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Ret. Ambassador İskit: Greek Cypriot block of Turkey’s EU talks is not well-intentioned January 6, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, EU, European Union, Turkey.
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Retired Ambassador Temel İskit Retired Ambassador Temel İskit

Retired Ambassador Temel İskit has said that Greek Cyprus’ announcement that it will block six chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union is not in good faith considering the ongoing negotiations between the leaders on the divided island.

“The Greek Cypriot move is not well-intentioned, especially while there are negotiations under way between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaderships,” he told Today’s Zaman for our Monday Talk interview.

“The negotiations will be badly affected,” he added.

İskit said that it was an unexpected move following the European Union summit last week when EU leaders rebuked Turkey for refusing to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus but refrained from imposing sanctions on Turkey.

Negotiations between the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and EU member Greek Cyprus to find a lasting solution for the unification of the island started in September of last year.

Despite promising to allow direct trade with the isolated Turkish Cypriots in 2004, the EU has so far not taken any step to that effect. Greek Cypriots say steps by the EU to allow trade with the Turkish Cypriots would deepen the island’s division. They rejected, however, a UN plan to reunite the island just before accession to the EU, while Turkish Cypriots accepted it.

Ambassador İskit elaborated on the Cyprus issue in addition to other recent foreign policy developments, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington last week.

‘The Greek Cypriot move to block six chapters in Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations was not expected. Eight have already been blocked by France until Turkey recognizes the borders of Cyprus and opens its ports… [The Greek Cypriot move] is not well-intentioned, especially while there are negotiations under way between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaderships’

You say that Turkey-US relations are no longer about what the United States requires Turkey to do but about cooperation. Could you elaborate on this?

When Turkish prime ministers paid visits to the United States in the past, commentators always talked about what the US would impose on Turkey and how much Turkey would compromise. There is a different situation now as the issue of cooperation has become more prevalent in the world. President Barack Obama’s ascendancy into the office has positively contributed to this development. Obama has been given the Nobel Peace Prize because he sees international relations from a peaceful perspective. And Turkey’s foreign policy has been focused on cooperation rather than conflict. We all know about Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s policy of zero problems with neighbors. In the past, Turkey’s foreign policy was much more defensive and skeptical because Turkey was established at the end of a big conflict, and then there was the Cold War in which blocs of states were enemies of each other. But when nations adopt a peaceful cooperation policy, problems are solved with cooperation in light of mutual interests. Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Obama share the same philosophy in that regard. There are of course points of friction.

What are those?

First of all, their policies differ regarding Iran. Turkey seems to be caught in between the different goals of the United States and Iran. The goal of the United States is to establish an international inspection system to bring transparency into Iran’s nuclear development and to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in order to make sure Iran has only peaceful purposes. On the other hand, Iran’s aim is to develop nuclear weapons sooner or later. And for that, Iran wants to buy time to develop its uranium enrichment program. So it’s playing with the West. If I was in a position to advise the prime minister of Turkey, I would say that Turkey should stay out of defending Iran.

Ret. Ambassador Temel İskit, a career diplomat with 40 years of experience

He joined the Foreign Ministry in 1963. During his 40-year diplomatic career, he served at various foreign missions of Turkey and held different posts at the Foreign Ministry, including that of director general for EU affairs and deputy undersecretary for economic affairs. He was also Turkey’s first director general of free zones. As ambassador, he served as Turkey’s permanent representative to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and as ambassador to the Czech Republic and to Belgium. After serving as Turkey’s permanent representative to the Western European Union in Brussels from 1999 to 2002, he retired due to the age limit. After retiring, Ambassador İskit lectured for five years at Sabancı University and Bilgi University. Presently, he is a columnist for the Taraf daily. He has also written a book on diplomacy.

Why?

The Turkish prime minister goes as far as guaranteeing that Iran has only peaceful purposes regarding its nuclear program. It is a very risky position to take. In the Erdoğan-Obama meeting, there was a slight change in Erdoğan’s approach to the issue. He said that Turkey wouldn’t like Iran’s development of nuclear weapons either. Instead of being a guarantor for Iran, Erdoğan supported a policy of diplomacy toward Iran as there are international sanctions being debated against the country. Based on my career as a diplomat, I can clearly say that Turkey should not side with Iran on the nuclear issue even though it has good economic relations with the country. Otherwise, Turkey would be used by Iran. It is not only Turkey that needs Iran in these economic relations. Iran is Turkey’s second largest gas supplier, and Turkey is Iran’s first and foremost gas buyer.

‘Erdoğan’s Iran position hard to understand’

Why do you think Turkey goes this far in siding with Iran?

I don’t think there is an ideological purpose. It is indirectly related to Israel, considering Israel’s hard-line policies toward Iran. Prime Minister Erdoğan seems to be acting emotionally on the issue and sides with Turkey’s neighbor, Iran. Turkey also desires to play the role of negotiator between the West and Iran. But Iran is not interested in this. And Iran has openly expressed that it doesn’t trust Turkey. We saw this clearly when Iran recently refused to ship out 70 percent of its enriched uranium to either France or Russia to be processed so it would not be suitable for making nuclear weapons. The uranium would then be shipped back to Iran to be used for peaceful purposes. Iran refused to do this. Then International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] chief Mohamed ElBaradei suggested that Tehran ship it out to Turkey. Iran refused that too. When this is the case, it is hard to understand Erdoğan’s offer to take Obama’s message to Iran.

