Tan: We Are Not Avoiding The Armenian Issue
At a time when Turkey is witnessing increasing tensions with the central government in Iraq, the Turkish ambassador to the US, Namık Tan, said, “The rhetoric of the US sometimes resembles that of Iran,” as he reiterated Turkey's commitment to the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Defending the right of Turkish firms to do business in northern Iraq as numerous American ones do in the region, Tan says Turkey cannot turn its back to resources available next door.
Speaking to Today's Zaman in İzmir, where he attended the Fifth Annual Ambassadors Conference organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tan said US-Turkish bilateral relations are enjoying the best time in their history despite the differences in the priorities of the two countries. Directing attention to a long list of overlapping issues between Turkey and the US, Tan said the partnership between the two actors is defined as a model one by the Obama administration, dismissing the idea that Turkey presents itself as a model. In this partnership of the US as a global actor and Turkey as an emerging regional leader, Tan says, however, priorities change. In foreign policy, Syria and Iraq occupy the top of the list in Turkey, while Iran is more of a concern in the US, according to Tan, who has first-hand familiarity with the last two decades of Turkish-US relations.
Tan reiterated Turkey's position against any military action in the region including in Syria and Iran as he urges more diplomatic efforts in the Iranian nuclear issue. “Turkey could play a facilitating role” in the Iranian issue, adds Tan, as he believes any military action would be devastating for the region. In terms of the frozen relations with Israel, Tan says Turkey will not step back from the three conditions it listed to normalize relations, while saying that those conditions are the end results of the then-discreet and now disclosed negotiations with Israel.
As far as the approaching 100th year of the Armenian events, Tan says Turkey is not avoiding the issue as he repeats Turkey's suggestion to form an independent committee of historians to do research on the issue in an effort to move the debate from a political to a historical one.
Did the US start leading from behind in the region?
America's image has already been damaged in the region due to the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it came with a vision of peace and engagement. Now, it no longer has its previous eagerness to involve itself in the issues of the region.
There is a tendency in the US to delegate or leave the issue to the regional leaders in a given region. It does not mean that the US asks the regional leaders to solve the problems -- of course it will surely be engaged -- but the US will not be in the forefront or lead the situation as it used to.
Speaking of engagement and leading from behind, Turkey is criticized for being a part of this US policy in Syria. Why is the US is not displaying the expected engagement in Syria?
Nobody wants a military intervention in Syria, in the first place. Why would we want any? We want to enjoy our prosperity that we have brought to a certain level. This is not the case. No country can or should design the policies of another country.
Let's look at what both the US and Turkey want in Syria: the end of violence as soon as possible, peaceful transition to democracy and the meeting of the demands of the people.
Does the US not know that the opposition is not strong enough to succeed in such a transformation without support?
If you look at it only from the military perspective, what you say is correct, but it is has other dimensions such as humanitarian, for example. There is a necessity to create a serious international legitimacy. Turkey has never pursued any policy without legitimacy. We cannot create such legitimacy by ourselves. It is the UN that would provide it, but we are not a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) member, and two of the five permanent members are against it. Of course we speak both with the international community and Russia. So do Americans. Our other allies talk when necessary, but as a global power in terms of its capabilities the initiatives of the US would be far different. There is a humanitarian dimension.
The US is criticized for acting slowly in that respect, too…
Turkey applied to NATO citing security concerns. In the contingency plans it was determined that we are not capable of meeting ballistics defense demands on our own. In an unprecedented pace in NATO's history, Turkey was provided with Patriots for defense. The US brought those systems to Turkey right away. The US deals with certain matters immediately where security is concerned. If the expectation is a military action like the one in Libya, it will not happen. The US is against military action. What we say is by being more active in the international arena, more pressure could be created diplomatically.
As far as Iran is concerned, when seen from Turkey's perspective, do we get our priorities right?
This is natural, our priorities might differ. For us, it is our next-door neighbor Syria and then maybe Iraq, for the US, maybe not even that.
Iran could be persuaded with diplomacy
In Iran the purpose is to prevent the possibility of this country acquiring nuclear weapons and succeeding it with engagement and diplomacy, which is also what we want. We sincerely believe that there are still many steps to be taken in the diplomatic field. Turkey could play a facilitating role here. Turkey proved it and the US knows it.
