Turkish Prime Minister press conference
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
A transcript of a press conference given by Prime Minister David Cameron and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London on 31 March 2011.
Good afternoon. I am very glad to welcome Prime Minister Erdogan to Downing Street today. Turkey was one of the very first countries I visited as Prime Minister last year, and I am delighted to be returning the favour today.
Let me cover briefly the issues that I will focus on. First, strengthening our bilateral and trade relationship. Second, our joint efforts to protect people in Libya. Third, advancing Turkey’s European aspirations. And fourth, our shared interests, particularly in Afghanistan.
First of all, UK-Turkey relations. In my view, they have never been stronger. We established a new strategic partnership last year, and that partnership has again moved up a gear today with the inauguration of the UK-Turkey Chief Executives’ Forum. Through the forum, we are bringing together top business brains to discuss how to increase our trade and investment flows and to meet our target to double bilateral trade by 2015. It is a very welcome development.
Second, Libya, where we are both absolutely focused on our shared aim set out in UN Security Resolution 1973, and NATO has now taken on the responsibility for enforcing it. Turkey is making a vital contribution to that effort, five Turkish ships and one submarine helping to enforce the UN arms embargo and there is also Turkey’s powerful diplomatic role demonstrated by your foreign minister’s presence at the London conference earlier this week. That conference showed an international community - Britain, Turkey and around 40 other countries - totally united in support of the UN resolution, committed to providing all the humanitarian aid that is necessary and clear in our support for a political process which will allow the Libyan people to choose their own future. And I’m glad to announce today that Turkey will have a seat at the International Contact Group, which will coordinate our policies going forward. We’ve also agreed to establish a joint humanitarian aid unit in Ankara to address the most urgent needs of the people of Libya.
Now, I’ve been clear from the start that we want Gaddafi to go and that his henchmen should also come to their senses and abandon this brutal regime. The decision by the former Libyan foreign minister to come to London to resign his position is a decision by someone right at the very top and it tells a compelling story of the desperation and the fear right at the heart of the crumbling and rotten Gaddafi regime.
Moving on, we also discussed Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, aspirations that in my view are simply undeniable. The case for Turkish membership of the European Union, in my view, is clearer than ever for increased economic prosperity, for a bigger market for our goods and services, for more energy security and for real benefits for the EU’s long-term stability. I also believe the accession process itself is a catalyst for change. I will continue to champion Turkey’s accession.
Britain also wants to see a settlement in Cyprus, a solution for Cypriots by Cypriots which achieves a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality.
Finally, we have discussed broader issues, including Afghanistan where day in day out British forces continue to perform acts of breathtaking heroism, even though the media spotlight may be elsewhere. The campaign in Afghanistan remains vital to our national security. Prime Minister Erdogan and I agree about the importance of the process of reintegration and reconciliation with those members of the insurgency prepared to renounce violence, cut ties to Al Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution, rejoin mainstream life, help divide the insurgency and create the conditions for the end of this conflict.
Let me finish by saying again just how welcome you are, Prime Minister. We are at a pivotal moment for the entire Middle East, and Turkey with its strong, stable and democratic state, in my view, points the way forward to the future for so many of these countries. There is a lot at stake in the Arab spring and we are both committed in supporting the aspirations of the people, of Egypt, of Tunisia, of Libya, of Yemen, of Syria and elsewhere. And together I believe Britain and Turkey can help them to realise their goals. Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Erdogan
Distinguished members of the press, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I’d like to greet you all with warmest regards. I’m very happy to have had an occasion to meet with Prime Minister Cameron from the friendly country of the United Kingdom. As you will remember, last year in August he visited Turkey and we took some important steps on the occasion of that visit. And as a result of those discussions we have reviewed our bilateral relations and we have looked at what we can build in the future, what we can do together in the future and we talked extensively on those issues. Of course our bilateral relations between Turkey and the UK are excellent and the co-operation between our countries in the political, military and economic fields have grown and we have taken important steps in many areas.
On the political front I especially would like to underline the process of accession to the European Union. With regard to this process the United Kingdom has always supported us and I also would like to say that I look forward to the continuation of that support in the future. Today we see some practice, quite a lot of practice actually, which is not found in the acquis of the European Union and we are saddened to see that some of the European leaders are involved in such actions which have nothing to do with the acquis, for example, suspending or blocking eight chapters and then the blocking of six chapters by the Greek-Cypriots, the blocking of five chapters by France. These are all wrong and these are things that do not find their place in the EU acquis.
Since 1959 Turkey has been talking to the European Union, applied to the European Union, and it is not very proper to see this kind of treatment. As I always say, the European Union until the negotiations began, until the summit on 14th December 2004, we were invited to all of the EU summits, but then, we don’t know what happened. All of a sudden Turkey as an accession country was no longer invited to the summit meetings. We were invited to those summits before we began our accession talks, but we are no longer invited since we began our accession talks and we are sorry to see this happen. Of course we are aware of the position of countries - my dear friend, David, is very much aware of this too - but the negative approach by France or Germany is not something that we can approve. And I ask the friends of Turkey, like the UK and other countries, to take the necessary steps to ensure that Turkey is part of the EU, works with the EU because this will strengthen the EU and it will strengthen Turkey, and that’s something that we must all focus on.
