The Atlantic Council of The United States

Black Sea Energy & Economic Forum 2011

View from Turkey

Senator Chuck Hagel,
Atlantic Council

H.E. Ahmet Davotoğlu,
Foreign Minister,
Republic of Turkey

The Honorable Stephen Hadley**
Senior Advisor, International Affairs
United States Institute of Peace
Former US National Security Advisor

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Time: 7:00 p.m.
Date: Thursday, November 17, 2011

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

ROSS WILSON: Ladies and gentlemen, if you’d please take your seats. As we move to the final portion before dinner, we’re very pleased to welcome several new guests, and to formally introduce them, I’d like to invite Senator Hagel again to the stage.

FORMER SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): Good evening, and thank you, Ross. As we wind up a very good day, productive day, we wind it up with a considerable amount of continued substance with our guests tonight before we break for dinner. Fred Kempe, who you of course all know, is going to moderate a discussion over the next few minutes between our two guests.

One is the former national security advisor to the president of the United States, Steve Hadley. Most of you know Steve personally, certainly all know of him. Steve Hadley has been one of the premier foreign policy thinkers and practitioners in our government for many years. So Steve, we are delighted that you are here.

He also has been a very important and active member of the board of directors of the Atlantic Council and has been of immeasurable assistance to all of us. So, Steve, thank you. The other individual who will be participating tonight you all know is the current foreign minister of the Republic of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoğlu.

And we are particularly pleased that you are here, Minister, because it has been much understood your vision, your understanding, not just of the region, the potential of your country, the possibilities in the world and your leadership and your thinking. You too, like Steve Hadley, have been not just a thinker and a framer of foreign policy for your country but a very successful — a very successful practitioner.

So, Minister Davutoğlu and former Minister Hadley, we welcome you. We appreciate it. And Mr. Fred Kempe, see if you cannot screw it up. (Laughter.) Fred, good evening. (Applause.)

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you, boss, for that note of confidence. (Laughter.) I just want to make one — if the foreign minister will excuse me — one logistical announcement which will probably be clear to those of you in the audience. The buses will leave later for dinner and so you don’t need to rush up to the bus to catch it. We’ll start from the buses from 8 (o’clock) and through 8:30, 8:45, so just so you know that, give us some time for a little bit of a discussion.

It’s been a fascinating day. It’s been a really interesting day. And I’d like to start with the foreign minister, and of course, with what’s on our minds right now is the Arab awakening, the Arab Spring, whether it becomes an Arab winter.

But more to the point, people are looking at Turkey’s engagement in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, policy towards Israel and are very impressed by the role that Syria has taken in the region in this moment of history. But a lot of people in Washington are saying but what’s the strategy, what is the — what is the Turkish strategy toward these changes. Then secondarily, how do you understand the U.S. strategy and what do you understand it to be and then how do they work together.

FOREIGN MINISTER AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: That’s very interesting and good question. Thank you. Well, maybe it is — I will speak at the beginning like an academician more than a minister. When I see an event is evolving, first thing I try to understand is what is the flow of history. The flow of history is not just an abstract term. If you feel the pulse of history, it is easy to develop a policy.

And when we look at the region today in the Middle East, first we try to understand what does it mean. How can we understand this evolution? It was interesting in the first week after the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, we had a Cabinet meeting.

And in that meeting, I made a briefing to His Excellency, the prime minister, and our Cabinet members. And after long discussion and analysis, we established two main principles and still we are keeping these two main principles.

We said, first, change is necessary now. And the event in Tunisia is not isolated Tunisian event. It is a new momentum in the region. And the flow of history today is in favor of change rather than in favor of status quo. If you say instead of status quo, stability might have different. What we believe is the main motif behind all these Arab Spring is the spontaneity.

It was not led by a leader, by an organization, by anyone. Some people say it is American conspiracy trying to control all these Western — those conspiracy type of analysis.

No, this is — it was a spontaneous event and it created a new wave, a new dynamism. So once you believe that it is spontaneous and not led by an individual country or an organization, neither by Islamists nor by Westerners or anything, then you should understand what is the next stage.

