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush – General Brent Scowcroft.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Fred. I can’t imagine a better introduction to the foreign minister than you have just given. I’m what you call a superfluity. Anyway, it’s a delight for me to introduce the foreign minister who, in my eyes, is one of the principal architects of Turkey’s dynamic growth in the last several years. That’s not what he’s representing here tonight, but he has done Herculean work for this government. For this audience, I don’t think Foreign Minister Babacan needs any introduction, but I’m going to do one anyway.

As most of you know, the minister first rose to public prominence in 2002 when he was appointed minister of state in charge of the economy at the age of 35. Before that, he already was creating an impressive record. He was first in his high school graduating class, first in his graduating class at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Fulbright scholar to pursue his MBA from Northwestern University, and then chairman of his father’s textile business – this is before he went in the government at 35. His stewardship of the economy, as I’ve mentioned, at a very critical time was outstanding.

He managed with great skill to formulate and implement a tough economic reform program, one which has resulted in impressive growth in Turkey over the last five years. In 2005, Prime Minister Erdogan gave Minister Babacan the additional responsibility, opportunity, burden – whatever you want to call it – of chief negotiator for EU affairs. And after the impressive reelection of the AKP last summer, Minister Babacan was promoted to minister of foreign affairs – his present position – at the age of 40. I should note that Prime Minister Erdogan did not relieve him, however, of his EU responsibilities – an acknowledgement of the skill and maybe the difficulty of the task which he is handling on this important portfolio.

Of course, Turkey – in the U.S. eyes – deserves full membership in the EU and the EU will be a better place when this occurs. As Fred said, Turkey is at the center of a critically important region. Economically, politically, strategically, not much goes on without Turkey’s involvement, either openly or behind the scenes as we have seen in the last few days relating to Syria and Israel. There is much we can learn from Turkey about the region, providing we take the time to listen and work together. But just as Turkey important in the dealing with the multifaceted issues around its borders, so what happens within Turkey is important to its neighbors, EU, and the U.S.

The last thing I wanted to do was interfere in internal affairs, but the United States – I think, confidently – certainly hopes that Turkey can resolve this constitutional issue in a manner which allows the government to continue its current path of dynamic development. On that note, let me invite Mr. Babacan to share his thoughts with us. The Atlantic Council is known for dealing with tough, provocative issues and so I am delighted to have you here with us to deal with these tough, provocative issues. Mr. Minister, the floor is yours.

ALI BABACAN:General Scowcroft, President Kempe, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, thank you for your generous introduction. I am, indeed, honored to be introduced by General Scowcroft who is an international icon of wisdom and experience. It’s a distinct pleasure for me to speak today at the Atlantic Council of the Unites States which has been, for many decades, successfully representing the transatlantic community’s key ideals, values, and, indeed, the very purposes – namely, democracy and security.

More than that, we came to a profound understanding about what it is to be free. We realised through the pain and suffering, the difference between deferring to those in power and deciding who they are; between the rule of law and the caprice of dictatorship; between the right to speak out and the silence of the fearful.

Turkish-American relations benefit from a broad-based consensus that cut across party lines. Our alliance in NATO always formed an important aspect of our relationship. As underlined in the share vision and struggled dialogue document between Turkey and the United States, the relationships between the two countries is characterized by strong points of friendship, alliance, mutual trust, and unity of vision. We share the same set of values and ideals in our regional and global objectives: the promotion of peace, democracy, freedom, and prosperity.

We also do cooperate against asymmetrical threats around the world. Turkey and the United States have worked and stood together on many occasions from Korea to Afghanistan. This is a strong portfolio and a valuable background to look ahead. Turkey’s friendship with the U.S. is also more important than the sum of the components of the bilateral relationship. From the Cold War to today, this relationship also evolved. Let me look at the top-10 foreign issues of the United States and the top-10 foreign policy issues of Turkey. You would find that at least seven or eight of them are actually identical issues. What’s more, our targets are very same targets. Sometimes our methods, or how to reach those targets, could change although we do have the same destination.

A healthy transatlantic relationship is fundamental to progress in organizing a strong international system. Our relationships with two sides of the Atlantic complement and, in fact, strengthen each other. Turkey is a founding member of Council of Europe, the OSCE, which is Organization of Security and Cooperation for Europe – and also Turkey has also been an indispensable member of NATO since 1952.