With respect to Cyprus, having a fair, a just and a comprehensive process with two constituent states has been our goal from the very beginning in Cyprus, and the Greek-Cypriots so far have unfortunately not adopted a positive approach to this settlement. There were important steps that were taken during the tenure of Mr Annan as UN Secretary General and Mr Annan had prepared a report to be presented to the UN General Assembly, but that report is still not presented to the General Assembly. And that report is shelved, but we must look to see what’s in it. We were meeting in Switzerland and we had asked, what would happen if the Turks in the north said, ‘Yes’, and the Greeks in the south said, ‘No’. The European Union said there wouldn’t be any problem, you shouldn’t worry. What happened in the end was 65% of the Turkish-Cypriots voted in favour of the plan while 75% of the Greek-Cypriots voted against the plan, and they were awarded and they became members of the European Union although they rejected the plan. Of course, it’s difficult to understand how this can happen, but leaders at the time have also admitted and also said in some of their writings that this was very unfair on the Turkish-Cypriots.
Let me also underline another point. We have a strategic partnership with the UK, and the reason for having that document was to prepare a framework for our co-operation. We worked together at the G20 and this means that we work together on many of the global economic issues, but we also talk about many of the other issues in the world. And in the future too we will work together to discuss many of the issues in front of us.
Of course, the most important issue on our agenda at the moment is Libya. There was an important summit held in London and we will continue to make our political assessments together with the UK. From this point forward our colleagues will be working on the subject. Our wish is to see that the solution is achieved in line with the wishes of the Libyan people and that peace is established in Libya, democratic rights and freedoms are established in Libya.
NATO: we’ll have a very important test in NATO and that is something that we focus on keenly. We do not wish to see the situation in Libya in any way resembling, for example, Afghanistan, but there must be a stronger posture and the fact that the African Union, the OIC and the Arab League are involved sets forth a stronger unity of support, and that, in my opinion, will have a very positive impact on the views of the public opinion and the steps we take. We will continue to work with the UK and I hope we will contribute in a positive way to this process. But of course we must work quickly, and we must make sure that we stop the cruelty there. We must stop the bloodshed. We must stop the killing, the deaths.
Another important point is our economic co-operation because we have achieved quite a lot of development in that area. Although there’s been a crisis in the world, we see that the volume of trade between Turkey and the UK has grown, and we see $12 billion worth of trade by 2010, which is a very significant figure, and I am of the opinion that we can grow this trade in the future.
The meeting about Turkey that is being held today in London, we will be attending this meeting with my friend, David, and we will have an opportunity to talk to the CEOs, the business people, and we will have a chance to encourage them to do more business with each other so that we can grow our bilateral economic relations.
I’d like to thank you for your hospitality today on behalf of myself and my delegation. I also would like to say that the situation in Libya is resolved in the shortest time possible leading to peace.
Prime Minister, what deal has been done with Moussa Koussa? What assurances have been given to him? Presumably he wouldn’t have come to the UK without certain assurances. And, more specifically, now that Dumfries and Galloway Police and Scotland’s Crown Office have said they want to interview him about the Lockerbie bombing, how will your government respond to that? How soon will you hand him over for questioning to the Scottish authorities?
First of all, this is the first chance I’ve had to say something about it. The decision by the former Libyan foreign minister to come to London and resign his position is a serious blow to Gaddafi’s authority and we shouldn’t underestimate that. Let me be clear, Moussa Koussa is not being granted immunity. There is no deal of that kind, of the sort that you ask. And the point I would make about the dreadful events over Lockerbie is that the investigation is still open and the police and the prosecuting authorities are entirely independent of government, and they should follow their evidence wherever it leads, and the government will assist them in any way possible. They are in no way restricted from following their evidence, and that is exactly what they should do, and we’ll respond to any requests that they make.
My question is to both Prime Ministers. You say that the two countries will continue to co-operate on the issues in Libya and that your goal is to achieve peace there. What I am interested to find out is the issue of arming the rebels in Libya. Do you have differences of opinion, and how do you think this process is going to affect the future of Libya? Could there be a division, possibly, of Libya?
Another question on the rebellion in Syria. Do you expect Assad to resist these movements just like Gaddafi in Libya does, or do you have a common approach to that situation?
Prime Minister Erdogan
Now, with regard to your first question, arming the rebels: we do not have such a position in Turkey, and there is no such decision taken at the moment. Doing that would create a different situation in Libya and we do not find it appropriate to do that because we know why NATO is there. NATO is there to look into the situation and they will do what is necessary.
Now, as for your second question about Syria: I had a visit about two months ago, and at that time these events had not taken place in Syria or in North Africa or in the Middle East, but you could see events. And at the time, I shared my views and since it’s a country in a state of emergency since 1983, I reminded him of the importance of lifting that state of emergency, and that it was necessary to embark upon reforms, democratic reforms, reforms about votes and rights, because the demand of the people must be taken into consideration and steps must be taken.
