Prime Minister Erdogan
Distinguished members of the press, as you know, after the general election in the UK last May Mr David Cameron became head of the coalition government formed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and he is now paying his first official visit to Turkey. The fact that he is here in Turkey just three months after he became Prime Minister is very important and I would like to express my thanks both to him and to members of his delegation on behalf of myself and my country.
This is the first coalition government established in the UK since the Second World War and, as such, it is a very significant structure. On the 8th July this year, our Foreign Minister Davutoglu visited the UK and met with his counterpart to hold very fruitful meetings.
As you know, politically, economically, commercially, culturally - in all areas we have a lot of relations with the UK. We work a lot on many of these areas and I can say that these relations have been growing for a long time and we have what you might call a ‘golden age’ in our relations. We sit together at international organisations and platforms, and the UK’s support of Turkey in Turkey’s accession process to the European Union has also been very important. The UK has been unwavering in its support to Turkey which we are very appreciative of. We work together in NATO, also at the G20 and throughout the course of these relations we see them being supported by the longstanding historical relations that we have.
Economically speaking, there are about 2,000 British entrepreneurs and businesses active in Turkey and, in 2008, our bilateral trade stood at US$13.5 billion. In 2009 our bilateral trade suffered somewhat of a decline because of the global crisis and it went down to $9.5 billion.
In addition to our economic relations we have very good relations in the area of tourism. In 2009 the number of British tourists visiting Turkey reached 2.5 million. Not only that, we also saw in 2009 that the number of British nationals who own property in Turkey rose from 20,000 to 30,000 in 2010. That is also a very positive development.
These are all important in establishing greater dialogue and solidarity between our peoples too, and as my dear friend David also said before, there is no party in the UK that opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU. In other words, all political parties in the UK support Turkey’s accession process to the European Union. That observation is very important because in the seven and a half years that we have been in power here in Turkey we have always experienced great support from British governments.
In addition to that, we also believe that one of the important steps that we have taken in our relations is the Strategic Cooperation Agreement which we just signed in its revised form. We have updated that cooperation agreement so that we can have an even stronger basis for our future cooperation with this development now. With this agreement that we have signed we can further develop our relations; there are 150,000 people from Turkey living in the UK and 17 members have been elected to city councils in the UK who have Turkish origins.
In our discussions, I have also said to the Prime Minister that in graduate and post-graduate studies, Turkish students like to go and study in the UK. The US the preferred location but the UK comes next to it. If the tuition fees could be reduced to the levels that are valid for students coming from Europe, I do believe that there would be even greater interest on the part of Turkish students to go and study in the UK to complete their graduate and doctoral studies. I look forward to support from the Prime Minister on this point.
Another important step that we have spoken about in this process is the role of Turkey in its region. We had an opportunity to talk about Iran, about Iraq, Syria, the Middle East and, more importantly, about Cyprus. As the three guarantor countries - Turkey, the UK and Greece - there could be things that we can do to support the process and we have discussed what needs to be done to ensure that this process can be completed by the end of this year.
We also had an exchange of views as to whether we have the determination to complete this process and I see this determination in David as well to complete the process. With the work of our foreign ministers on both sides I believe we can contribute a lot to this process and with the work that they do I am sure they can focus our energies even more to the subject of settling this issue. The result that we can achieve in this topic will be very important in trying to change the course of events in Cyprus from a negative light to a more positive one which would be a very important achievement in itself.
We discussed developments in the Middle East and also issues relating to Syria and the view that we and other countries have with regard to overcoming the vacuum in Iraq. It is important to note that Iraq decides for itself in the ballot box what it wants its future to be and that it would be wrong to leave to the future of Iraq to the appreciation of other countries in the region. We discussed that we should be focussing more on what we can do to help the process and confine our efforts to that, and this is something that we have discussed amongst ourselves.
On the other hand, there are also steps that British entrepreneurs have been taking in Turkey with regard to energy, the defence industry and also with regard to infrastructure works. We are very appreciative of these efforts but the important steps that we can take in the area of cultural relations is important; we have just witnessed the signing of an agreement between the British Council and the Yunus Emre Cultural Centre and we hope that in the shortest time possible we will have in very good physical condition a proper cultural centre in place in the UK. I think this will stand a lot to contribute to our cultural relations in the future and that was something that we also discussed.
Additionally, we also would like to see a Turkish-British university established; this could not be government-to-government, perhaps, but there could be some collaboration between foundations to work to establish a university just like Westminster and other places. There are other foundation universities in the UK and we have foundation universities here in Turkey as well.