The missing link in this equation so far has been full integration with the European Union and there the initiative has been with the European partners. Since 1963, Turkey is on the path to joining the European Union. In 1996, Turkey has entered into customs union. And this remains an arrangement that no other candidate dared to embark upon prior to actually membership.

Turkey is now an accession country to the European Union. Turkey has already started to adopt the acquis communautaire of the union, a hundred thousand pages of rules, norms, standards, and institutional structures that Turkey is adopting one after another.

Turkey’s membership to the European Union will enhance security and stability from Central Asia to the Middle East and North Africa. All parties in the neighborhood, as indeed the international community at large, closely monitor this accession process. Once this project of the century is complete, it will not only solidify the basic tenets on which the transatlantic alliance stands, but also it will have ramifications of global magnitude.

Whatever we do in Turkey, in terms of our reform process, attract a keen interest from a very large geography: countries in North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia. They are carefully following what we are doing and in Turkey we are proving more and more that Islam, democracy, and secularism can coexist. Islam and modernity are not conflicting concepts and this is very important. There are many young intellectuals – reform-oriented people – all around these regions and when we are more and more successful in this path, those people feel more encouraged. Many, many countries are in need for reform, but then showing them one good example is maybe better than giving them hundreds of different advices.

Ladies and gentleman, over the decades, Turkey has grown into a regional power that has capabilities to deploy both hard and soft power in a smart way. Turkey’s robust democracy, pluralism, economy, secularism, culture, military, demography, and it’s central geographical position on the confluence of cultures, markets, and resources, as well as several conflicts mandate us a foreign policy that is forward-looking, proactive, innovative, and, ultimately, multifaceted. This requires dealing with contagious conflicts in our neighborhood which happen to be some of the most resilient, complicated, and equally important for global affairs. It is customary for Turkey to contribute to the international efforts that seek peaceful resolutions to disputes and rebuild peace and stability in regions suffering from conflicts. And Turkey has been growing more adept in complementing international endeavors through various initiatives.

Take the intricately intertwined Middle East web of conflicts. Since the dramatic events at the turn of the century, the Middle East has reasserted itself as a central front in the efforts to shape a benign future. In the coming months and years, a list of challenges will continue to preoccupy us in the Middle East. In anyone’s shortlist, engendering Arab-Israeli peace, stabilizing a unified Iraq, maintaining stability and security in Lebanon, and coping with the issue of Iran’s nuclear program would come on top of the priorities. We have already been actively engaged in all of these problems.

Turkey has contributed to the efforts towards the resolution of the recent political crisis in Lebanon since its eruption. We have been in constant contact with both the Lebanese groups – every Lebanese group, I would say – and also the leaders of the countries who have influence in Lebanon. We emphasize the importance of dialogue and compromise, called for calm and restraint, and drawn attention to the risk of the continuation of the incidents to the detriment of Lebanon and the region.

Turkey is also engaged with humanitarian aid programs for Lebanon. We have just started to construct our 54th school in Lebanon and we are building these schools across the country, regardless of what kind of group lived in that region. When I went to Lebanon, I opened four schools which were just five kilometers away from the Israeli-Lebanon border. Deputies from different parties did attend. When last Sunday – I would say the Sunday 10 days ago – the presidential election was made in Lebanon; I was there with my prime minister. The prime minister of Qatar and the prime minister of Turkey were the only two heads of governments invited to Beirut for that event. That was an important signal to highlight Turkey’s silent but effective contribution to the peace and stability in Lebanon.

The most recent example is actually the one which I can talk about the least and this is about the peace talks between Syria and Israel. These talks have started and being conducted in an indirect way, which means the talks are going on through Turkey. If there is reasonable progress, then direct talks are going to start and both of the sides asked us to help. It was both the Israeli government’s and the Syrian government’s attempt to come to us and ask us to help and that’s how it started. And we believe that if there is considerable progress then this will help improve the overall climate in the region. And, also, this will be a new mode of conduct in the region.

We are also dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are talking with all the groups. Perhaps Turkey is one of the very countries who have good relations with Israel and good relations with Arabic countries at the same time. We were very effective during the Annapolis conference process. We made sure that the conference became an inclusive conference and we made sure that, also, this conference was attended by many, many countries; we didn’t want an opposition front after the conference. And we will continue to support the peace talks which are already continuing.