In fact, Bashar is liked in Syria, and he has advantages also from the fact that his wife is Sunni and he is Nusehri. And so they embrace all of Syria. And so these are aspects which are important, and I had said to him that it was important that he embark upon the reform process. I talked to him twice after the events began in Syria, so we’ve had some discussions, and I also sent my special envoy to him to discuss these points again.
The statement yesterday, how far or how much it satisfied the Syrian people is not something that I can judge; it’s the Syrian people who will make that judgement, and we will see, and we hope that there will be more concrete, more clear messages. I think it would have been better if there were more concrete and clear messages.
First of all, in terms of Syria, I very much agree with what my friend, Tayyip, has said: they should meet these events with reform and not repression; they should get rid of the state of emergency and they should take many of the steps that he set out. That is our view right across the Arab world, Middle East and North Africa. All of the leaders should meet the aspirations of their people with reform and not with repression.
On the issue of Libya, let me be clear, we do not want to see the division of Libya. We want to see a whole Libya make a transition towards a more democratic and a more free future.
In terms of the issue of arming the rebels, we haven’t made that decision. We believe everything must be done to be in compliance with UN Resolution 1973. I set out the full position in the House of Commons yesterday, but this is not a step that we’ve agreed to take. I do think though we should be helping the democratic forces in Benghazi. I met with Mr Jibril from the Interim Transitional National Council, and I think that it is a group of people that want to be ‘interim’; they want to be transitional, they want there to be a transition to democracy in Libya, and I think in that they should have our support, and I am pleased that we’re deepening our diplomatic contacts and other help that we can give them to help realise that goal.
Prime Minister, the British government has now had some time to talk with Moussa Koussa. In light of that, can you give us your best, most up to date assessment of the state of the Gaddafi regime?
And, Prime Minister Erdogan, can I just ask you again about the issue of arming the rebels in Libya? I wasn’t entirely clear from your first answer. Do you oppose the idea of arming the rebels in principle?
I will start with the issue of Moussa Koussa. These are very early days. He arrived in the UK last night. He’s been having discussions with Foreign Office officials including people who were in the embassy when we had one in Tripoli. These are very early discussions, very early stages, but I think it does show a huge amount of decay, distrust, and breakdown at the heart of the Gaddafi regime. This was his foreign minister; this was a key member of his government. The fact that he’s decided to leave and effectively defect and give up his role, I think, speaks volumes about what is happening in that regime. You know, we have been appealing to people around Gaddafi and saying if you don’t want to go down with this regime that is doing dreadful things to its own people, then leave now. Split away now, give up now. And it is heartening that someone has done that, but very early days in the discussions. I am sure it will have had an impact on the Gaddafi regime itself.
Prime Minister Erdogan
With regard to arming the rebels, our view at the moment is negative. In other words, we don’t view that such a decision, if it were taken, positively because there is no party or state established at the moment. In our view, this could also create an environment which would be conducive to terrorism and that would in itself dangerous. The fact that NATO is now involved was a step that was taken to overcome or solve the problems there, and that’s why we look favourably upon the involvement of NATO and it should be NATO which should take the cautious measures necessary to protect the civilians from cruelty.
I have a question to Prime Minister Cameron….(inaudible)
There are some things that President Sarkozy and I strongly agree about, and there are some things that we strongly disagree about. One of the things that we disagree about is Turkish membership of the European Union, which I strongly support and I have this discussion with my friend, Nicolas Sarkozy, frequently. I think friends can have disagreements, but where I do agree with Nicolas very strongly is I think the action that France took alongside America and Britain on that Saturday and into that Sunday did help to avoid a slaughter in Benghazi and I would commend the French President for the brave action that he took. Yes, a leadership role in making a big difference to stop those forces of Colonel Gaddafi’s heading into Benghazi, and we should remember what Colonel Gaddafi himself said. He called those people rats; he said he was going to go house to house, and I think a slaughter was averted. I would very much support what the Turkish Prime Minister said about the importance of the NATO role in making sure UN Resolution 1973 is implemented. And part of that resolution, a key part of it, is protecting civilian life.
Let me be clear to anyone watching in the Islamic or the Arab world: Britain has no selfish or strategic or oil-related interest in what is happening in Libya. Our interest has been to try to help save civilian life. That is why we pushed for a no-fly zone, that is why we pushed for UN Resolution 1970 and 1973, that is why we have been involved in military action to try to degrade Gaddafi’s forces that are trying to kill civilian life. That is our interest, that is what we are involved in; all we want is the chance for the Libyan people to make their own transition and make their choice about how they want to be governed. That is why we have taken the action we have, along with France and America, and I think it was the right thing to do.
Of course, there will be many difficulties ahead, because it’s a complicated and difficult situation, but the slaughter we averted, I think it was absolutely right to do that and I believe there is still every chance that we can reach an outcome where people in Libya can make a choice about how they are governed and who governs them. That should be a decision for them.
Thank you very much indeed for coming and thank you again, Tayyip, for coming to London today. We will go and join the chief executives of some of the great Turkish and British businesses downstairs.