What about the reaction to Turkey saying “no” to sanctions against Iran at the UNSC?
It is over. It was a conjunctural situation. In time, they realized that we have no hidden agenda. We pursued a policy of principles. Our leaders reacted to Iran when they were uncomfortable with it as well.
There seems to be dilemma. On the one hand diplomatic options are on the table, but prominent political scientist Kenneth Waltz says no one can stop an aspiring nuclear player...
There is no other option in this Iranian issue. I personally believe the only solution is a diplomatic one. A military option is out of question as it would bring huge devastation to the region and would hurt everyone.
Iran could be dissuaded from such an aspiration. There is a serious embargo on this country. Other options to convince Iran could be tried; not all the options are exhausted yet. The US should try all of them. I can't say that the military option is off the table, but it is not supposed to happen. It would be a huge mistake for the US, Israel and Europe. As Turkey, we are strongly opposed to a military option. Iran cannot afford to lose all of its friends. If we all work together, I personally believe Iran could be dissuaded.
‘We are not avoiding the Armenian issue'
What does Turkey expect for 2015, which will mark 100 years since the Armenian events?
We do not believe it will be a nightmare scenario. Applying a principled policy, it is our approach to say this is not an issue that should be resolved politically. Everyone who has no agenda [also] says this. We suggest a common history commission be established to carry out independent, objective research. What we did in the protocols with Armenia is evident. We are not trying to avoid the issue.
The protocols seem frozen, though.
It takes two to tango. If the other party is not willing to reconcile, how am I supposed to do proceed? Turkey's efforts are appreciated, but the other party has done everything to undermine the process.
We did not commit genocide and no one can unjustly label us in such a way. I was saying this a decade ago and I'll still be saying it a decade from now, but when politics get involved the issue becomes more complex.
I cannot foresee the US administration's attitude in 2015 as it will depend on the international situation and Turkey's weight. There will be less concern about this issue if Turkey's profile continues to rise.
‘Turkey cannot turn its back on nearby resources'
What is the US perspective on recent tension between Turkey and the central Iraqi government over Turkey's business relationship with northern Iraq?
Iraq is one of the areas [in which Turkey cooperates] with the US. We worked with the US a lot towards achieving stability in Iraq. We have no problems with [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki personally. We have had unprecedented talks with Iraq towards the establishment of a strategic partnership. Our president, prime minister and ministers have all gone to Baghdad at the most difficult of times.
What we say is that unless there is power sharing and fair distribution of resources in Iraq, no stability will be achieved. We are not against Maliki, just his policies.
Does Iraq not perceive Turkey's comments as interference in its domestic affairs? Maliki has accused Turkey of trying to divide Iraq.
I challenge anyone to find an act by Turkey that runs contrary to the constitution of Iraq. Is it bad to have good relations with the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq]? There is a different issue. Northern Iraq is stable, and so far the most developed region of Iraq. As a result, 46 companies are in the region to exploit the resources there. When it comes to our companies, however, there are complaints. We do not understand the reason for this discomfort regarding Turkish companies. As a growing country, Turkey cannot turn its back on resources that are nearby. We do the same things American companies do.
I am still optimistic. We tell the Iraqis again and again that we are against the division of Iraq.
Did the US unintentionally make room for Iran to enter into Iraqi politics when it withdrew from Iraq?
US rhetoric could approach that of Iran [on Iraq]. I do not think the US wants this, but sometimes it gives the impression that it speaks the same language as Iran. This is the result of their policies and we advise them of this.
How about the PKK issue?
We appreciate what the US has done in our fight against terrorism so far. We have a very comprehensive relationship in this regard. However, we expect more from the US, which is a strong ally with experience.
What do we expect, in concrete terms?
There are certain mechanisms in place, and, for them to work effectively, the US should take further steps. We expect armed drones. They have to work out a policy that will allow them to provide these. I am hopeful. In order to convince the US Congress to this end, Turkey's weight in the region is important and is actually evident.
