Speech Delivered by H.E. Mr. Ali Babacan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, at the Dinner Hosted by Mr. Lagendijk, Co-Chairman of Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission (JPC), on 31 March 2009

Mr. Minister,
Mr. Co-Chairmen,
Distinguished Members of the Joint Parliamentary Commission,
Dear Guests,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you at this last meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Commission before the European Parliament elections. I regret that I could be here only for a very short time. But I didn’t want to miss this last chance of seeing most of you.

I am just coming from The Hague from a meeting on Afghanistan and heading to Ankara right after this event.

I would also like to express my gratitude to all the European Parliament members of this Commission for the contributions that you have made during your term of office. I wish you success in the future. And for those of you who are going to run again, I wish you every success for the next term.

We are expecting from all of you to continue the good efforts that this Commission has shown from the very beginning.

Now the European Parliament which is getting more and more strength and more and more support from the people of the European Union is becoming a very fundamental institution for the important decisions about the future of the European Union. This special Commission which brings together the Parliamentarians from the European Parliament and the Turkish Parliament is an excellent setting to exchange views, to have a frequent interaction about the European Union, about Turkey and about the relations between Turkey and the European Union. We have been putting a lot of emphasis to the work of this Commission. I thank you again for what you have done.

When I was thinking about what I could talk tonight I knew that I was going to be addressing to a very knowledgeable audience. You all know many details of the relationship between Turkey and the EU. Not only to know it, but also you have been already strong supporters of the accession period that Turkey has started back in 2004. December 2004 was the date for starting  negotiations with Turkey. But, opening the chapters took place only in 2006 after the screening process and so forth. Now, today I am sure that my colleague Bağış, Minister of State and also the new Chief Negotiator for Turkey’s EU accession process, you have been with him today and he has probably told you more details about the accession process. Tonight I would like to talk a little bit about what we have been doing in other parts of the world.

As you know, Turkey has very close historical links, cultural links with a very vast geography, with Balkans, with the Caucasus, with North Africa, with Middle East, Central Asia. Turkey is also being followed very closely from such a wide area. We have been not only transforming things in Turkey, not only that Turkey has been going through an enormous transformation process on the political side, economic side, social side, but also we have been interacting more and more with this vast geography. Not only the area of our foreign policy gets wider and wider, but also our involvement also gets deeper and deeper. What we are doing that we are trying to bring about peace, security and prosperity to many parts of the world. We are also promoting the very European Union values that Turkey is adopting more and more. These are about democracy, fundamental rights, freedoms, rule of law, free market economy. This has been a process also during which Turkey has been getting more and more appreciation. This year, 2009, is going to be an important transition year for many regions.

The Middle East as you know is an area where we have already some elections. We have many elections to come and also many important changes going on. We started this year with the Gaza War and then now there were elections in Israel. The Government is already there and we will see what is going to happen with the peace process. I think whole world will keep a close eye on what is going to be happening between Israel and Palestinians. Right now there are already negotiations to make this ceasefire a sustainable one. There are also negotiations about how to prevent the arms trafficking into Gaza. There are also talks about exchange of prisoners going on. There are also talks about how to end the blockade on Gaza. Especially after the formation of the new Israeli Government we will have to see how the peace process will continue. This peace process as you know has already three tracks and Israeli-Palestinian track is just one of them. We have also a track between Israel and Syria, which we were the sole mediator last year. There is also another track between Israel and Lebanon. We will have to see how it is going to continue this year. And Lebanon, this is another country where we are going to have elections this year in June and an important place again to follow very closely and if enough attention is not paid we may see difficulties there.

Iraq is another country in the Middle East where we had already one set of elections in January. More to come in the middle of this year and more to come towards the end of the year. So we have this stream of elections coming up.

We have also elections in Iran in June. This is also going to be an important event to follow very closely. Especially when we look from the point of view that the new American Administration is more engagement-oriented as of now towards Iran. We are going to see a lot of movements over there.

When we talk about elections, Afghanistan is another country, where we are going to have election. It is going to be held in August. Another country with a lot of sensitivities, a lot of security issues, problems and it will be very important to follow. We are actually quite heavily engaged with.

Pakistan is another country which had its elections. But still trying to move along the democratic line and also coping with the economic crisis and terrorism and extremism. All these items are going to be quite important agenda items for the region where Turkey and EU are very much involved and the whole world will be watching very closely.

Turkey has different kinds of engagement with all of these regions. Our work in the Middle East is quite visible. What we have been doing to engage Syria first and then to start the peace talks between Israel and Syria. What we have done in Lebanon to make sure that the presidential elections actually happened there. So, there was a crisis which turned almost into a civil war in Lebanon was prevented.

Iraq is a country which we are heavily involved with the political progress and also the development of Iraq. We are talking with all the groups in Iraq without any exception. We are helping them to build a truly democratic system. How it is going to happen? It is going to happen with the engagement of all different groups which are already there in Iraq, making them a part of the process and coaching them to give their fight through the democratic mechanisms, not by using weapons.