It could be possible to have some sort of cooperation to establish a Turkish-British university and that is something that we have spoken about. We see that we both agree on taking such a step because we are already engaged in working with German and Italian counterparts to establish German and Italian universities here. To add to that, a British university is very important and to have a similar effort with the Russians too would be important. These would all render the future stronger for us when we have younger people associating with each other at universities. Now I would like to turn the floor to David.
Thank you very much, Tayyip, and thank you for making me so welcome and my team so welcome on this visit to Turkey. As you said, we have had some excellent talks over the last 24 hours and it has been a pleasure to meet you again in government having met you so many times when I was in opposition.
I very much admire the leadership that you have given to Turkey and I can see the enormous economic success that your country now has. The fact that the Istanbul economy alone is actually larger than 12 individual EU economies is testament to the vast growth there has been in your country, much of which has been under your leadership.
I very much welcome what you say about this golden age and a golden opportunity for the British-Turkish relationship and that is very much a vision I share. I thought that during our talks you can really feel that there is a shared vision between us; we are both believers in free enterprise, both believers in NATO and defence, both strongly wanting Turkey to become a full member of the European Union, both believing it is unfair that Turkey should be asked to guard the camp but not sit in the tent. Also both of us want to work together to solve some of the most difficult and intractable problems in the Middle East including the issues of the Middle East peace process and Iran, about which we have had very good discussions.
This shared vision, I think, leads to the decision to refresh and renew the Strategic Partnership which we have just signed. Everyone can read the Strategic Partnership in detail, but to me there are really two fundamental elements.
The first element is our very strong commitment to try and grow our economies together. I think the opportunities here are immense and we have talked about bringing together business leaders from both our countries, we have talked about how we want to both push for a completion of the Doha Trade Round and we will work together for that at the G20. We have also discussed issues of access, both access to the UK economy and access to the Turkish economy, to make sure that we are both as open in trading as we can be. And as you have just said, the opportunities for establishing a British university in Turkey and for a Turkish cultural centre in London I think are both opportunities that we want to take up.
The second part of the relationship to me is about how we can work together on the strategic and diplomatic priorities, where we believe that Turkey is right not to choose between East and West but to choose both and to choose to become anchored in the European Union. Together we can work to try and resolve problems, whether it is our shared view that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, or our shared view that in the Middle East we need to go to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Obviously the most important issue of all for me is the issue of Afghanistan and how we can continue to deliver progress in terms of security and stability in Afghanistan. The Turkish input and relationship there is vital, as a country with a large Muslim population proving once and for all that our involvement in Afghanistan is about fighting terror and securing a stable Afghanistan and not about occupation.
I think we have had extremely productive talks and I look forward to our foreign ministers carrying forward many of the issues that we have covered. I think, as you have put it, there is a golden age in this relationship for the taking and I think for the importance for the future growth of our economies, for the future collaboration over these diplomatic and strategic and political issues, I think it is one that we can work together with.
We had a very good conversation as well about the issue of Cyprus and I share your view that we need to try and make sure that we get real progress this year - this is the year when we ought to be trying to get an agreement that can settle that issue in a way that is satisfactory. So I’d like to thank you again for the very warm welcome that you’ve given to me and my team, and hope this is the first of many such meetings, where we can update on the real progress that we’re going to make in this strategic partnership.
Prime Minister Erdogan
Now we’ll turn to our guests for two questions from the British press.
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. You’re arguing very strongly for Turkey to become a member of the European Union; if that were to happen, that opens up the UK, potentially, to a very large group of new immigrants. Isn’t that at odds with your aim to cut the levels of immigration to the UK, even if you were to put in temporary controls?
And, if I may, what reaction do you expect the Israelis to have to your description of Gaza as a ‘prison camp’?
And, Prime Minister Erdogan, if I can address those same two issues to you.
Well, let me take the second question first. My description of Gaza is something that I actually said in the House of Commons several weeks ago. Perhaps this is final proof that if you want to keep something completely secret you should announce it in the House of Commons. The fact is that we have long supported lifting the blockade of Gaza, we have long supported proper humanitarian access and, even though some progress has been made, we’re still in the situation where it’s very difficult to get in, it’s very difficult to get out, it’s very difficult for materials that are necessary to get in or get out and so I think the description is warranted. But we want to see progress and what we have been discussing - and Turkey has, I think, a huge role to play here - is the need to get to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, so all of these issues can be settled.