And our analysis was that this will not stay in Tunisia. It will come to other countries. So we said we are in favor of change reform because the demands of these people, Arab people, are right demands. What do they want? They want participation in politics. They want democracy. They want accountability, rule of law, human rights.

And these are the values we are defending in Turkey. If we are acting against them or if we say now stability is more important than change and try to protect status quo, then we will be contradicting with ourselves because our party — Justice and Development Party in Turkey — came to power with the same promises — more freedom, more democracy, more accountability, more transparency.

So we said we will be supporting these young people, this new trend. Second principle was this is a challenging era. We will support this transformation, a peaceful transformation. We will not support any violent action or we will not be part of a conflict or a tension. And of course in our foreign policy and in our politics there is no sectarian agenda. There is no ethnic agenda. There is no religious agenda in the sense of Muslim, Christian or Sunni, Shi’ite. We said we will be supporting all forces in favor of change.

From that time until now, based on these two values, reform and peaceful transformation, we tried to implement different policies in every case. It is an Arab Spring but at the same time in the Arab Spring, in singular, there are many Arab Springs in particular in the sense of for example Arab Springs — Spring in Tunisia is different than Egypt or Syria. So you must know the differences and you must react accordingly.

While he was in Tunisia, Prime Minister Erdoğan said clearly that Ben Ali should leave, same in Egypt but on different grounds. In Libya, we worked very hard to find a way for — of diplomacy because Libya was divided and there was no national army like in Egypt to control the situation.

But afterwards, of course we took our side with the forces of change or revolution. Same in Syria, we used all the diplomatic initiatives to convince Syrian regime to lead a reform process and not to oppress or use violence against Syrian people.

They made many promises they did not fulfill. Therefore step-by-step, we increased our pressure both in the sense of rhetoric and in the sense of practical implementation because we will be always with the people of this region.

Lastly, in order to — and not to take time and give a long lecture — for us, in March in Doha, in al-Jazeera forum, I was asked what would be the future of Arab Spring. At that time, Gadhafi was in power. Everybody was there. And the title was “Has the Future Arrived,” the title of the conference, of the seminar. I said the future has not only arrived, it has delayed.

All this transformation could have happened in our region in 1990s, like in Eastern Europe, because these political structures in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya, in Syria, they are all Cold War structures. Now, Cold War ended in Eastern Europe but it continued in the Middle East. Now, Cold War is ending in the Middle East. And what is our strategies?

We are looking for the post-Cold War status quo based on these values — democracy, freedom, transparency. This is what we are looking forward. This is our strategy. What I think about the American strategy, I can compare — I will be very frank here, as an ally.

In early 1990s, when there was the no place of an Arab Spring at that time in Tunisia, in Algeria, in Jordan, our allies preferred or gave priority to stability rather than change. Because of the fear of Islamic radicalism. In Algeria there was an election but the status quo was supported by Western countries because of the fear of change. And these autocratic regimes, they used three arguments for their survival.

One survival — one argument was to his people, they said, don’t ask freedom from us or democracy because we are at war against Israel. We have to have strong armies, strong politics because Israel is waiting there to attack us. Wait until we solve Palestinian questions, then we will go to democracy.

Second, they turned among themselves — they said, if we go, then cowards will come. Democracy may be in cowards. And they turned their face to Western countries and they said, if we go, Islamic radicalism will come.

Turkish case — Turkish model in last nine years or case, experience, whatever you say, falsified all these arguments. Democracy in Turkey did not bring cowards or radicalism and a democratic Turkey was much more vocal against Israel than autocratic Egypt or even Syria.

So because of this, the demands of the people are the same thing. We want something — a democratic system which brings prosperity, economic growth and at the same time a very assertive foreign policy or active foreign policy. Here, we should not do the same mistake.

Fortunately, this time neither American nor Europeans did the same mistake like early 1990s. At the beginning, some Europeans were reluctant in Tunisia — you know this; I don’t want to give the names. But later now, the momentum is for change. The second experience American strategy in 2005, 2006, Steve knows very well about this greater Middle East or other projects.

There, again, the values or the main parameters were democracy and all this. But why did it collapse after Iraqi war? Because in 2005 there were three elections in Iraq, in Palestine, in Egypt — 2005 December, 2006, early 2006. In Iraq because of the absence of security, there was no real election.