For Iraq, we believe that the solution has to be political solution. Political reconstruction will be the key concept for Iraq. We are talking with all the groups in Iraq without any exception. We have started this neighboring-countries process back in January 2003. Turkey initiated this process which has now become the only international platform to discuss the issues about Iraq. The last meeting that we had in Kuwait was also attended by G8 and P5 countries. It was important to bring all the international community together to support the territorial integrity of Iraq, political unity of Iraq. And the declarations that we have been making after these neighboring-countries meetings have already formed and are key for the future of Iraq.

Turkey is also dealing with terrorism in Iraq. The terrorist organization called PKK – which is based in north of Iraq, along the border of Turkey and Iraq, and, also, along the border of Iran and Iraq – is a cause of big problems and we are using many different tools – including military tools – to cope with this terrorist organization. When we talk about Iraq, it’s also important to emphasize some of the cities of Iraq – like Baghdad, like Kirkuk – where multiculturalism is the team. And for Kirkuk, we believe that no unilateral action should be taken. A consensus solution, where we are going to hopefully see all of the groups agree on a common position and then move on, that is what we believe should happen for Kirkuk.

Across another border, we are actively engaging our neighboring Iran in a sincere, frank, and principled manner. It is very clear that Turkey does not want nuclear weapons in its region, but then political dialogue is the key means and the effective means to deal with this issue. Whenever we talk with our neighbor, with whom we have good dialogue, we always talk about transparency, cooperation with the international community. And we do support the recent attempt of the six countries – P5 plus one, namely, including the United States – and we are continuing to support the international community’s efforts.

The Middle East exacts close attention and delicate care, but it is not the only key region afflicted by complicated conflicts. In this regard, the problems in Southern Caucasus, already important in their own right, also carry significance for broader issues, including energy security. Of particular importance are, of course, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts and the ongoing occupation of the Azerbaijan territories by Armenia. And other problems: Abkhazia, South Ossetia. Conflicts – these are troubling for Georgia and each of these conflicts should be resolved peacefully and on the basis of territorial integrity.

With our neighbor Armenia, we are seeking to normalize our relations and with the new president and the new government of Armenia, our president, our prime minister, and myself – we have been sending letters for dialogue, dialogue to normalize relations. Of course, we have to also address our past – the events of 1915, so to say. And we have already offered the government of Armenia to start a joint commission for history and whatever this commission finds out, we already committed ourselves to face the results; our offer is still on the table.

We are heavily engaged with Afghanistan. We have peacekeeping troops over there. Plus, also, we are building hospitals, healthcare centers, schools, all across the country. We are providing humanitarian aid for Pakistan, with whom we have excellent relations. We are also heavily engaged, both before the elections and after the recent elections, in Pakistan. We have been talking with all the parties and calling them for solidarity, for unity, to be sticking together for common aim. In order to cope with the challenges of Pakistan, we have to see political unity and solidarity.

For the problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Turkey has been also heavily involved. Last year, we were able to bring together President Musharraf and President Karzai in Turkey – we had the trilateral summit. And that meeting started a series of talks between the two leaders and mutual visits, and now both of the leaders would like to have a second summit in Turkey again – a trilateral summit – to continue this very rewarding process. Balkans is another areas where Turkey has very strong cultural and historical links. We are working very closely, actually, with the international organizations like NATO, like the United Nations, like the European Union. We are working for the stability, security, and lasting peace in the Balkans, and we have also a very strong cooperation with the United States in Balkans.

Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo and Turkey will continue to be in good relations with many other countries in the region. Greece is a close neighbor of us and the rapprochement process is continuing with Turkey and Greece. Russia – after the Cold War, this country has became second largest trading partner of Turkey – more than a thousand companies operating over there from Turkey, 2.5 million tourist visiting us last year.

We are also working on trilateral projects between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, like the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project, like the BTC pipeline for oil, like Baku-Tbilia-Ezurum pipeline for gas. Cyprus may also be a returning to a positive trajectory four years after the Greeks just turned down the U.N. plan to resolve the Cyprus problem, which dates back to 1963. We regret the joint statement – I should say, we regard the joint statement after the latest meeting of the two leaders in Cyprus on May 23 as progress and as a positive step in the right direction. Bi-zonality, political equality of the two sides, and the equal status of the two constituent states, which will bring about the new partnership state, are the main U.N. parameters of a comprehensive settlement which have evolved as the result of decades of negotiations.

