Sunday, February 1, 2009

‘We Believe We Can Achieve Something’

Turkey's prime minister speaks out from Davos.

Interview with Erdogan

"During the World Economic Forum at Davos, tensions that have been brewing for weeks between Israel and Turkey broke out into the open. After fiercely debating the Gaza offensive with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stalked offstage, vowing never to return to Davos. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth spoke with Erdogan. Excerpts:

Newsweek: I knew that Israel has a secret relationship with Pakistan but does it have an open one?
Erdogan: During the tenure of Mr. Pervez Musharraf, we brought them together in Istanbul: the foreign minister of Israel and the foreign minister of Pakistan.....

Newsweek: Were you trying to move the process to direct talks between Israel and Syria?
Erdogan: Yes.

Newsweek: And did Assad agree?
Erdogan: Bashar Assad from the start had a very positive attitude towards these talks. On that night, we were very close to reaching an agreement between the two parties. It was agreed they were going to talk until the end of the week to come to a [positive] outcome.

Newsweek: So you felt you were close to coming to an agreement?
Erdogan: These talks on that night went on for five or six hours. On that night in Ankara when I was talking with Prime Minister Olmert, I said regarding the Palestine-Israeli talks, it would not be correct not to include Hamas in the negotiations. They entered the election in Palestine and won the majority of seats in the parliament. But Prime Minister Olmert said he could not do something like that. Moreover during that talk, I said to Prime Minister Olmert that I believed I could be successful in freeing the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Newsweek: In order to release him, did you ask the Israelis to do something for Hamas?
Erdogan: I said to Prime Minister Olmert that if you want us to mediate in order to get the Israeli soldier free, we can do this and we believe we can achieve something. But on the other hand, once the soldier is free, Israel should set free Hamas' speaker of parliament and its members of parliament [who are in Israeli jails].

Newsweek: Why do you have such a close relationship with Hamas, which is an arm of Iran and is run by Khaled Meshal who lives in Damascus?
Erdogan: Let's not change the subject. First of all, Hamas is not an arm of Iran. Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player maybe they would not be in a situation like that after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people. On the one hand, we defend democracy and we try our best to keep democracy in the Middle East, but on the other hand we do not respect the outcome of the elections that comes out of the ballot box. Palestine today is an open-air prison. The change and reform party, as much as they tried, could not change the situation. Just imagine: you imprison the speaker of a country as well as some ministers of its government and members of its parliament. And then you expect them to sit obediently?.....

Newsweek: The Israelis have been frustrated that they couldn't talk directly to the Syrians.
Erdogan: We were trying to be their hope. Olmert's last sentence [as he left] was, as soon as I get back I will consult with my colleagues and get back to you. As I waited for his response, I found out that on Dec. 27, bombs started falling on Gaza. There had not been any casualties in Israel since the ceasefire of June 2008. The Israelis claim that missiles were being sent [from Gaza]. I asked Prime Minister Olmert, how many people died as a result of those missiles? Since Dec. 27 [in Gaza] there have been almost 1,300 dead, 6,000 injured, no infrastructure left, no buildings left, everything is damaged. Gaza is a total wreck right now. It's all closed, under total siege. The United Nations Security Council makes a decision and Israel announces it does not recognize the decision. I'm not saying that Hamas is a good organization and makes no mistakes. They have made mistakes. But I am evaluating the end result.

Newsweek: Starting now, do you see a role for Turkey? There was a discussion about Turkish troops being part of a peacekeeping force in Gaza.
Erdogan: This is totally out of the question. Only maybe as observers. It would be a major mistake for us to send security forces. There are those who try to claim that my attitude towards Israel's latest attacks on Gaza is because I'm anti-Semitic or against the Jewish people.

Newsweek: And some American Jews are very upset about it.
Erdogan: And I'm very upset at them. Beginning with the Jews who live in my country, they are witnesses to my attitude towards Jews. As an individual, I have always declared that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity. As a prime minister I have always been against anti-Semitism and my frustration is against the current Israeli government because they did not act fairly towards us.

Newsweek: But I've seen the anti-Semitic signs around Turkey recently…
Erdogan: These are individual attempts.

Newsweek: But they're very extreme. The Israeli Consulate has been picketed. It's been ugly.
Erdogan: There have been democratic demonstrations … There are demonstrations in the United States, even in Israel. Everything we have said is against the current Israeli government, nothing against Jews. In my speeches I have stated very clearly that anyone who even thinks about doing anything against the Jews in Turkey will find me against them. Of course, I'm not going to ask Olmert to write my speeches.

Newsweek: Is your relationship with Israel over?
Erdogan: We have a serious relationship. But the current Israeli government should check itself. They should not exploit this issue for the upcoming elections in Israel.

Newsweek: Do you expect President Barack Obama to play a more even-handed role between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
Erdogan: There is no justice right now. We expect justice from now on. "

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