The election was — there it was something, a positive step but not like election in Turkey or the United States because of insecurity. In many cities, there were no ballot boxes. Election in Egypt was a comedy. It was not real election.

President Mubarak was elected. You know there was no freedom of participation, being candidate or all this. The only free election was in Palestine. Everybody there were observers and everybody observed. And Hamas won the election.

This was a dilemma for American strategy. Now, we have to be frank. What happened — election in Iraq was blessed. Election in Egypt was seen acceptable. The result of the election in Palestine was rejected. This created a suspicion in the mind of the Middle East.

Now, what we need to do is we have to implement objective rules, objective procedures for every country. And we have to be confident regarding democracy. If there is a mistake being done in these elections, in the next election it will be corrected.

So therefore we need to have one common stand. If it is democracy, it should be implemented everywhere on equal basis. This is basically what I can say for the future. Yes, sorry.

MR. KEMPE: First of all, thank you for — I mean, you do bring an intellectual reach to these issues that’s impressive. Let me ask one follow-up before I go to Steve, and it’s a shame that we have such limited time. But let me try to put the questions simply and then we’ll turn to Steve next.

With that in mind, can you be partners with the United States toward the Arab awakening or has the U.S. lost too much credibility and do you need to do this more on your own? And then, let’s go to a specific issue.

Syria, you talked about needing to support the people and the fact — and Prime Minister Erdoğan talked about it this morning too. The Syrians did not listen. Has the time passed where Assad can win the support of people? Is it time to move on and how? And how do you work with the U.S. in a situation like this?

MIN. DAVUTOĞLU: First, about America — cooperation with the United States, I can tell you between Presidents Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan and between me and Secretary Clinton, there is an excellent coordination, cooperation, communication. And I think it is the best in Turkish-American relations and also very, very constructive and mutually understanding each other.

Why I gave the other two examples, in fact, these examples, what we are observing in nine, 10 months — in the last nine, 10 months, is the opposite. American references to values are consistent. They didn’t say Mubarak is closer to us so we can tolerate and we have to be against Assad or Gadhafi. No.

And the procedures, the reactions, the responses and more important, neither Turkey nor the United States nor EU nor even Arab countries should give an impression of unilateralism. There should be more multilateral process, side-by-side. For example, why did I go to Arab League yesterday and we had an excellent coordination with the Arab League. Because we don’t want to be seen as Turkey as acting unilaterally.

Yes, if there is a problem close to our border, a humanitarian issue, of course we will question, we will react as an individual country. But the best thing now to be done in Syria is to act in a multilateral framework with Arab League, Turkey, EU, U.N., U.S. all together. And the risk in Libya was there because of NATO operation. Therefore, we have been very careful not to have Muslim-Christian, West-East type of confrontation.

One French minister used a term, “crusaders.” It was the worst time. Opposition in Libya lost the credibility. Therefore, I think the existing American policy in this sense, both working with other actors, allies and referring to the main values and accepting objective implementation of these values everywhere in all the countries, these are important.

And President Obama’s speech in Cairo when he came to power or later, I think this stand should be kept. On Syria — in fact I gave answer to your question — there should be multilateral cooperative process and we should ask Arab League to lead the process. We should help them.

And as neighbor, Turkey has a special position because whatever happens will affect Turkey, Turkey’s security, even domestic security. Therefore, what we have been trying to do now — until now is first advising. They didn’t listen. Then warning, they didn’t listen. Now, making pressure, if they listen, they listen. If they don’t listen, we have to increase pressure to stop bloodshed in Syria.

But this pressure should not be unilateral pressure. It should be all the relevant actors should act together to make this pressure and to support Syrian people in the streets who have been very courageous to defend these values against oppression.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Steve, the foreign minister has been an equal opportunity critic of both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration.

Are these criticisms justified and maybe you can handle that very quickly and spend a little bit more time on what do we do now in the Arab awakening, particularly what sort of partnership do you see as possible with Turkey and the United States or Turkey, the United States and its European allies?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I think a lot of it is justified. I think what we learned on 9/11 was that the policy of supporting authoritarian regimes in the name of stability didn’t give us stability. It didn’t give us real stability.