The 1960 Guarantee System of which Turkey, Greece, and United Kingdom are a part should also remain enforced. We hope that the two leaders – Turkey Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders – will process, progress, and manage to advance despite the ups and downs in the process. With this understanding, Turkey will continue to support the present process in good faith and encourages all the sides to find the long overdue solution to the Cyprus question. A comprehensive and just solution in Cyprus will bring peace and stability, not only both of the communities of the island, but, also, to the region as a whole.

Ladies and gentlemen, Eurasia is one of the key geographies that will help shape the global future. Cooperation among Turkey, the United States, and the Central Asian countries has strong and positive ramifications for the prosperity and stability of all Eurasia. This cooperation can take significant steps in the areas of institution building, market economy, and interaction with the Euro-Atlantic structures. From upholding democratic values to energy security to transportation, market economy reforms, investment and joint venture propositions in third counties, there is a wide range of options to advance both our bilateral and regional cooperation in Central Asia.

Ladies and gentleman, perhaps the notable area that Turkey will play a key role is energy and energy security. The issue of energy supply and security has enormous implications for the foreign policy, national security, economic prosperity, and long-term stability of nearly every nation on the planet. Therefore, international cooperation around strategies that will secure and sustain our energy supplies globally is imperative. A keystone to any credible energy-security strategy is diversification of a network of energy sources and transport lines. And Turkey is going to play more and more role into this.

The east-west energy corridor of which some main components are already functional – which I have mentioned, like the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and, also, the gas pipeline is very important. And now, also, we are working on a Nobuko project, which is basically to bring Caspian and Middle Eastern gas via Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, and into the European Union. And also, Turkey is going to be an important country to bring the gas and oil from Iraq to Mediterranean or to European markets.

Distinguished guests, one region where Turkey is also increasing its activities is Africa. In January this year, African Union has declared Turkey as a strategic partner. So after countries like China, India, Japan, and also EU, Turkey is now a strategic partner with the African Union. We are going to host the first summit in Istanbul in August. We are opening up 15 new embassies in sub-Saharan African countries. We have already, quite a lot, trade and cultural activities in many of sub-Saharan African countries. I’m not counting the North African countries where Turkey has already very good historical, cultural, and economic relations.

Just to give more examples of what we are doing to enlarge the scope of our foreign policy, we are opening up four new consulate generals in India, more embassies in Latin America. So before end of 2009, Turkey will opening 30 new missions around the world. Just a month ago, I invited the foreign ministers of South Pacific island states – the 16 island countries, I would say, in the South Pacific. For most of the ministers, it was their first time in Europe – of course, first time in Turkey – and Turkey is a country which is progressing with the reforms – with political reforms, with economic reforms. It is in a position where more and more countries are following very closely what we are doing and this includes very far away countries as like what I have counted.

Distinguished guests, I have offered a birds-eye view of some of the current and foreseeable emphasis of Turkey’s foreign policy. One unmistakable conclusion from this presentation ought to be that Turkey is a key partner in regional and global affairs which has the potential and disposition to do considerable good. Turkey is a country with 70 million population. With $660 billion of GDP last year, Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world. Our external trade volume is already $300 billion.

As a democratic, secular, social state governed by the rule of law, Turkey is a valuable member of the democratic community of nations. It’s a member of the transatlantic community and also poised to join the European Union. Turkey will continue in the decades ahead to be a significant player and a valuable partner at the strategic center of a compelling geopolitical landscape. And thank you for your attention.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Nothing, nothing could have underscored Turkey’s crucial strategic role in the world more than your excellent and far-reaching speech – also underscoring what General Scowcroft said in the beginning. And you certainly underscored for us the extent to which you are enlarging the scope and actually sharpening the focus of Turkish foreign policy. EU, calling it the project of the century; new role in the Middle East, talking about the silent and effective policy toward Lebanon, the still-silent – we’ll see – effective policy on Syria.

It will be interesting to hear what you get back here about the idea of a political dialogue with Iran. Sorry, the central role that you’re playing in energy security and even stretching to Africa.

So I’m going to start – and then turn to the audience as quickly as possible – with the one question you didn’t deal with, but which will have foreign policy consequences. You are the first senior-level official to visit from Ankara to Washington since the chief prosecutor presented the case to the constitutional court in March to shut down the ruling Justice and Development Party and ban its leaders from politics. And they include Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.

How likely do you think this is to go ahead? What impact might that have on Turkey and its relations with Europe and the United States?

MR. BABACAN: Well, Turkey is a country which has gone through an enormous transformation. This has been a political transformation. This has been an economic transformation. This has been a social transformation.