Do you think Turkey will abstain when the UN Security Council votes to approve sanctions against Iran?

Turkey was in abstention in the vote at the IAEA board censuring Iran for covertly building another uranium enrichment plant. The resolution passed by a 25-3 margin with six abstentions. And it was backed by Russia and China, which have blocked global attempts to isolate Iran in the past. But Turkey will be in a difficult position when the UN Security Council votes on the sanctions. Turkey would not gain anything from this act other than a “Thank you” note from Iran. It would be the wrong move for Turkey.

‘There will be a bad atmosphere in Talat-Christofias talks’

The EU leaders’ summit on Dec. 10-11 called for no definite sanctions, angering Greek Cypriots, who have pressured the Swedish presidency to be tough on Turkey. Was that an expected result from the summit?

It was an expected result. There was an old debate talking about suspension of negotiations with Turkey, but this is not on the agenda anymore because suspension of negotiations is not legally possible unless there are serious and persistent human rights violations. However, the Greek Cypriot move to block six chapters in Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations was not expected. Out of the 35 negotiation chapters for EU accession, eight have already been blocked by France until Turkey recognizes the borders of Cyprus and opens its ports and airports to vessels from Greek Cyprus.

How do you interpret this move by the Greek Cypriot leadership?

It is not well-intentioned, especially while there are negotiations under way between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaderships.

What happens if Turkey opens its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels?

That’s what Turkey should do. Turkey should open its ports to Greek Cypriots. This move would not hurt Turkey economically. Turkey would put the ball to the other court if it did that.

Why can’t Turkey do that?

First of all, there is a Turkish policy that has become a taboo: Turkey says it will not open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus unless the EU takes a step toward fulfilling its own promises to lift severe economic sanctions on Turkish Cyprus. Despite promising to allow direct trade with the isolated Turkish Cypriots in 2004, the EU has so far not taken any step to that effect, under pressure from Greek Cyprus. Secondly, the Turkish Cypriot leadership would not like Turkey to move in that direction.

How do you think the negotiations between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaderships will be affected by this development?

The negotiations will be badly affected. How is [Greek Cypriot leader] Dimitris Christofias going to broker a deal with [Turkish Cypriot leader] Mehmet Ali Talat? There will be a bad atmosphere. It is not about building trust but the contrary. Talat will start his presidential election campaign soon, and there are signs that he might lose to a hard-line candidate. If that were to happen, decades of efforts to reunite the island might come to an end.

Do you see a crisis on the horizon regarding the Cyprus problem?

Turkey’s accession negotiations will see many difficulties because of the Cyprus problem. For the KKTC, the best scenario is that it could have a Taiwan-like status. Their economic hardships would continue. For the Greek Cypriots, it would be a dream to have their properties back. For both communities, there will be a continuing lack of confidence and instability. There could even be a crisis at some point as a result of such an undesired situation.


‘No axis shift in Turkey’s foreign policy, just diversification’

There is a lot of questioning in the Western media about an axis shift in Turkey’s foreign policy. Turkey denies it. What is your evaluation of this issue?

There has been no shift in Turkey’s foreign policy. And there is no sign from the US government that Turkey’s foreign policy is disturbing for the United States. When there are a few articles in the media on the issue of an axis shift — that Turkey is moving away from the West — there is a big debate. Where do these articles come from? There are some groups that do not like the ruling AK Party [Justice and Development Party] government — some white Turks. They can’t tolerate the AK Party. Some foreign journalists are influenced by their presentation of the AK Party. There are also groups close to Israel. They pump up such an image of Turkey moving away from the West. There are reasons for that. Especially after its Gaza offensive, Israel has become a lonely state. Israel had Turkey on its side before, but now that is not the case. As Turkey has been adopting diversity in its foreign policy, Israel has started to feel even lonelier. And Israel tries to pull Turkey back to its side. It uses the media and other tools for that.

Don’t you think Prime Minister Erdoğan provides ammunition for those anti-AK Party groups that you mentioned through his discourse?

Exactly, the prime minister brings grist to the mill. But aside from his emotional words, Turkish foreign policy is more diversified, and Israel’s importance in that regard has decreased. The only black spot in Turkey’s foreign policy is Iran. Turkish foreign policy has too much confidence in Iran.

‘US ambassador had a gaffe regarding Afghanistan’

Another critical issue in Erdoğan and Obama’s talks was Afghanistan.

There were no problems in that regard. Just before the visit, US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey had a gaffe when he said that the US expects Turkey to send more troops to Afghanistan. Then Turkey fiercely showed its opposition. The US president did not ask for more troops from Turkey. Turkey has already been contributing a great deal into the non-combat troops as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force [ISAF]. In early November, Turkey, which was already supporting the ISAF with around 800 non-combat troops, took over leadership of the Kabul Regional Command from France for a year. And the number of non-combat Turkish troops at the Kabul Regional Command has gradually been increased to 1,800 due to the assumption of rotating leadership. There is no expectation that the United States would demand combatant troops from Turkey.

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