Speech Delivered by H.E. Mr. Ali Babacan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, at the Aspen Atlantic Group's 2009 Annual Meeting, TOBB, 24 April 2009, Ankara

Madam Secretary,
Chairman Hisarcıklıoğlu,
Distinguished Members of the Aspen Atlantic Group,
Dear Colleagues, Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is such an inspiring experience for me to address the esteemed members of the Aspen Atlantic Group.

This Group includes great wealth of experiences and wisdom. I am really delighted to be here among such an experienced group.

I welcome and salute every one of the former Foreign Ministers, Ambassadors and other leading opinion shapers represented in this audience. I wish you a pleasant stay in Turkey.

The visit of your Group takes place in the immediate wake of a historic couple of weeks in the international agenda.

What we had recently was the 60th Anniversary of the NATO which took place in Strasbourg and Kehl. German and France co-hosted this Summit.

We also had the 1st US-EU Summit which took place in Prague, also a symbolic place. It was a summit which President Obama attended for the first time.

We had the Alliance of Civilizations Annual Forum in Istanbul which was another successful event.

Recently President Obama’s visit to Turkey which was the very first overseas bilateral visit that he has made was also an important milestone that we have seen over the last couple of weeks.
Turkey is a country which has quite a busy foreign policy agenda. It is so natural given our historical ties, cultural ties with such a large geography. When we talk about the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, North Africa, when we talk about issues on Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey is a country which is not only deeply involved, but also a country which has an important responsibility and role for peace and stability.

Turkey is a country which has very strong alliance with the Western organizations. Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe from the very beginning. Turkey is a member of Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also Turkey is a negotiating candidate country for the European Union. We are not just a candidate, but we are also far in the process of becoming a member of the European Union.

But simultaneously, Turkey is a member of Organization of Islamic Conference. Turkey is also a leading country, a founder country for regional organizations.

For example the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization which includes the countries in the Black Sea area.

Turkey is also a founding member of the Economic Cooperation Organization which includes Turkey, Iran, Pakistan Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and five Central Asian countries.

Turkey is the founder of the Southeastern European Cooperation Process, an organization which includes all the Balkans.

Recently Turkey also has founded the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, which includes Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.

During the last one year period we have strengthened our institutional link with the Arab League. We have now “Arab League plus Turkey” Forum. Ministers meet every six month. We have “Gulf Cooperation Council plus Turkey” forum including six Gulf countries namely, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman plus Turkey. Ministers meet every six month.

Last year the African Union declared Turkey as a strategic partner. Turkey is one of the only three stand alone countries which the African Union declared as the strategic partner. These are China, India and Turkey.

We are also deepening our relationship with the Pacific Island States for which, last year, I hosted a Ministerial Meeting, very first time in our history and in the history of the Pacific Island States as well.

I think more than all what is changing about Turkey is that Turkey is now turning into a country which has a sense of global responsibility. We are not just looking for our immediate neighborhood, we are not dealing with crises which are just happening and which we are reacting, but we are proactively working to prevent crisis. We are also dealing with a wide variety of issues even in far away places.

When I started as the Foreign Minister and when I met with my American counterpart Condi Rice first time, I told her “Let’s list ten top foreign policy issues of the United States. Then I am going to write down the top ten foreign policy issues of Turkey and let’s compare those lists.” Those lists were almost identical except one item which was North Korea. That was in the list of Condi Rice but not mine. But starting from 1st of January 2009, we are in the United Nations Security Council and we are chairing the Sanctions Committee for North Korea. So this more or less shows the extent of what we are dealing with.

On one hand, Turkey is a country which is going through an enormous change in terms of its economy, its democracy its practices of fundamental rights and freedoms which are the very same values that the European Union or the United States embrace and promote around the world. But Turkey is also taking these values and promoting these values in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa.

Turkey is a very important example for our region since its ability to bring together three important concepts. We have democracy, secularism and Islam existing together and functioning together. This is in my view a big opportunity and giving people a horizon of what could happen actually. There are many young intellectuals, reform-minded people in the Middle East, in North Africa, in the Central Asia. Those people would like to see a working example in front of them so that they feel more encouraged for the ideas that they have. They would be able to say “Look. This can happen. This can work out” The reforms that Turkey has been doing here in our country is not just relevant to Turkey, these reforms are relevant to a wide geography. This maybe one of the reasons for 300 journalists only from Arab nations, many journalists from around the world coming to Brussels and following what is going to happen with Turkey when Turkey was accepted to be a negotiating country for the EU in 2004. Positive decision of the EU was cheered in the Islamic World. It was the first news on TV’s and also headlines in newspapers. Why I say so many countries are much involved about our EU accession process and I am giving this example in order to highlight the importance of what we are doing in Turkey and its reflection on a wide geography.