But like every major transformation, this comes with also some noises, some pains, I would say. A country like Turkey, where we are trying to improve our democratic system, improve our practice of fundamental rights and freedoms, improve the rule of law, I would say, this is taking time. When I talked about the nature of Republic of Turkey during my initial remarks, I have already said that Turkey is democratic, secular, social state of – rule of state, which means we are embracing all the values of democracy, secularism altogether.

Right now, there is this case at the constitutional court, as you said. And when we deal with this issue, it is also very important to preserve the basic principles – basic principles like separation of powers, like independence of the judiciary, like credibility of the judiciary. So all these concepts are very important to preserve as we go through these times in Turkey.

And whatever the constitutional court decides is going to be a final decision, whether we like it or not, we have to obey it. But as the government, as the ruling party, we will always move on strong ways of legitimacy. When I talk about legitimacy, this is first legal legitimacy. This is international legitimacy, which means does the international community accept? Or has it posted you about what’s being done? And also, legitimacy with the hearts and minds of the people of the country.

So it is difficult to tell when or in which direction the court will make its decision. But it is important to emphasize that the decision will be a final one. And it is a decision to be followed and obeyed, whatever it turns out to be.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much. I’m going to ask just one more question and then turn to the audience. And this one is on the European Union. You did call it the “project of the century.” Not everyone in the European Union is coming down on the same side of where that project should land.

You’ve just come back from the EU and you’ve come back from Brussels. There does seem to have been some backsliding on the part of some leaders, some countries, toward what seemed to be a clear commitment of the European Union toward Turkish membership. What happens if that continues? What is the cost to the European Union of that and what is you strategy to make sure that doesn’t happen?

MR. BABACAN: It was December 2004 when the EU made the decision to let Turkey start negotiations for full membership. And this decision was taken by the consensus of all the member states. In October 2005, the negotiation framework document was adopted, which is the main legal document between Turkey and the EU about accession negotiations. And this document was also approved by all the member states, and also by Turkey as well.

So in a way, there is a legally binding document in a way, for both Turkey and the EU, stating that Turkey will start the negotiations and will target membership, will target accession. Is it guaranteed that we will actually become a member of the EU one day? No, because by the nature of the process, it is an open-ended process of which the outcome cannot be guaranteed. First, Turkey has to fulfill all the conditionality. Turkey has to go through all the political and economic reforms. And then, at the end of the process, we will still need the consensus of all the member states, and also we will have to get a “yes” from Turkey as well.

We cannot know five years, seven years, 10 years from now, what kind of a climate we will see in the EU, what kind of a climate we will see in Turkey. But what is important is the process is a win-win process. Regardless of the outcome, regardless of the final destination, the journey itself is a rewarding journey. It’s good for Turkey because it helps us to continuously upgrade our system, to continuously improve the quality of life for our people, to upgrade our democracy. It is good for the EU because a country like Turkey is getting closer and closer to the EU structures and sharing more and more of the Western values. And that’s why, actually, although there are a lot of noises in the process, Turkey is on track and Turkey is moving forward.

MR. KEMPE: And so, just to sum up, it seems to me that you’re saying, ignore the political noise. Hold your partners to what they’ve committed and move forward on both sides in a way laying aside the political noise.

MR. BABACAN: What it’s important is, the discussion is too much on whether Turkey should become a member or not. So that’s being discussed by some member states, not all, some. And what we are saying, that this discussion will take – anyways – place at the very end of the process. Why discuss it right now and discourage people? Let’s move forward and discuss the membership at the very end, which is going to be discussed anyways.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister. I see so many questions. I don’t even know where to start. Let’s start here and then I’ll get as many of you as I can.

Q: Timothy Towel (ph), retired U.S. diplomat. Thank you, Mr. Minister, for seeing us and your exposition. Your dynamic and energetic ambassador here in Washington, who is sitting in the front row, has I’m sure reported to you that we’re in the midst of a very exciting electoral campaign here and that, perhaps, maybe, somehow you’ll have a Democrat in the White House when you come and visit us next year.

One of the strongest supporters of one of the key candidates is on TV with a grin every other night talking about his solution for the Iraq problem, which is, essentially, dividing it up in three parts and giving the Kurds autonomy. If you run up and see Senator Joe Biden on Capitol Hill tomorrow or run into him at the White House by accident, what will you say to the senator about that strategic concept of his?

