COMMENT

Turk FM: No refugee deal without visa liberalization

VASSILIS NEDOS

TAGS: Interview, Diplomacy

Only a few hours after his unofficial visit to Crete, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave an interview to Kathimerini in which he warned that the EU migrant deal will collapse should Brussels fail to deliver on visa-free travel.

Cavusoglu, who held talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias on Sunday, sees significant potential for strengthening cooperation between the two Aegean neighbors.

Speaking of the eight Turkish military men who have sought asylum in Greece following the failed coup attempt, Cavusoglu voiced hope that they “will be extradited to Turkey as soon as possible.”

The Turkish minister believes that a settlement in Cyprus could be possible by the end of the year.

Today, almost 40 days after the attempted coup against Turkey’s elected government, what is the situation in the country? Is the process of purging the state of elements connected with the coup near its end? Would you say that the situation is closer to some kind of normalization?

It is imperative to properly understand what happened on July 15, in order to grasp the situation in Turkey: On that night, Turkish people lived through an ordeal that was unprecedented. It was a violent terrorist campaign orchestrated by a faction within the military. It aimed at terrorizing the Turkish nation by use of force to accept the rule of a clandestine organization headed by Fetullah Gulen.

On that night tanks rolled on the streets, running over civilians who tried to stop them. Attack helicopters fired at unarmed people protesting the coup attempt. Fighter jets bombed the Parliament, the Presidential Palace and the police headquarters. An elite squad was sent to assassinate the elected president.

The attempt failed, leaving behind more than 240 dead and 2,000 wounded.

July 15 has demonstrated the gravity of the danger posing an existential threat against the foundations of the Turkish Republic. On this understanding there is national unity, and Turkish people from all walks of life support our government’s measures to eliminate this threat.

Now, the prosecutors are documenting evidence as to the perpetrators and they will be brought to the courts in due course. Yet, even today there are crucial findings that shows FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization) and its leader Fetullah Gulen was the instigator of this attack. FETO has infiltrated not only the army, but all critical state organs as well as several other sectors, both in public and private, such as health, education, academia, media, business.

During the last few days there has been a rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow. Does this mean Turkey is following a different path from its western allies on certain regional issues, such as Syria?

Turkey’s approach to regional issues has always been and is now in conformity with the well-established principles of Turkish foreign policy. Building good-neighborly relations and promoting regional ownership vis-a-vis regional problems are among these principles... Turkey’s position following the undesired incident of November 24 has been consistent. We clearly showed our intention to put relations with Russia back on track.

The allegations that Turkey is turning its back on the West by normalizing relations with Russia are unfounded. Turkey’s relationship with Russia is not an alternative to its partnership and alliance with the West. Normalization between the two countries would also help the efforts aimed at increasing regional and international stability.

A few days ago Turkey started an offensive in northern Syria to relieve Jarabulus from ISIS elements and with its military presence send a message to Syrian Kurds to stay east of the Euphrates? Is this offensive the first of more on the soil of northern Syria?

Turkey is directly feeling the impact of the Syrian conflict, including its spillover effects. Syria-based terrorism is one of these effects. Turkey is currently fighting a number of terrorist organizations that present clear threats to our national security. Since the summer of 2015, DAESH (or ISIS) terrorists have launched rocket attacks and artillery fire in the border area that resulted in the deaths of 21 people in Turkey. This terrorist organization has also carried out bomb attacks in our major cities that have claimed the lives of hundreds of our citizens. Most recently, 54 of our citizens, many of whom were women and children, fell victim to yet another bomb attack in Gaziantep on August 20.We do not want any presence of any terrorist organization along our borders.

I would like to correct your reference. You are referring to the PYD/YPG, and not the Syrian Kurds. PYD/YPG is not representing the Kurds in Syria. Literally, thousands of Syrian Kurds escaped the brutal rule and human rights violations of the PYD/YPG. YPG’s direct link to PKK is clear. Nobody is denying that. Its agenda is to create their own rule in Syria, threatening the unity and integrity of this country. YPG’s actions speak louder than their words to this end. So, this terrorist organization is trying to carve out and grab territory at the expense of other Syrians, but at the same time at the expense of the political process to end the Syrian conflict. Our messages to all sides about the territorial integrity of Syria have been clear. There is widespread agreement on that notion across the international community. PYD/YPG needs to stay east of the Euphrates and that is what they will have to do.

The procedure of extradition of the eight Turkish officers who have asked for asylum in Greece could take a few months. Is this considered by Ankara as a point that could create problems in the relationships between Turkey and Greece?

We have forwarded to Greek authorities our requests for extradition of these people to Turkey so that they can be brought to justice. We are aware that they have also applied for asylum in your country. So there are two ongoing parallel processes, one involving their extradition and the other their asylum requests. We hope that these processes will be finalized in due course and these people will be extradited to Turkey as soon as possible, where they will receive a fair and just trial of the competent Turkish court.

Those involved in terrorist acts and who perpetrate to overthrow the democratically elected government of a country should not be able to seek refuge in third countries under the pretext of asylum requests. We are confident that the Greek authorities will take the right decision in accordance with their national laws and international obligations, so that these people will be brought to justice in Turkey.

We have very good relations as two neighboring NATO allies. I believe we mutually have a very good understanding of each other’s positions on various issues. Having said that, I am certain that Greek authorities pay attention to our concerns in this matter.

Apart from the eight officers, do you have information that there are other coup participants who have fled to Greece? Turkey has asked several countries in the region for the extradition of FETO organization elements. Do you believe that there are FETO members operating on Greek soil? Have you asked the Greek authorities for help on that?