Energy security is one area, which Turkey is playing an important role. Turkey is now a country which is providing enormous opportunities for East-West and North-South energy links. We have already Bakü-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline fully functional. We have also Bakü-Tbilisi-Erzurum Gas Pipeline fully functional. Last year we completed the Interconnector between Turkey and Greece which will extent into Italy as well. We have already a major gas pipeline between Turkey and the Russian Federation. There is already an oil pipeline between Iraq and Turkey.

There are many more projects coming up. NABUCCO is an example. Arab Gas Pipeline is another example. We are also working on projects between Iraq and Turkey for gas and oil. Even at one point we believe Iran could be a viable option for the energy security of the European Union.

Our relations with the Russian Federation is something which I would like to emphasize here. Russia is now Turkey’s largest trade partner. Last year we had 38 billion dollars of trade volume. Turkish construction companies are the leading firms in Moscow and elsewhere. Last year we received 3 million tourists from Russia. We know where our main alliance is, but on the other hand we give importance to our relations with Russia. We always underline the word “cooperation” rather than “confrontation “with Russia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are some specific issues and areas of problem that Turkey has been dealing with very closely over the last several years. Most of these problems are not only in our vicinity, but they are also top agenda items of the international community.

I think the problem between Israel and Palestine is the core issue of the Middle East. Without solving the Palestinian issue, we can never call problems of the Middle East to be solved. Last year Turkey has played an important mediation role between Syria and Israel. We had five rounds of talks and meetings took place in Istanbul. Two delegations stayed in two different hotels. They didn’t see each other and our delegation shuttled between these hotels to bring two countries closer in terms of their positions.

For Iran which is an important neighbor of Turkey. When the six countries presented their package last year, we played a key role in order to facilitate the mutual understanding. We are in a position to understand Iran well and we are also in a position to understand the six countries well. So we tried to close the differences. We tried to enhance mutual understanding.

For Lebanon, when presidential elections were not be able to held, we played again a very key role to resolve the internal conflicts in Lebanon and to have the presidential elections. When the ceremony of the presidential elections took place there were only two Prime Ministers invited. They were Prime Minister of Qatar and Prime Minister of Turkey. Qatar was there because the final rounds of the meetings were held in Doha. Turkey was there because we were silently and effectively working for the solution of those problems.

Iraq another important country which has the second largest oil reserves of the world went through a very difficult period. We are very active, talking with all the groups in Iraq to make sure that the Iraqi democracy functions better. We are also working so that all the Iraqi groups are channeled into political processes rather than armed confrontation and conflicts.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are two countries which we have excellent relations and which have problems in between themselves. We have these trilateral summit processes. We held already three summits in Turkey trying to bring these two countries together and make them cooperate better against their common enemies.

In the Caucasus, we were very active especially last year after the war between Russia and Georgia. It was the 4th day of the war when we were in Moscow with my Prime Minister. We were trying to calm down the situation asking the Russian leaders and the Georgian leader to have restraint and use diplomacy to solve the problem rather than any other method.

In the Balkans, we are very active diplomatically. We have our troops in the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. We have our police force in many countries. We are dealing with many detailed political issues for peace and stability in the Balkans.

Relations between Turkey and Armenia, relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are also two important tracks that we have been working intensively over the last one and a half year. Our vision for the South Caucasus is fully normalized relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia and fully normalized relations between Armenia and Turkey. We believe that when we achieve this, we are going to have totally new geographical situation in this region. We have that target and we believe that this can be achieved. We believe that this is not a dream. That’s what we are working for. It is not easy. It is quite complicated but step by step almost like a chess game we are moving forward.

Alliance of Civilizations is an initiative that Turkey and Spain started together as co-sponsors. Then we turned this over to the United Nations. Now it is a UN project. Last year in the Madrid Forum, we had around 40 countries in the Friends Group. This year in Istanbul we had 84 countries that voluntarily joined to the Group of Friends of the Alliance. This is about interfaith dialogue, about intercultural dialogue and about the relations between Islam and the West. We had 1800 academicians and scholars around the world who attended the Istanbul Forum. It was very successful. That is not my word. That’s the word that I have been hearing from the people who attended the Forum. 40 Ministers, most of them Foreign Ministers, showed up. 1200 international journalists followed the Forum from around the world. This is also catching up quite fast. The next forum is going to take place in Brazil. Celso Amorim, my Brazilian colleague was also in Istanbul. They were very much willing to have this in Brazil. We decided to have the third Forum in Brazil. I think this going to add another new momentum to this initiative.

As for the global economy, depending on which list you look and which criteria you look, Turkey is now the 17th or the 16th largest economy in the world. We are the 6th largest in Europe. We are a member of G-20. When I was the Minister of Economy I attended the Ministerial Meetings of G-20 five times. I defended strongly during those ministerial meetings that why don’t we have a summit of G-20. Finally those meetings are now taking place. Turkey is actively contributing because the global economic crisis that we are facing is the biggest of the modern economic times. Therefore it needs international cooperation and coordination to come over. No country alone can deal with this crisis in a healthy way. Well coordinated international effort is a must to solve the problems.

Thank you for your attention.