MR. BABACAN: Shall we go one-by-one or –

MR. KEMPE: Yeah, question-answer. We’ll keep the questions short and you can keep your answers short and we’ll get in a lot of questions, I hope

MR. BABACAN: Well, as I touched briefly during my initial remarks, territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq is something which all of the neighboring countries plus G8, plus P5 plus 1, it was probably a topic for debate maybe in 2003, 2004. But now, I think, a lot of people understand in depth that a divided Iraq will bring a lot, a lot of difficulties to the region. And no neighboring countries, not even one single country in the region, wants it.

And also it is much easier to work on how to keep Iraq united rather than trying to find ways of how to divide up Iraq. Iraq is not an easy country to be divided up because there is not very clear concentrations of ethnicities, religious sects and – (inaudible) – in different areas. Iraq has the heritage of being a multicultural area. You go back to 100 years ago, 200 years ago, 300 years ago, it was always an area where different ethnicities, different sects live together, mostly in peace. Sometimes maybe they had problems between them, but that region has the heritage of coexistence. And that’s why we strongly believe that an Iraq which can have its political reconciliation, a government, a parliament where different groups are represented is possible and that’s what the international community should concentrate on.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. General Walden (ph). Even though I’ve introduced you, please identify yourself as you ask your question, too.

Q: I’m General Chuck (ph) Walden, retired from the U.S. military and I’d like to ask you a question on membership and continuity of countries. And that is with respect to Georgia and Abkhazia, specifically. And I would like to have your opinion on how you would see, if you could sit down with the Russian foreign minister today or the Russian government or the EU could or the United States, how we could resolve the Abkhazia issue with Georgia and how you see the outcome. Thank you.

MR. BABACAN: For Georgia, territorial integrity is essential. But then, what kind of a setup, what kind of a relationship we’ve formed between different entities and the central government is something to be decided by the people of the country, by the people of the region. But whichever format, whichever kind of a solution we work on, for not only Georgia, but for also different countries in the South Caucasus, territorial integrity, important. And that’s what we are supporting always. We have good relations with Georgia and also we have historical, cultural links with Abkhazia also. But then what we tell them both is territorial integrity.

MR. KEMPE: Right here. Where’s the microphone? Sorry.

Q: Thank you. Miriam Sapiro, Summit Strategies and formerly at the NSC and State Department. Your Excellency, that was a terrific tour de force outlining many achievements and accomplishments. And I think perhaps one of the most intriguing ones is the peace process that you’ve been able to jumpstart between Israel and Syria. So I’m wondering if you could share with us some of your personal reflections on the catalyst for that event as well as your involvement and the kind of reaction that you – that the news received in Washington.

MR. KEMPE: Let me translate that. Did the Israeli strike have a role in – (laughter) – starting the talks or not?

Q: I was being diplomatic.

MR. KEMPE: I – (chuckles).

MR. BABACAN: With Syria, for decades and decades, we have very bad relations. We have an 800-kilometer border and, along that border, we have a million of mines. Not a presidential visit happened between two countries for almost 60 years or so. Five years ago, when we first took over the government, we started a policy which is more towards engaging Syria. It’s a policy which involves more dialogue. And we believe that by talking more and more, by understanding them more in that, we could probably make Syria part of solutions, not part of problems.

And the dialogue that we have developed with them, although it was probably suspected about initially because some countries prefer isolationist policies to Syria, which we thought would only push them to follow more negative policies, I would say. Engaging them, talking with them started to give results, by the way. And the fact that we have developed this dialogue with Syria, the fact that Syria has now more and more trust with Turkey has helped to start this process, in my view.

And I will just give some figures, maybe, tourism figures. From Israel last year, we received 500,000 tourists. That means 8 percent of their population. From Iran, we received another 1 million. Why I am giving these figures is that when Iranians or Israelis visit Turkey, they feel very comfortable. The people of Turkey don’t have prejudices, biases. They are guests and they are neighbors and they should be treated as neighbors and guests.

So it is not, in my view, just not government-to-government relations, but also this people-to-people relations, human-to-human contact, I would say, is helping this process. And when both the government of Israel and the government of Syria approached us and asked us to help them, then we didn’t have much choice.

I am happy that the United States, Arab League, the European Union, many other individual countries are very supportive of this process. And so far we have not heard any one single negative comment or approach from any country. And we hope that we make some meaningful progress.

