Transcript: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s interview with Nikkei

ANKARA — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with Nikkei on Wednesday on the situation in Afghanistan following a wide-ranging written interview covering such topics as Ankara’s pivot to Asia and the environment. 

Here is a transcript of Cavusoglu’s remarks, edited for clarity.

In-person interview

Q: There have been reports that the Japanese Embassy in Kabul is moving to Istanbul.

A: Temporarily they will be serving in Istanbul, right? We will be very happy to have the Japanese mission here and we will do our best to facilitate mission activities. I am sure they will enjoy Turkish hospitality in Istanbul. We will do our best to provide during their stay in Turkey. It is unfortunate that they must leave, but as Turkey we will do our best. This is also a sign of friendship and trust between us.

Q: Did you watch the Taliban news conference?

A: Yes, I saw it. It was a very interesting press conference.

Q: The Taliban say they are forming a government and want the international community to work with them. Is it possible Turkey would recognize a Taliban-led government bilaterally under certain conditions?

A: It is not appropriate to make a decision and prejudge at the moment. But it seems they have started preliminary negotiations with [chief Afghan negotiator] Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, ex-president [Hamid] Karzai. I hope they will reach an understanding and there will be peaceful transition, and at the end they make a deal for the future of the country. First, of course, the government and future of the country. Then we must see the process. It is too early to say something now.

At this moment we have also other priorities, like the evacuation of our citizens who want to leave. But some want to stay, we must support them as well. We are working on it for those who want to come. We have other priorities right now; meanwhile, it is good that they started these negotiations. Qatar’s role is crucial. Qatar is facilitating all this.

Q: Some news outlets have reported Turkey’s plan to protect and operate Kabul airport is off the table. Is this true?

A: No, this news that Turkey decided not to stay is not true. We have not made any decision yet. There is a new situation and we must wait until they have formed a government — then we can talk to them. But at this moment, as I said, we have other priorities, so we have not made any decision yet.

Q: The Taliban said they don’t want to host any foreign troops. So what about Turkish troops in Kabul?

A: Turkish troops at the airport are noncombatant troops. Turkey has never sent combat troops to Afghanistan and this is well known. Now the role of these troops at the airport is very important for everybody. For Afghans, for third countries. For international organizations and for our citizens. This is what we are doing right now, as I said, after they form a government then we can discuss the issue between us. The previous government under President Ashraf Ghani sent an invitation to us, but there is a de facto new situation there. We might reconsider in the future, but it is too early to say.

Q: At this stage, Turkey does not plan to withdraw troops?

A: At this moment a presence is needed for evacuation and for the security of airport. And you know there are many civilians at the civilian terminal, you saw videos and photos. We were saddened to see these photos, and the U.S. also increased the number of troops as Biden said they are sending 6,000 troops and military police to the airport. At this moment the role of our troops over there is so important.

Q: Turkey is the only Muslim-majority NATO member. How can Turkey intermediate within the international society and the Western world?

A: We have no ambitions, I have to say, to mediate. But as an international community, we should first coordinate our messages, and we should act together as an international community, both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. So Turkey of course will play a key role here, but Turkey has no plan to be mediator between this country or the Taliban or others. As an international community we should act together.

Many countries are calling us. We have been sharing this opinion with them as well that we have to coordinate ours.

Q: Would you say another agreement like the 2016 deal with the EU on refugees is possible, with conditions?

A: We already asked the EU to revise that joint statement of 2016. It seems more people will leave their countries for different reasons. Obviously from Afghanistan and others… after the coronavirus, many countries became vulnerable. These people will try to reach somewhere. Afghans and others are trying to reach Western destinations and Turkey is a transit country for them. There are also Afghans in Iran but also from Africa from everywhere… So, this problem will continue. Irregular migrant flows will continue.

This is a common challenge we need to work on together. Unfortunately, the EU still could not honor all of their obligations of that joint statement. So they have to honor their obligations. Just asking Turkey to do something will not solve problem.

Turkey cannot shoulder a new wave of refugees.

Written interview

Q: Negotiations between Turkey and Japan over the final stages of an economic partnership agreement (EPA) have been stalled for years.  Can we expect a breakthrough when Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi visits Turkey? If not, what are the sticking points?

A: Turkey and Japan are strategic partners and close friends. Our cooperation covers a wide range of areas including economy, trade, culture, science and technology. Therefore, during Foreign Minister Motegi’s visit, we will discuss many bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest. Our economic cooperation will certainly be high on our agenda as well.

The world economy is going through significant changes. Asia has already become the center of the global economy. Global supply chains are changing as well. As a result, new economic partnerships and powerhouses are emerging.

As a result, we have many opportunities to significantly improve our bilateral economic cooperation. As governments, our job is to open the way for the private sector to enhance their cooperation. Japanese companies can reach out to different parts of the world from Turkey. Japan, with $3.6 billion of investment, is already the number one investor in Turkey from Asia. Many Japanese companies invested in Turkey not only for our market but also for other markets such as the EU, Middle East, Africa and Eurasia. For example, Toyota Turkey exported more than 80% of its products and had become the largest exporter in Turkey.