Many members of the FETO terrorist organization are based in foreign countries. Therefore, we expect the support of our friends and allies in our requests for extradition and deportation of FETO elements living in third countries. I would like to once again express our appreciation to the Greek government for their support after the failed coup attempt.

We are reading about big changes and reforms in the internal functioning of the Turkish Army. This is something completely new for Turkey, whose armed forces have sometimes played an important political role during the last 90 years.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, cleansing our state structures of FETO members and their undercover supporters has become a national security requirement. Furthermore, we should also bring them further under democratic control. This is equally true for the Turkish Armed Forces. That is the essence of the reform under way. The reforms are being carried forward in close coordination with our military authorities. We are aiming at reaching a more agile, ready and responsive Armed Forces that is able to contribute to security in our region and beyond. Meanwhile, our responsibilities and commitments toward our NATO allies and friends remain firmly in place.

Could the following months prove important for the solution of the Cyprus issue? Talks have resumed and many believe that 2016 could be crucial for this long-lasting dispute. How can the security of both communities be preserved when the two sides have different views on aspects such as the presence of Turkish army on the island or the need to maintain the status of the guarantees?

Following the summer break, the leaders resumed their meetings on August 23. As we approach the final stage of negotiations, the aim of this intensified phase is to work out the remaining divergences as soon as possible. The Turkish-Cypriot side has been contributing to the process by constantly suggesting new constructive proposals. As motherland and guarantor, Turkey also maintains her commitment for a settlement in Cyprus and believes that if there is political will, a settlement in Cyprus could be possible in 2016. We wish to see a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement.

While reflecting on the security dimension of the settlement, we should all bear in mind the tragic experiences of Turkish Cypriots during the period of 1963-74. We believe that it is not possible to sustain the viability of the new state of affairs where both people do not feel safe and live in security. We are in favor of a guarantees system that meets the concerns of both sides. On the other hand, statements regarding this issue should not be driven by domestic political concerns or with an eye on domestic politics. Such statements might have a negative impact in the process.

There are fears in Greece about the refugee issue that is affecting the Greek islands and the mainland as well. Will Turkey hold on to its deal with the EU on that? And if not, can a Greek-Turkish deal have the same potency on halting the flows?

The March 18 deal with the EU was reached upon the initiative of Turkey. We primarily aimed at preventing loss of lives in the Aegean Sea. Five months since the activation of the deal, we proudly witness that we achieved our goal. Turkey is determined to continue the implementation of the deal. As long as the deal is effectively performed, there is no room to fear. We proposed to take back all irregular migrants who crossed to the islands after March 20. If this is swiftly provided by Greece, Greek islands will not be affected by irregular migration. On the other hand, the deal only covers Greek islands and has nothing to do with the Greek mainland. It goes without saying that even though the deal is made with the EU Turkish-Greek cooperation is at its core.

In practical terms, what would the EU’s refusal to grant visas for Turkish citizens mean? Would Turkey ask for the termination of the EU (Frontex)-Turkey-Greece operations on the Aegean? Would Turkey ask for the withdrawal of NATO ships from the Aegean? Would Turkey withdraw its liaison officers from the Greek islands?

We have been clear on the consequences of a possible denial regarding visa liberalization. The enhanced cooperation we maintain in the Aegean is based on mutual commitments from both sides. We did our share in this cooperation. In the Aegean Sea, we have prevented new loss of lives and crushed migrant smuggling rings. Now, we expect the EU to deliver on its promises. The EU made commitments such as visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, financial assistance for Syrians in Turkey, etc. Despite the fact that irregular migration in the Aegean is now under control, we do not see the EU keen on delivering on their promises. Turkey cannot continue on its own to stop irregular migration toward the EU while the EU does not assume its obligations. We expect visa liberalization for Turkish citizens at the latest in October 2016.

After the coup attempt the Turkish government has had a few public confrontations with certain European governments. Are these enough to keep Turkey away from its course to integration with Europe, or do you believe that the EU is no longer such a good choice for your country?

We appreciated the messages of support and condemnation of our European allies and partners against the heinous coup attempt. However, we are at the same time disappointed with the ensuing statements questioning our legal measures.

It is only natural for the Turkish state to take all necessary measures within the limits of its Constitution in order to counter this terrorist group and to protect its democracy. It’s a practice permissible under international human rights law.

Therefore, the EU’s reputation as an advocate of democracy, human rights and the rule of law has been damaged as far as the Turkish public opinion is concerned.

We believe that both sides have to work to restore trust in our relations through an open dialogue. In this respect, we appreciate the increasing number of planned visits from the EU to our country. All these visits will be, although late, a tangible sign of the solidarity we would like to see from the EU.

We continue to uphold our commitments to the EU, aiming for full membership and expect that the EU also does the same. Threatening statements about our accession process are upsetting and only fuel extremism, at such a time when we want to see the support of our EU allies.

You have met with your Greek counterpart. How can Greece and Turkey deepen their relationships on political and economic grounds?

We remain committed to furthering our dialogue process. We are working to boost our cooperation in various fields.

Our efforts on implementing the Izmir-Thessaloniki Ro-Pax ferry line and Istanbul-Thessaloniki high-speed train projects are under way. As you may recall, these projects were decided during the High Level Cooperation Council in Izmir on March 8 of this year.

I believe such projects will foster a better understanding between our countries and peoples, which we strongly support. Our common geography presents us with many opportunities in various sectors such as, tourism, transportation, energy etc. I believe we have huge potential. We should benefit from this potential to the benefit of our peoples.

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