The first meeting was made in Istanbul and several other meetings are already scheduled in terms of the date, timing. So I think we have reasons to be hopeful, but I don’t want to raise the expectations that high because this is not an easy process. But as long as there is some hope, it is worth trying.

MR. KEMPE: I mean, one of the most interesting things you’ve talked about tonight is Turkey’s enhanced role in the Middle East generally. Going back to the questioner’s comment on catalytic role, what do you think? Why Israel and Syria interested now? Why is there a possibility now?

MR. BABACAN: I think, at the core of the problem, there was lack of trust. And now that both Israel and Syria have trust with Turkey, that means that there is an opportunity. And as the main principle, there is the concept of peace for land and also relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, of course. Why now may be many, many different reasons, but trust, confidence was very important and that’s what’s happening right now.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Question right here –

Q: Stephen Flanagan from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Babacan, the outline that you gave us of the range of diplomatic engagement of your country is impressive in its scope. But you didn’t – you also noted that the EU accession process is the “project of the century.” But I wondered if you could go down the list of your priorities over the next several years. After the EU project, what are the – what is the rest of your top-five list, so to speak, that would give us a better sense of the convergence between U.S. and Turkish priorities?

MR. BABACAN: Starting with the European Union, why we say it’s “the project of the century,” the European Union, for the 20th century, was probably the most important peace project after the Second World War. And this peace project started between six countries which were fighting against each other during the Second World War. Millions died. But then they found this common base, starting from the coal and steel business, let’s say, and growing into this big regional, political entity. And especially after 9/11, especially after all of the rhetoric of clash of civilizations, I would say, now the fact that Turkey has started this process and Turkey is moving forward is sending the right kind of messages to a very wide area.

And if the EU is the most important peace project for the 20th century, Turkey’s accession to the EU, a country which has a predominantly Muslim population, is also sharing more and more of the Western values, is going to be an important peace project again for this century. That’s why I have emphasized that.

What we have started also with the government of Spain is Alliance of Civilizations. Turkey and Spain, we are now co-chairs and we also involve the United nations. We thought that it should not be just two countries and it should be something for the international community and involve more and more countries.

The secretary general accepted this idea. He liked this idea because this was about interfaith dialogue, intercultural dialogue, relations between Islam and the West. So these are the concepts that we are dealing with in this Alliance of Civilizations initiative. And the secretary general appointed a high representative, President Sampaio, a former president of Portugal, for this project.

And then we offered, why don’t we open a list of countries who would call themselves friends of the alliance? Right now, more than 70 countries, 15 international organizations, have listed themselves in this alliance as friend of alliance. We had the first forum in Madrid; 45 foreign ministers showed up. The second forum will take place in Istanbul in April.

We asked the countries to come up with their national plans, to come up with concrete projects: Spain did; Turkey did. I attend the Balkan ministerial meeting two weeks ago. I found out that Romania, Bulgaria, Albania have already prepared their national plans for the Alliance of Civilizations. A month ago, Argentina hosted the big event. Kazakhstan in October will be hosting another event. So I think this initiative is already catching up and finding a lot of attention, I would say, across the world. So that’s another important step that we have initiated with Spain and it’s catching on.

So what we want for the remaining years or decades: peace, stability, prosperity in Middle East, in Balkans, in Caucasus. And we will effectively work on all of these. And you will see that in many of these areas, the target of the United States and the target of Turkey, in many of the cases, will be very overlapping, even the methodology will be very same. Some areas, for some countries, we may choose different methods, different approaches of how to reach the same destination, but I see a lot of potential of more cooperation between Turkey and the United States in many, many regional and global issues.

MR. KEMPE: And Ron may speak to what you’re talking about where you may have a different approach in terms of wanting to talk directly to the government as opposed to –

MR. BABACAN: Well, actually, when we consider the most recent attempt of the P5 plus 1, the six countries, the United States is one of those six countries who is now approaching Iran with a positive package, so to say. And we are expecting Javier Solana, the EU representative, to see his counterparts in Iran sometime soon. And that’s what we want to say.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. I see a question there, just to show I do have peripheral vision.

Q: Thank you. Al Millikin, Washington Independent Writers. Behind the scenes, when you are in bilateral or private communication with your comparable political representatives with the Greek government, how would you describe that current relationship? When it comes to the accession negotiations to the EU, how do you view the role Greece has played thus far and how do you think that may change in the days and years ahead. And, finally, with your joint historic roots in the early day of Christianity, our modern-day diplomats and politicians from both Turkey and Greece, very aware and sensitive to that shared ancient history.