Turkish companies, on the other hand, are eager to get a larger share of the Japanese market. We have very competitive export-based sectors such as food and textiles. They can provide good quality products with competitive prices to Japanese customers. In addition, Turkish startups in gaming, e-commerce and services industries attract the attention of global investors. We support Japan’s larger role in our newly developing high-tech sectors.

Therefore, I think it is the right time to improve the legal framework of our economic cooperation. An economic partnership agreement will not only be beneficial for our bilateral economic ties but also help us to enhance our cooperation in third countries. We see the economic partnership agreement not as an end but as a beginning for a new chapter in our economic relations.

In this respect, the visit of Foreign Minister Motegi will provide a valuable opportunity to take stock of where we stand and look for the way forward.

Currently, negotiations between our relevant ministries have reached an advanced stage. The political will is there. Both sides aim to finalize the agreement, because this will be a “win-win” result for our countries. I am sure my discussions with Foreign Minister Motegi will give a significant momentum to the process.

Q: What is the objective of the Asia Anew initiative, which Turkey launched in 2019? Has the initiative reached a stage where you can outline a road map, specific targets and action plans for Ankara’s pivot to Asia?

A: We are proud of our Asian roots. We have historic ties with many Asian countries. We also see global issues through a similar prism.

Japan is a very good example. Our friendship began with the tragedy of Ertugrul Frigate, which dashed into rocks near Kushimoto, Japan, in 1890. This bond of friendship strengthened since then and gave character to our relations. On this basis, we manage to develop our ties in many fronts. We have similar deep-rooted ties with many other Asian nations.

Our Asia Anew initiative intends to reinvent our strong connection with Asia. We are doing this by streamlining our relations with Asian countries through developing regional, subregional and country-based approaches. We have a long-term strategic vision. Our aim is to bring a new and fresh look to Turkey’s approach to Asia. We look forward to building win-win partnerships to enhance our Asia outreach.

To this end, we are getting the input of all relevant stakeholders such as academics, diplomats and business communities to develop a holistic policy toward Asia. We increased our contacts not only with Asian countries but also with regional organizations. I participated in our sectoral partnership dialogue meeting with ASEAN on Aug. 19 together with ASEAN chair Brunei’s foreign minister and the ASEAN secretary-general. Our consultations with all stakeholders and partners will continue.

On the other hand, to prepare the groundwork for future projects, we have outlined an inventory of actions for the next two years.

We are working on establishing a database as well which will compile and evaluate all data related to our contacts with Asian partners. This data platform will help us to monitor the pulse of our relations with the continent.

Q: President Erdogan has not met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga yet. When and where do you think the leaders will first meet? Could that meeting bring a breakthrough for the EPA negotiations?

A: President Erdogan and Prime Minister Suga did not have a chance to meet face to face yet. However, they had a fruitful phone conversation soon after Prime Minister Suga took office.

Both leaders reaffirmed their political will to further advance Turkish-Japanese ties and exchanged views on issues of common interest.

We believe that high-level contacts will add a significant impetus to the negotiations of economic partnership agreement to reach a successful conclusion.

Q: We see Japan is very eager to cooperate with Turkey in Africa. How can Turkey and Japan cooperate in Africa and what are the challenges?

A: Africa has the youngest population, the most rapid urbanization rate and the most dynamic economies in the world. The continent has big challenges but also great opportunities.

As President Erdogan highlighted on several occasions, when we look at Africa, we do not see gold mines or oil fields, instead we see common history, friendship and an opportunity to develop our ties on equal partnership.

This human-centered approach defines our policy toward Africa. Thanks to this policy, we improved our ties with many African nations in a relatively short period of time. Turkey’s embassies in Africa increased from 12 to 43 in past two decades. In the same period, our trade volume increased fivefold and reached over $25 billion.

In addition, the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) has 22 coordination offices. Turkish Airlines, with its 60 destinations in Africa, connects every corner of the continent with other parts of the world.

Therefore, there is a vast opportunity to further our cooperation with Japan in Africa. This will be beneficial for Turkey, for Japan and for Africa as well.

As strategic partners of the African Union, Turkey and Japan are well placed to jointly launch cooperation projects. Turkey’s deep-rooted ties and wide network in Africa could prove to be beneficial for Japan.

Similarly, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) could be a useful platform for us, for the implementation of the Agenda 2063, which is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future.

Q: This summer Turkey was wrangling with problems of sea snot as well as wildfires and mudslides, all glaring phenomenon of climate change. Yet Turkey is the only G-20 country not to ratify the Paris Agreement. Will Turkey reconsider?

A: Climate change is a global challenge that requires an effective international response. There is no doubt about that. Many countries are currently experiencing unprecedented climate- and environment-related problems.

As a Mediterranean country, Turkey has become one of the main climate change hot spots in the world, according to the recent report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Therefore, we have experienced extreme weather events in Turkey. We have recently seen the worst wildfires in our history in my hometown Antalya. Recent mudslides in the Black Sea region are also the result of extreme weather conditions.

