We have a will to change and the power to do so: Turkish FM

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The three main characteristics of Turkish foreign policy will be prioritizing human rights, staying loyal to universal values such as justice and taking responsibility and initiative through a realist approach, Turkey’s foreign minister has said, adding that the government has the will to change and the power to do so, in order to reach its 2023 goals.

“We hope to see Turkey among the top ten economies of the world by 2023. We have realized so many things [that were] considered to be dreams. We’ll reach these goals altogether.  In this direction, we’ll continue to follow our foreign policy over a positive line,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in his opening address at an ambassadorial conference on Jan 11. 
“First, we’ll begin a consolidation process to strengthen our foreign policy gains. Then we’ll adopt our capabilities against new threats and challenges. We have a will to change and power to do so. We’ll continue to move logically, consistently, realistically and rationally,” he said. “There is no place for populism and valor in foreign policy. We’ll always use a mild and cautious language and will bring about constructive and creative proposals. We’ll continue to reject ethnic, religious and regional nationalism.”

Turkish foreign policy has long been slammed by both international and national political actors particularly on its ambitious political preferences in the Middle East, in moves that were seen as furthering to fuel the region’s tension.

“Some dissident circles are calling us ‘dreamers.’ Yes, we have dreams. We have dreams and goals for our country, our people and humanity,” he said, adding that Turkey will continue to pursue its “human-centered” foreign policy in upcoming years as well. “We’ll host the first ever U.N. Humanitarian Summit on May 23 and 24 in Istanbul. We’ll evaluate all humanitarian issues in all dimensions. We’ll discuss altogether what we can do to address global problems,” he said.

Ball is in Assad’s court

Minister Çavuşoğlu made comprehensive assessments on current top foreign policy issues starting from Syria, which he called the gravest tragedy of the 21st century. Defending Turkey’s Syria policy in the face of Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons and chlorine gas against own people, Çavuşoğlu called on all international actors to acknowledge that Assad has no place in Syria’s future.

“As you know, the opposition has elected its negotiating delegation and its coordinator in meetings held in Riyadh. The regime and some circles are prolonging [the negotiations]. This kind of act can waste all efforts for a solution. We urge all of our counterparts on this. The opposition did its job and now eyes are on the regime,” Çavuşoğlu said, referring to negotiations planned to begin in the upcoming months between the Syrian regime and the opposition as part of the Vienna agreement.

‘Sunnis see Iraqi forces as occupying forces’

Regarding an ongoing bilateral problem between Ankara and Baghdad over the former’s deployment of troops to a base near Islamic State of the Iraq and Levant’s (ISIL) Mosul, Çavuşoğlu blamed Iraqi government’s sectarian policies for the mistrust between Sunniand Shiite groups in Iraq. “The Sunnis do not have confidence in Iraqis security forces. They even perceive them as occupying forces. This is a matter of fact,” he said.

That’s why Turkey begun training Sunni and peshmerga groups in the Bashiqa region upon the request of Mosul’s governor and within the knowledge of Iraqi authorities, the minister said, reiterating Turkey’s respect of Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Meanwhile, he also commented on the ongoing crisis with Russia, which occurred after Turkish air forces downed a Russian jetfighter on Nov 24. Çavuşoğlu said Turkey preferred not to further escalate tensions and called on the Russian side to use common sense. As to Israel, negotiations for the normalization of relations are continuing, he said, adding that no deal has been reached on meeting Turkey’s two remaining conditions to this end.

Calling on Iran to follow constructive policy

It’s no secret that Turkey and Iran have different perspectives on regional issues but this does not hinder a blunt discussion of all of these issues, Çavuşoğlu said. “We encourage them to follow more constructive policies on regional issues, particularly on Syria,” he added.

Concerning the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran that could potentially exacerbate existent regional problems, the Turkish minister called the two parties to act with common sense and use all diplomatic channels. “The region does not need new confrontation but conciliations and cooperation. Our country is ready to exert all efforts for the removal of all problems between the two parties.”

Turkey unsettled by anti-Islamic messages in the US

2016 is the election year for the United States but some of presidential contenders’ anti-Islamic messages are a matter of concern for Turkey, Çavuşoğlu said, while evaluating bilateral relations between Ankara and Washington.  “We are unsettled because of statements of some candidates that fuel [anti-Islamic sentiments] and that target Muslims. We don’t want the disease of Islamophobia to pass from Europe to the U.S.,” he said.

The minister was obviously referring to Republican candidate Donald Trump, though he did not reference the candidate by name.

“On the other hand,” he said, “Europeans have to exert more effort to get rid of this disease by defending the founding values of Europe in the strongest way to address terrorism, discrimination and intolerance.”

Turkey-EU relationship a ‘long-term vision’ 

Underlining the government’s number one agenda as reforms in line with the EU process, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey has never tried to shape its relationship with the EU on “daily” political needs. “The Turkey-EU relationship should be managed with a solid, consistent and long-term vision and not through short-term urgent plans,” he stressed, saying the two parties needed each other.

About Cyprus talks, the minister expressed his hope that Turkey would not have to wait too long for the settlement of the problem and added that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots were doing their share to reach an agreement within this year.

‘Efforts to isolate Turkey will fail’

Blaming anonymous circles for trying to ruin Turkey’s image in the world, the minister vowed, “Those who try to complain and to isolate Turkey in international arena through baseless slanders have never been successful and never will be.” Drawing attention to the government’s fight against Fethullah Gülen’s alleged terrorist group (deemed by the government to be a parallel state operating to take down the current government), Çavuşoğlu said the Foreign Ministry would continue to struggle determinedly against this organization, as this group is now considered an illegal structure.

FM slams oppositional parties

Foreign Minister’s statement also included harsh criticisms against Turkey’s opposition parties because of their lack of endorsement of governmental policies on issues vital to the national interests of Turkey. “Political parties may have different views and approaches to foreign policy. This is only natural. But all political parties should be able to meet on common ground when it’s about national interests,” he said.

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