What it gave us was a Middle East that became a recruiting ground for terrorists that resulted in the killing of 3,000 people in the United States in 2001. So I think we learned our lesson that we needed to be champion of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and President Bush started giving speeches very much along those lines and President Obama has continued it.

Secondly, I think it’s a very important thing. What allows Turkey and the United States now to cooperate so closely is we do share those values of a democracy and freedom. We do believe those are the values that give true stability and need to be propounded in the Middle East. So we are allies not only because we’re allies but because we share the same values and have the same perspective.

Third, in terms of policy, it is — while the manifestation of the Arab awakening differs country to country, it is Arab-wide and it won’t stop. So the Arab world is in a world of transitions.

And there will be two kinds. There will be transitions after countries have had their revolutions and we have a commitment and it’s in our interest to try to ensure that those transitions are to stable, democratic, free societies.

We know it’s difficult. We know what a failed transition looks like. It’s Iran in 1979, a revolution also in the name of freedom and democracy that got hijacked by the regime there. So it’s transitions.

We have an obligation to help countries post-revolution make the transition to freedom and democracy. And we have an obligation to encourage countries pre-revolution — Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, others — to lead the reform process which, what the foreign minister urged Assad to do and Assad was unwilling to do.

Lastly, the dilemma is we have all admired the amazing courage of the Syrian people to go out every Friday peacefully demanding change, knowing that a dozen, two dozen, three dozen are going to be killed. And we admire that. And as the foreign minister said, we would like it to be a peaceful uprising. But they don’t have the guns, and the people with the guns are using them on them.

And the dilemma for us is if you ask a people to do it peacefully, what are you going to do to help them because the worst lesson — and President Obama said this with respect to Libya — the worst lesson that we could teach is if a tyrant can use violence against his own people and stay in power. That is a terrible lesson for the Middle East, a terrible lesson for the world.

So I think the challenge that Prime Minister Erdoğan really put to us all today earlier in the day is, OK, what are we going to do so that this peaceful protest by the Syrian people succeeds. Where do we go next and how do we get this man to leave?

MR. KEMPE: And maybe I’ll turn that back to the foreign minister with an additional question on top. And this will probably be the final issue we discuss because time is short at the moment. But why not answer that question that Steve just raised, where do we go now. Saying we have to go in a multilateral course is fine, but for what purpose? A ramping up of sanctions, approval of some more stringent matter? And then, perhaps more provocatively, to what extent does your strategy toward the Arab awakening extend to Iran?

Should another Green Revolution like that of 2009 occur, following what’s happened thus far in the Middle East, would Turkey approach this differently, particularly in light of the whole world asking itself how one stops Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

MIN. DAVUTOĞLU: First of all, again, referring to basic principles, I think we all agree that there should be more multilateral process, especially in Syria. And we have to know, as I said, Arab Spring is different in every country.

Syria is not Libya or Egypt. Libya was a hundred percent Muslim, Sunni, Arab population despite of tribal differences. But in Syria, there is a multiethnic, multisectarian, multi-religious population. And Libya is — the neighbors of Libya, they are of course important neighbors, but they are not Iraq or Lebanon or Israel and Palestine.

MR. KEMPE: Less complicated.

MIN. DAVUTOĞLU: Yes. Much more complicated and it may easily spread the unrest to others. So we have to be much more careful, much more well-calculating for our steps coming. First is we have to respect the choices of the people everywhere. We need to respect in Syria as well. We should not give an impression that it’s a foreign imposition because Syria is one of the centers of an Arab nationalism.

An impression of foreign imposition will create a reaction among the Ba’athist circles and among the Arab nationalists. This is wrong. Therefore, the Arab League initiative was important to say that this is an Arab League issue, and Turkey, as a neighbor, of course, saying something. But the ultimate day, Syrian people decide for itself.

Neither Turkey nor Arab League nor any other country will impose anything on Syria. That guarantee should be given to Syrian people because opposition needs this for legitimacy. Secondly, we should never, never allow or tolerate a sectarian agenda in Syria — sectarian or ethnic agenda, as if this is a struggle inside Syria and one country supporting one sect, the other country will support the other sect.