In the past, the US promoted Turkey to help in its EU membership bid. However, it does not seem to be doing much in this regard now. What is your evaluation?
What can they do? In the face of criticism, the US consistently strongly supported Turkey's membership in the EU from the first day of negotiations because the US is the land of big thinking. In Europe, they cannot see the assets that Turkey could bring to the union. Europe needs the diversity -- especially religious diversity -- that Turkey would bring.
How can we better understand the US?
Our capabilities are on the rise; we will increase the number of our missions in the US. We should do our best to resolve the mutual lack of understanding. There is no magic formula, but the west of Turkey is still considered a monolithic entity in people's minds. The west of Europe that we are a part of is different from the West represented by the US, despite the many commonalities between the two. Even the practice of democracy is different in the US versus the EU.
Also, because US influence is global, people do not like American involvement in the world. However, there is a distinction between being against Americans and being against American policies. I think questions about this in the polls are not worded correctly.
After the trauma felt by the US following the events of 9/11, the intervention in Iraq and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction there created a problem of image for the US.
Turkish-US cooperation is inevitable
Turkey's relationship with the US is often defined as strategic. However, President Barack Obama described it as “model partnership.” Is the term strategic overused? What is your definition?
There has been a tremendous and unprecedented transition in the region in recent years. The most important reason is the Arab Spring, while everyone else was trying to figure out how to deal with the global economic crisis, especially in Europe. Prior to that, by definition the US is a global power despite its problems. In terms of its capabilities, it is still the most powerful country with global responsibilities. From its point of interest, the US is on a quest for allies that are amicable and who are members of international institutions with a Western vision. When we look at Turkey, it is an ever-developing important player in its region with stability, despite everything. It is perceived as a regional leader. The US is a global leader, while Turkey is a regional leader. This is not an overstatement.
As a global player, which issues are important to the US?
The Arab Spring, North Africa, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Afghanistan, energy security and the fight against terrorism. When a rational individual looks at Turkey's agenda, s/he would see the same issues. These are also the weightiest subjects of international politics.
Turkey's other distinguishing feature: It is an Islamic country that is prominent for its democracy, free market economy, its Western alliances and secularism. There is no such other Islamic country.
Relations will be normalized only if our conditions are met
What about Turkey's relations with Israel? To what extent does it influence Turkey's relations with the US?
Despite everything, despite the grave mistake Israel made, we conducted discreet negotiations with them for 15 months, which have now been disclosed. In the emerging documents we listed our conditions. There is nothing left to discuss now. They also know it. The three conditions are on the table, which were determined as a result of our negotiations with Israel. If they are accepted, relations will normalize. There are no further negotiations. Netanyahu almost accepted these conditions three times (including the removal of the blockade of Gaza). The Israelis and the Americans know the context of all these negotiations.
Israel is an important country for the US, but Turkey is also equally important. Our relations with Israel and the US are separate from each other.
Would you agree that the situation with Israel damaged Turkey's relations with the US?
It would be an overstatement, but it is true that the Israeli lobby in the US is not as helpful as it used to be, which is their choice. Unless Israel meets our conditions, the current situation will continue as it is.
Who is Namık Tan?
Namık Tan was appointed Turkish ambassador to the United States in February 2010. Prior to this appointment, Ambassador Tan served as deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and was responsible for bilateral political affairs and public diplomacy.
He also served as Turkish ambassador to Israel from 2007 to 2009.
Ambassador Tan joined the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1982. After working in the Department of Maritime Affairs, he was posted to Moscow as second secretary from 1984 to 1987. He then spent two years as first secretary in Abu Dhabi.
After returning to Turkey, Tan served as deputy chief of Cabinet to the Turkish president until 1991.
He was later assigned to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, where he served as counselor from 1991 to 1995 and first counselor from 1997 to 2001. Between these assignments, Tan served as chief of Cabinet to the Turkish foreign minister.
Upon his return to Turkey in 2001, he first served as head of the Department for the Americas and was subsequently named head of the Information Department in 2002. He went on to serve as the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman from 2004 to 2007.
Born in 1956, Ambassador Tan holds a law degree from Ankara University. The ambassador and his wife, Fügen Tan, have two children.
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