On the issue of Turkish membership of the EU, I mean, of course, I’ve always been very clear about transitional controls for new members of the European Union, but one of the important facts here is that as economies grow and as economies become more equal you find that the pressure and flows between countries isn’t so great - that’s what happened in the case of Spain, in the case of Portugal and will happen as well in the case of other countries. And I’ve been struck here in Turkey by the immense pace of economic growth. I mean 11% in the first quarter of the year makes our very upbeat figures look rather modest, and it is worth recognising that the Turkish economy is likely to outstrip Canada, Spain and Italy by 2025, so in time the issue you raise is actually one that will solve itself.
Prime Minister Erdogan
With regard to Gaza, as my friend has said, all the people there live in a sort of open-air prison. And Gaza is facing attacks, is facing a lot of pressure, and that’s how life goes on there. This has been an area where phosphorous bombs have been used and 1,500 people from many different age groups were killed, 5,000 people were wounded and the infrastructure - the buildings - were all demolished, the UN buildings included. And no one can still enter, the construction materials are not allowed to go through and the fact that this blockade is not lifted is a tragedy, and it is very thought provoking that humanity remains only an observer to this situation.
For example, there was a donors’ conference in Sharm el-Sheikh and $4.5 billion was promised in aid, but since that time there has not been a single leaf moved - nothing has changed, in other words. And the aid groups or convoys coming to Gaza, bringing aid to Gaza, were attacked from the air, from the sea and the flotilla included Members of Parliament from the UK. There were people who were there from the UK, from Turkey, there were people from 33 different countries in that flotilla and the situation, what we saw happen, was taking place in international waters and this attack can only be termed as piracy. There is no other word to describe it.
The pirates in Somalia do this and the world takes its measures, and we have our ships too, and the US and other countries have their ships, to prevent this from happening, but when a similar situation occurs here, then political leaders who are there to establish a fair life for everyone should not remain silent. I hope that we can remedy this situation, Israel turns back from this mistake and they must apologise to Turkey and compensation has to be paid, and the blockade must be lifted so that we can all contribute to regional peace. This is what I think; this is what our people think.
You’ve described this as a ‘golden age’ in relations, but Turkey’s banned YouTube, it’s almost severed ties with Israel and it’s voted against your centrepiece policy on toughening sanctions on Iran. Is it time to be a bit more honest about your differences with Ankara?
And, you had good relations with Tony Blair. Here is another young, dynamic British Prime Minister who likes Turkey, is here in Ankara today. Does David Cameron remind you of Tony Blair? And will you be better friends - or good friends?
Well, let me answer the English bit. We have a good relationship. We have very many shared interests, as I’ve spoken about - membership of NATO, wanting Turkey in the European Union, wanting to have a deeper economic partnership, crunching through these problems.
Yes, of course, there will be some different perspectives. I mean, on Iran, we both want to see Iran without a nuclear weapon, so we share the same goal and we need to discuss and work together about how best to achieve that goal. Sometimes there will be differences of emphasis, but a good relationship can bear those differences of emphasis and that’s what the discussions are all about.
Likewise on the Middle East peace process. We both want to see those direct talks take place. Turkey has been a good friend of Israel in the past; I very much hope Turkey can go on being a friend of Israel because I think it’s as a friend of Israel that Turkey will maximise her influence over what needs to happen in terms of those direct talks. And I speak as someone who is a friend of Israel, who desperately wants to see a secure and safe and stable Israel after a two-state solution has come about. It’s very important that people remember that Israel will only agree to the final-status issues if it feels that at the end of that process it will have the security that it craves.
And that’s why, on the issue of Gaza, while pushing for that humanitarian access and the end of the blockade, we always have to remember that, you know, there have been rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel. And friends of Israel have to remember that point, but nonetheless we both share the view that direct talks are the right answer. And, where we have differences of emphasis or even differences of view, I think the British-Turkish relationship is quite strong enough to discuss them in a normal way.
As for the second bit of the question, I will just pretend that my earpiece wasn’t working and I’ll leave that to my good friend Tayyip to try and fight his way diplomatically through that one.
Prime Minister Erdogan
First of all, our position with regard to the sanctions was clear because there was an agreement that had been reached, the Tehran Protocol, and there were certain reasons leading up that agreement, the basic reason there being our effort to try to resolve this issue diplomatically. As those of us who play a part in international politics, our aim should be to continue to work with international diplomacy, because this is the best way to achieve peace. As we do that, we always believe in respecting international law and doing what is required of international law. We do not speak of probabilities, because our position is very clear. Our position is that first of all, we are not a country that has a nuclear weapon. We are also against nuclear weapons in our region, no matter who may have them. We do not want to see any nuclear weapons in our region. But if you look at those who speak to this issue, we see that they are those who have nuclear weapons themselves, and they say that even though they have nuclear weapons, they don’t want someone else to have them.