Having said that, we should also keep in mind that the sustainable economic and social development of all nations is also highly important. Both Turkey and Japan strongly support United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Considering uneven development levels across the world, we should admit that countries are not fighting against climate change on equal terms. Therefore, developed countries need to support developing countries with adequate financial and technical instruments.

As a developing country, Turkey’s status under the global climate regime is not fair. Turkey is an Annex I country under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We are considered among the countries that are not eligible to benefit from either financial or technical support.

Therefore, our priority is to ensure equal and fair treatment with countries having similar development levels with us under the climate regime. Once we realize this, we could be able to make necessary assessment on ratification of the Paris Agreement.

On the other hand, even though we are not party to the Paris Agreement, we actively contribute to the climate action efforts by our own means. In the past five years, we have invested $16.5 billion in renewables. As a result, Turkey is currently ranked fifth in Europe and the 12th in the world in terms of renewable installed capacity. We are also conducting many significant environmental projects such as the “Zero Waste” and “Breath for the Future” campaign. The UN-Habitat recently presented the Waste Wise Cities Global Champion award to first lady Emine Erdogan for her efforts on protecting environment.

Q: Some economists claim Turkey’s fast adaptation to the European Green Deal can bring advantages to Turkish economy. Do you agree?

A: Turkey is an indispensable actor in Europe’s green transition process. Turkey and the EU have had very strong economic ties for a very long time.

Turkey has taken rapid steps to align with the European Green Deal. We published Turkey’s Green Deal Action Plan comprising 81 actions and 32 objectives under nine priority headings on July, 16, 2021. It is a comprehensive road map for a transition to a more sustainable and greener economy. Turkey’s fast adaptation to the Green Deal will reinforce Turkey’s position in the global supply chains, increase Turkey’s international competitiveness, and enhance economic integration with the EU.

Q: Turkey advocates a two-state solution in Cyprus, while Greek Cypriots and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are saying it is a non-starter. Is there risk of eventual annexation or adhesion of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by Turkey if talks fail again?

A: From the beginning, we have been advocating a just, lasting and sustainable settlement of the Cyprus issue. Turkey, together with the Turkish Cypriots, contributed to the international efforts to this end. We are constructive but also, we want to see results.

However, decades of negotiations have gone nowhere because Greek Cypriots do not want to share power and wealth with Turkish Cypriots. You cannot change the outcome even if you try the same path a thousand times.

Turkish Cypriots are co-owners of the island. Cyprus is their homeland as well. This simple fact needs to be recognized to move forward. However, Greek Cypriots do not see Turkish Cypriots as co-owners.

For more than 50 years, building a partnership on the island could not be possible due to this mindset. In fact, this mindset led to the collapse of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus in 1963. The Greek Cypriot side rejected the Annan Plan in 2004. They also displayed the same intransigence in Crans-Montana in 2017.

Therefore, a bi-communal and bi-zonal federal model is neither feasible nor sustainable in Cyprus.

The two-state settlement, based on sovereign equality is the only reasonable way to make progress. Turkish Cypriots proposed a settlement which is based on the realities of the island and could be a win-win for both sides.

There are two distinct peoples and states in Cyprus. This is a reality. Turkish Cypriots are ready to negotiate a cooperative relationship model between the two states.

Having said that, for the success of any negotiation process, the Turkish Cypriots’ inherent sovereign equality and equal international status should be secured in advance. This is necessary, so that the status of the Turkish Cypriot people will not be left in limbo in case of another failure.

The proposed two-state settlement will make possible to achieve sustainable peace, stability and cooperation, both in Cyprus and the region. Labeling this vision as “a non-starter” is a recipe for potential failures.

We fully support the vision of Turkish Cypriots and we do not have any hidden agenda. We, as in the past, will always continue to stand by the Turkish Cypriot people and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in their rightful cause.

Q: Does Turkey want a reset with some of its neighbors like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel? If so, progress appears slow. What is needed for Turkey to normalize its relations with such neighboring countries?

A: Turkey has always been in favor of pursuing mutually beneficial relations with its neighboring countries for enhancing security, stability and prosperity of the region and its people. Our shared historical and cultural ties and people-to-people interactions have always been important assets in our relations despite differences on political issues.

We held political consultations with Egypt last May at the deputy minister level to review the potential steps for normalization. Our goal is building common ground and mutual understanding on bilateral and regional matters. This is an incremental and sequential process. As we improve mutual understanding, we can go further to develop our relations.

With regard to Israel, our relations in the fields of trade and tourism continue. However, our bilateral political relations are not at a desirable level due to Israeli policies toward Palestine. Our expectation from Israel is to stop its unilateral and illegal policies in the occupied territories, such as illegal settlements, efforts to change the status of Jerusalem, violations against the fundamental rights and freedoms of Palestinians. Sincere efforts from Israel in support of the established parameters of a two-state solution, would make a positive contribution to our bilateral relations.

We can overcome our differences with Saudi Arabia and the UAE through open and frank dialogue. We have close cultural ties and contacts among our people. Therefore, I don’t see any reason not to have better relations, if we take sincere and concrete steps to this end. I am confident that in the period ahead, we will have better relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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