This will make Syria another Lebanon, like in Lebanon countries have sided because of the sectarian positions. You know, I don’t want to get into details why Iran Hezbollah or Sunni Saudi relations, all these. And in the past, in civil war, that was the case.

So all of us, we should say all Syrian citizens are equal and we do not support one individual sectarian or ethnic group. Turkish position is this. Yes, now Sunnis, because of the oppression, they look for Arab League, Turkish or other helps. But for us, a Sunni, an Alawite, a Nusayri, a Druze, a Christian, a Kurd, an Arab, they are all equal.

And we are encouraging SNC — Syrian National Council — to be more inclusive and to represent all the society, not only one. Strengthening opposition but at the same time asking opposition to be more inclusive is a must. So we should not make high level tension between Syria and foreign forces, whoever foreign, sometimes West, sometimes Turks, sometimes other Arab countries.

We should not allow inside domestic struggle. And we should be smart in our reactions and, let me say, sanctions or certain measures. Why? Because of seeing the case in Iraq, measures, how it affected ordinary people. We should be giving strong signals to the regime but we should not allow ordinary civilian citizens be affected.

Whatever — I told this yesterday in Arab League meeting — whatever happens, Turkey will — has implemented, we continue to implement some more measures, consulting with the Arab League but with two criteria. We will never, never use or think about water. Water will be given as it is, whatever happens in Syria.

Secondly, we will not implement any measure which will affect daily life of Syrian brothers and sisters. They are our brothers and sisters. Whatever is their religion or sect or ethnicity. We will never, never do anything against their daily life. If there is a multilateral pressure, if there is a consistent policy vis-a-vis Syrian groups inside, I am sure no other country resists more.

Nobody should compare this with Saddam, that he survived longer, because in Saddam time, there was no Arab Spring. It was not — there was not such a dynamic youth or in Hama, it was easy for Father Assad to encircle and use — bombard the city. There was no Internet. There was no YouTube. There was no TV. There was nothing. It was like before Christ. Even there was no computer. There was no mobile phone.

Today, whatever happens they can record and they can broadcast. So it is not like Hafez Assad’s Hama situation. It is not like Saddam’s Halabja situation. Every day we are watching what is going on in every city in Syria.

And every day we have been asking and we will continue to ask so that this could be history. About Iran, of course, Iran is very important country in our region, one of the main actors, one of the main powers, for us, a historic neighbor.

And the Arab Spring is now — it is Arab Spring. In Iran, Iran has its own dynamics. We hope these values will be received by Iranian people and the administration. It is their choice, like the choice of Syria. This is not something we can — I mean, accelerate or stop.

On the nuclear issue, you know Turkish position. We are against any nuclear weapon in our region. We want to have nuclear-free Middle East, neither in Iran nor in another country. Therefore, we work very hard in this because we have enough tension. And Iranians know this. Others, all the region, they know how we work very hard last year.

And Iran, especially in this case Syria, of course we expect Iran to act responsibly and we have certain contacts we had before, and that if there is a new region, everybody will take the position. But especially in this high time of Arab Spring, we have to focus on every case in its own logic and mentality. And we need to have a new vision of the region where there is a sustainable peace and stability.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Final word, Steve?

MR. HADLEY: Three quick points. I think I disagree in one respect. The Syrian people have to do this but we can help. And I think it will be critical if the Sunni business community will turn against the regime and reassure the Alawites that they don’t need to go down with this regime.

And on sanctions, if very severe sanctions would encourage the business community to turn against the regime, I think we should do them because if the Syrian people are willing to go out and die for their freedom, I think they’re willing to accept some pretty tough sanctions if that is the way to get their freedom.

And I think if Syria — if Assad does go down and you look around — the Iranian people will look around and they will say, if all these Arab people can be free, why not us, why not us.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Steve. This ends a very packed and long day. I think all of you would agree with me that it was an absolutely fascinating day. But I don’t think it could have been ended better than this session with Steve Hadley and, Foreign Minister, your wise and deep comments on this incredibly important moment in history were greatly appreciated. Thank you.

MIN. DAVUTOĞLU: Thank you. (Applause.)


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