MR. BABACAN: Well, actually, during the last maybe eight, nine years, we have been going through a rapprochement process with Greece, which means we are talking more often. After 49 years, the prime ministers of Greece visited Turkey officially. This didn’t take place for almost five decades and this happened just at the beginning of this year.

My prime minister went there several times. And we are now talking between us all of the issues very openly, whether it is Cyprus, whether it is about the issues about the Aegean Sea, whether it’s about the issues in minorities in Turkey, which means Greek-Orthodox minority in Turkey, or Turkish minorities living in the Western Thrace, we are now openly talking about all of these issues. We have these exploratory talks about the Aegean Sea and, ironically, Greece is supporting us for the EU accession process, mostly because maybe they believe a Turkey which is a part of EU will become a much better neighbor for Greece. That’s maybe what they are – what’s in the back of their minds.

Also, we are observing that Greece, from time to time, they use the EU structures or the EU rules or standards or institutions, so to say, to make Turkey do what they want in our bilateral relations, which is sometimes backfiring, sometimes working out for them. But, in a way, they have this interesting interest to see Turkey in the EU process and they are supporting us. So we want to have better and better relations with Greece. We have every interest to be – to have good neighborly relations with them and that’s what we’ve been trying to achieve for a while and we are getting good results, I would say.

Our policy as Turkey is having zero problems with our neighbors. That’s our target. Five years ago, with our government back in November 2002, we declared that our neighbor policy is zero problems with our neighbors. That’s what we are targeting and that’s what we are showing more and more.

MR. KEMPE: We have time for one last question. The gentleman in the back has been very patient with me so, please, a quick last question and then the minister’s answer.

Q: This is Amit Inginsor (ph) with Turkish NT Television (ph). Mr. Minister, very nice to see you here again. I understand last week, in Brussels, at some point you said Turkey’s Muslims also had problems. I was wondering what the problems Turkey’s Muslims are facing. Thank you.

MR. BABACAN: Well, just looking at our reform process for the five years which have passed, we have made many reforms to deepen our democracy. We have made many reforms to improve our practices of fundamental rights and freedoms. We have made many reforms to make sure that rule of law functions better and better in Turkey.

And whatever we have done, it was for every single citizen of Turkey. Whatever reforms we have made improved the conditions in Turkey for all the citizens of turkey, regardless of their religion, regardless of their cultural background, regardless of their ethnic origin, and so forth. And I think we have to be very open and we have to face the realities. If we don’t talk about the problems, then we don’t devise solutions.

And that’s what we have done back in 2002. We came up with the huge list of problems that we had in front of us and we have started to tackle with those problems one by one. And whatever we have done benefited the whole nation because we believe that improving the areas of freedoms in Turkey is something that we gain from. Although we have been doing many of these reforms within the context of our EU accession process, because we have targeted the Copenhagen criteria as the criteria to fulfill, and sometimes these reforms have been talked about as if EU is imposing all of these reforms on Turkey. We thought this is not the case.

We thought that giving more freedoms to our people is for our people. Our people only benefit from deepening the democracy, improving the practices and liberties. And we have to continue this. We are not perfect; we have to accept this. And we have done a lot, but a lot remains to be done in Turkey. Nobody can claim that Turkey is 100 percent conforming to the Copenhagen criteria yet.

At the end of 2004, we passed the critical threshold. We sufficiently met the Copenhagen criteria, but, in order to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria 100 percent, we still have a long list of reforms in front of us. And my party, my government has every interest and strong political view to move forward.

MR. KEMPE: The – I –

MR. BABACAN: You have to listen to it very carefully.

MR. KEMPE: The – I think that’s a good line on which to end: You have to listen very carefully. Before I thank you for, I think, what was an absolutely fascinating evening where we got some real insight into the breadth and depth of your foreign-policy challenges and opportunities, I want to thank David Aufhauser and UBS, our board member who has supported this entire series. I want to thank him again for that and I want to thank General Scowcroft for giving such a meaty and wonderful introduction.

And I think you clearly repeated as top priority a couple of times as project of the century Turkey’s accession to the European Union. And I think, if you look at the Atlantic Council’s position over this, over time, we’ve been pretty consistent. And we wish you the best in that endeavor. So on behalf of the audience, thank you very much, Minister Babacan.

MR. BABACAN: Thank you. Thank you for your time.