Interview: Ahmet Davutoğlu

How does Turkey hope to influence and be influenced by its foreign partnerships?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Thanks to the economic, political and social progress that Turkey achieved in the past decade, we were entrusted with more responsibility and have concurrently acquired more tools for engaging the region and beyond. We began pursuing a more proactive foreign policy fashioned around the vision of averting crisis, reaping opportunities of the post-Soviet age and contributing to global efforts to make the world secure and stable. We are aware that foreign policy and economic success go hand in hand.

Economic relations between countries often create a favourable atmosphere to solve political problems, enhancing peace and security. We have thus adopted a multi-dimensional foreign policy based on maximum economic cooperation, integration and interdependence with the international community.

To what extent can Turkey leverage its status as a role model for emerging Muslim democracies in economic and political terms?

DAVUTOĞLU: With the political transformation taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it is natural that Turkey follows developments closely, especially given that it shares a common history and culture with these countries. We hope that the legitimate expectations of the people will be addressed in a peaceful and democratic way.

Currently, Turkey is the 16th-largest economy in the world and sixth-biggest in Europe, in terms of purchasing power parity, and we have raised democratic standards as well. As a result, our soft power has increased throughout our neighbourhood and beyond. Turkey is often described as a model for those countries in the MENA region that are currently undergoing a political shift towards a democracy. However, I do not completely agree with this description. In modern international relations there is no “one size fits all” concept. Each country has its own dynamics and characteristics.

Turkey’s increased soft power is partly the result of the comparatively democratic approach taken by the government, so people in neighbouring countries appreciate our progress and continue to further express their desires for similar developments in their own countries. This is why surveys of people throughout the MENA region show a very high favourability rates in attitudes toward Turkey. This is not to say that we are a model for them, but it is apparent that Turkey provides a source of inspiration for peoples of the region.

The challenge for us is to respond in the most effective way possible to this heightened interest in Turkey.

We are by no means willing to impose our own rights or preach to others as to what they should do. Our relationships will first and foremost be guided by the desires and needs of the countries in question. There is no doubt that Turkey is strongly committed to the common quest to upholding individual freedoms, human rights, political liberty and rule of law, as well as to the consolidation of reforms in this region.

What are the long-term plans for relations with Iran, the rest of the MENA region and Central Asia?

DAVUTOĞLU: Iran is our neighbour and an important regional actor at the confluence of the Middle East, South Asia and the Caucasus. Last year 2m Iranians visited Turkey and bilateral trade volumes reached $16bn.

I believe our efforts to bring lasting solutions to tensions in the region are welcomed by the international community, and in the long term we intend to increase our dialogue and cooperation to these ends.

The preservation of peace and stability in the region is one of the main priorities of Turkey’s foreign policy.

At a time when the MENA region is experiencing a moment of awakening, Turkey supports the peaceful and successful conclusion of political transformation on the basis of the legitimate demands of the people.

Turkey attaches great importance to close dialogue and cooperation with Arab states in the MENA region, and we have taken important steps in the past few years to develop and diversify relations with the Arab world – both bilaterally and multilaterally. A number of high-level bilateral strategic mechanisms have been established between Turkey and some Arab countries, in addition to the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum, created in 2007 between Turkey and the Arab League.

Turkey aims to maximise the benefits of the existing bilateral and multilateral cooperation structures with its Arab partners and spares no effort to supporting the processes of change in the MENA region. In the long term, Turkey hopes to see the MENA region as a belt of stability, security and prosperity, where the will of the people reigns and universal values such as human rights, rule of law and good governance thrive.

Turkey was the first country to recognise the independence of the Central Asian countries after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since 1991, our desire for a stable, democratic and prosperous Central Asia has guided our policy priorities in the region. In the last 20 years we have sought to increase engagement with this region. Some of our long-term objectives towards these countries include promoting political and economic reform processes; advancing stability and prosperity; and contributing to the emergence of an environment conducive to regional cooperation. We foster an environment of cooperation through bilateral strategic partnership agreements via the mechanisms of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, in addition to multilateral approaches via the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States.

In what ways can new diplomatic partners, specifically in Africa, help diversify Turkey’s foreign trade?

DAVUTOĞLU: In 2003 Turkey started to implement a new trade development strategy with African Countries, and in the following five years our trade volume with Africa jumped three-fold to $17bn. Under this strategy, we plan to increase Turkey’s share in African nations’ total trade to 3% in the coming three years, and likewise the share of African countries in our own total trade volume to 10% – double the end-2010 figure of 5.2%.

We hope to help develop cooperation with African countries in construction, contracting and consultancy, engineering and energy, and to enhance Turkey’s competitiveness in African market.

Turkish businesses have worked hard to limit the adverse effects of the global economic fluctuations on their exports, and in 2011 Turkey’s total exports increased to $134.6bn – a record in the history of country. In 2010 and 2011, Turkey’s exports saw a record-breaking rise destined to more than 60 countries in South America, Africa and Asia thanks to its ability to reorient some of its export capacity from traditional markets to new geographies offering untapped potential. I must add that we do not see our policy with Africa as purely economic; we believe we can develop strategic partnerships on a regional and global level.

How can the heightened tension with Cyprus over increased drilling in the Mediterranean be solved?

DAVUTOĞLU: I foresee two possible options for diffusing the current tension due to the Greek Cypriots’ unilateral off-shore activities. First, by settling the Cyprus issue by July 1, 2012, and second, by establishing an ad-hoc committee between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots – under the auspices of the UN – that will enable both sides to determine the future course of off-shore activities in and around Cyprus. The island’s natural resources, on the shore or at sea, belong to all Cypriots and they have equal inherent rights over them.

If our goal is to unite the island, it will not be fair for one side to take unilateral steps without consent of the other. Greek Cypriots should wait for a comprehensive settlement or immediately launch bilateral talks with Turkish Cypriots. If our aims were beyond reunifying the island, we would encourage each side to explore for hydrocarbon off their respective territories, but this is not what Turkey or Turkish Cypriots want. It is very much at the hands of Greek Cypriots to relieve the current tension and to turn it into an opportunity to benefit all.