Iran is a country which is very important, which has a long history, a unique culture, but also a country which has a nuclear program which is a source of concern for quite a number of countries. We are also neighbors with them and our border with Iran has been the same border since 1639. We have good relations. We have been increasing economic cooperation. But how to, in a way, help the international community understand Iran better and how to help Iran understand the worries of the international community better. This is the role actually we are playing more and more intensively as we go along.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are two countries which we have quite special relations that are not just from government to government but from people to people. We are also helping both of those countries not for their individual stability, security issues and so forth. But we are helping them to work with each other better. They have common enemies, terrorism and extremism. They need to cooperate more against these common enemies. The reason why I have to leave right away is because early tomorrow morning we are going to have the Third Trilateral Summit between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The last Summit which we had in December was development oriented; tomorrow’s Summit is going to be security oriented. We have invited the two Presidents, two Foreign ministers. But also we have invited the chiefs of army and chiefs of intelligence from both countries. We are going to have trilateral meeting not only President to President or Foreign Minister to Foreign Minister, but also trilateral armed forces meeting and trilateral intelligence units meeting. We are trying to help them to cooperate better in all of these areas. There are problems between them and we are helping them to resolve those problems. But we are also trying to make sure that both of the countries domestically also have more of a coherent approach among their different government units.

These are going to be important agenda items for 2009. The Caucasus is also going to be another important geography to watch, especially the South Caucasus. The relations between Georgia and Russia, how this is going to evolve this year, also the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. As you know there is a process between them which has been accelerated recently and how to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh issue. We believe that 2009 is an important year which we can see some positive developments. We think that there is a good window of opportunity right now to go ahead and try to solve this issue.

Turkey and Armenia issue is another important area that we have already a process out there. I would probably say a negotiation process about how to normalize the relations between Turkey and Armenia. We have been doing well advances into the process targeting full normalization and this year is again going to be quite crucial to follow what is going to happen between Turkey and Armenia.

Cyprus is another problematic area this year. We are observing and supporting negotiations between two leaders, Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat. I think there is a chance, I think again there is an opportunity window, if both of the leaders really show the courage and political will to go ahead and finalize. I think that could be possible this year.

Balkans is an area which seems to calm for now. But especially Bosnia-Herzegovina is going to be an important country to follow very closely this year. Also the situation in Kosovo, although after the declaration of independence there has been so far 55 states recognizing Kosovo, but the number is not increasing so fast anymore. I think preserving the stability in Kosovo is going to be also very important.

Macedonia is a country which we have to support and we have to closely watch. A country which could not join NATO yet because of the name problem, although they have fulfilled all the conditions. For Balkans NATO and EU are very important anchors and open door policy and giving them confidence that hey can actually do it if they meet the conditions is going to be very important. Macedonia unfortunately is setting up a bad example for those   countries even though they do everything necessary to become members they may not be able to do so because of unrelated political issues. These are the subjects as I said that we have been working heavily on.

However, Turkish foreign policy is not just limited to the regions which I have already described. We are also increasing our involvement with Subsahara more and more. We have already decided to open 15 more embassies in Subsahara. We have already appointed the first ambassador to Darussalam, Tanzania. This is going to be in addition to the 12 embassies which we have already there in Africa. That is also keeping us quite busy because those countries are not so easy to operate. But we are moving forward in many of these countries. As you know last year African Union declared Turkey as a strategic partner. We are the third stand alone country after China and India. Now Turkey is the third stand alone country which African Union sees officially as a strategic partner. We last year hosted our 1st Africa-Turkey Summit in August that was participated very well. 50 out of 53 countries attended the Summit.

Latin America  is another area where we are going to open more embassies namely Colombia and Peru. We are adding to what we have already there. We are going to open a Consulate-General in Sao Paulo. We have 39 new missions in the pipeline right now which we are working on out of these 20 embassies and 15 consulate generals. We will increase the number of diplomatic missions of Turkey from 150 to 185 within the next couple of years. It is quite a burden on our Ministry. A lot of people, a lot of our diplomats are working over time, at weekends, at night to keep up with the process. We are also engaging more with South Pacific Island states. Last year we had this first Ministerial meeting. 15 island states attended the meeting. All these countries really need support in every sense, humanitarian support, development support, and support  for  their democratic system which we are doing more and more.

These are when we look from the geographical point of view, what we are doing. We are also working a lot on fighting against terrorism, with global terrorism how to increase our role in there and how to increase our cooperation with many countries.

Energy is another area which is becoming more and more important for the European Union especially after what has happened between Russia and Ukraine at the beginning of this year and two years ago. I think supply security is going to be an important item for the foreign policy issues of the countries in the years to come. We have a lot to offer. Because Turkey is a very natural alternative path for the energy resources of the Central Asia or the South Caucasus to reach to the European Union. Not only for those regions, but also energy of Iraq. How to have the gas from Iraq which has plenty quantities over there. Turkey seems to be a natural route towards the European Union.  Also at one point, Iran. I think if political issues around Iran is handled in a different way, we believe that Iran could also be a supplier of gas for the European Union. It is already a big supplier for oil. But for gas some problems have been there. But we believe that it has a huge potential which should be always kept in mind.

Thank you for your patience.