What we ask is whether there are nuclear weapons in Iran now. No, but what is being said is that they can - they may have nuclear weapons. To me, the most important part of the agreement reached in Tehran was first of all that they are a member of the IEA and so is Israel. Iran has also agreed to abide by the NPT rules, but the other party does not. So, there is that issue. Then there is the exchange. The exchange in Turkey was accepted by Iran, but the Vienna group has taken its time in trying to respond to this effort. So, as we try to reach, as we were trying to reach a result, the sanctions came about, and when the sanctions came about, then we as a country which put its signature under that protocol in Tehran - we could not turn against our word. We cannot go against our word - we couldn’t have.
Let me also confirm here that we do not want to see nuclear weapons in our region, and we have always told the Iranians that. Yesterday, or the day before, our foreign minister was with the Brazilian and the Iranian foreign ministers and Iran has made its promise with regard to the three items of discussion, and took steps in that direction. Yesterday, they sent their letter to Vienna. So, these are all things that we achieved through diplomacy. The United States too wishes to see a continuation of the negotiation process, and other countries, including the permanent members too, would like to see a continuation of negotiation talks, and Turkey can be important in carrying out these talks and the bringing together of Ms Ashton and Mr Mottaki and others - those are all important issues that we can continue to work on through diplomatic means.
With respect to the other point, the vote at the UN Security Council and the problems between Turkey and Israel should not be considered as being part of the Turkish-British relations, because there are different aspects to each relationship.
I have a good friendship with Tony - I have always had a good friendship with him, and we developed a close friendship until the moment he left office. Based on the principle of continuity in the work of states and governments, we are initiating, embarking upon, a new process with David from where we have left off, so no difference there, or no problem there at all.
Mr Prime Minister, our British colleagues have asked questions about foreign policy. May I ask questions about domestic policy?
Prime Minister Erdogan
Let’s talk about Turkish-British relations here, and not talk about other domestic issues.
I have a question for Prime Minister Cameron. Turkey, in 2004, 2006, and 2007 has asked from the UK the extradition of PKK terrorists, in total five terrorists, and the UK refused to extradite these terrorists to Turkey. How will you propose to fight against terrorism if you do not extradite them? The apology - the independent inquiry and compensation that Turkey expects from Israel in the aftermath of the flotilla attack - what is your view on those demands by Turkey?
Firstly, on the PKK. It is a proscribed organisation in the UK, as it is throughout the European Union, and should remain so. It is a criminal offence to belong to it. Each extradition case has to be dealt with on its merits. It is a judicial process - it’s not something I can interfere in, but I want to make sure our intelligence and security services work closely together to defeat terrorism wherever it is. It is worth remembering that Britons have suffered from terrorism not just in our own country, but also here, when the Consulate was blown up in Istanbul. We will continue to work together on those issues.
On the issue of the flotilla, we condemned what happened. It was wrong; it shouldn’t have happened. I made that clear when I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu. We support the fact there is an enquiry taking place in Israel. We want that to be transparent, and swift, and robust. We are pleased that David Trimble is taking part in it. Also, there is the United Nations process as well, which Ban Ki-moon and I have discussed, where there will be an international body that will also look at this issue, and I think that’s right.
This is a question for Prime Minister Cameron about Cyprus. You said that you agreed that the issue must be settled by the end of this year, but what kind of a role can the UK play in settling the Cyprus problem?
We can play a role as a country who has a long history of involvement with this issue, and indeed is one of the guarantor nations. I think the role we can play is to try and help bring people together, in terms of whether it is talking to President Christofias, as I was, to actually look at the issue of timing, and how important it is to make progress this year and not put off the issue into the future; or whether it is having conversations, as we have had over the last 24 hours, about the importance of trying to bring together some of the important tracks in terms of property, in terms of territory, to try and go through these issues as rapidly as we can, taking advantage of the fact that the special representative from the United Nations, Alexander Downer - who I think has done a good job, is in place for most of the remainder of this year, and we should take advantage of that.
So, I think it is helping to bring people together and make sure that we make progress where we can. It is important. It remains a great unsolved problem of Europe, and we can’t forever leave it to one side. Also, I want to help Turkey in terms of its membership of the European Union and this is something that stands in the way of that membership, so the faster we can resolve this problem, the faster we can seek to resolve the issue of Turkey’s membership of the European Union.
Prime Minister Erdogan
Thank you very much to the members of the press.