Atlantic Council
NATO Engages 2019
“Conversation: Turkey’s Role in NATO and Regional Security Challenges”
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of Turkey
Margaret Brennan,
Moderator, “Face the Nation,”
CBS News 
Location:  Washington, D.C.
Time:  9:30 a.m. EDT
Date:  Wednesday, April 3, 2019


ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the moderator of Face the Nation on CBS, Ms. Margaret Brennan.  (Applause.)

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Thanks to all of you.  Good morning.  I hope you’ve all had your coffee.  I think we should have a really fascinating conversation up next.

Our guest, who is backstage – I’m going to ask him to come out and take a seat – is the foreign minister of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.  And there are lots of questions for him.  (Applause.)

Thank you, Foreign Minister.

And I do want to ask some of you to participate in the conversation later on.  I’m going to take first crack before we go to some of your questions.  So think of those.  Raise your hand.  There will be a microphone that is run out to you when we get to the question-and-answer period.

Foreign Minister, thank you for coming and starting off what is a tremendous week for NATO here in Washington.

I want to start with a little bit of news at home for you.  The AKP, Erdogan’s party, lost some support in key cities – in Ankara, in Istanbul.  I know you don’t want to talk domestic politics and I won’t ask you to.


BRENNAN: But – (laughter) – the outcome of this has left –

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Democracy is also a value of the NATO’s.

BRENNAN: (Laughs.) Well, it’s left a lot of people wondering if somehow the reset of politics at home could help reset the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey right now, which has gotten a little bit rocky.  Do you see this as a chance to reset the relationship with Washington?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  I mean, outcome of the elections is a chance or my visit in D.C. is a chance to discuss all these issues?

BRENNAN: Well, you’re going to be the person here meeting with Pompeo and Bolton.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  So, first of all

BRENNAN: So I guess that’s their question.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  First of all, Turkey is conducting democratic and fair elections.  So in Istanbul there is a recount of the invalid vote.  There is a difference between the counting and the tabulations, which is normal in democracies.  I remember during the last elections here in D.C., in four states the votes were recounted, which is also process of the democratic elections.

Yes, in some cities, including my hometown, Antalya, we lost election.  But in many cities in Turkey, particularly in the southeast part – southeastern part of Turkey, predominantly Kurdish cities, we won the elections.  Overall, the vote that we get, the support, is 52 percent.  This is actually exactly the same support that Erdogan got at the presidential election.  And therefore, the difference between my party and the second party is huge.

So overall my party and Erdogan won the elections.  But in the cities’ local elections, sometimes they don’t like the candidate.  Sometimes they protest the government.  So to protest the government, it happens.  In democratic societies you can win the elections, you can lose the elections, and it has to be democratic and fair elections.

BRENNAN: But does that provide any kind of opportunity to reset the relationship with the United States? We heard a lot about national security on the campaign trail during this last election.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  The local elections has nothing to do with our relations with another country.

BRENNAN: You don’t think it’ll have any impact on Erdogan?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  And in – any election, actually, is important about any policy of any country.  So Erdogan has been actually listening what Turkish people say.  And that’s why we formulate – how we formulate our policies and we implement, including the foreign policy.

But in any case, we have been always trying to improve and strengthen and deepen our relations with our allies, particularly with the United States.  And we value our bilateral relations.  It’s true that there are some outstanding issues.  And we have been in dialogue.  Two presidents are on the phone quite often, and I’m also in touch with Secretary Pompeo. 

And we have working groups.  Like we now have taskforce to coordinate the decision of the United States to withdraw from Syria, and we have four working groups on consular issues, on Syria and on counterterrorism and so on.  So there are outstanding issues, but we are in dialogue, close cooperation, and we have been working together to overcome these outstanding issues.

BRENNAN: When you meet with Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviserb Bolton, who you’re scheduled to meet with here in Washington, will you tell them that Turkey is still going to go through with its purchase of the Russian system, the S-400, which was added to – that purchase –

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Definitely, definitely.  It’s a done deal.

BRENNAN: It’s a done deal.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  It’s a done deal.  And even President Trump admitted on the phone that it was the mistake of the previous administration of United States that they couldn’t sell Patriots to us.  This is not a choice for us.

BRENNAN: But that offer is still on the table. Is it not?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  No, this is a done deal.

BRENNAN: But the offer of Patriots is still being made?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  We received a recent proposal from the United States, but it doesn’t guarantee that United States will be able to sell Patriots to Turkey, because we couldn’t get it for last 10 years.  That’s why we had to buy from Russia.  And we tried to buy from other allies as well.  It didn’t work.  So it is an urgent need of Turkey.  I mean, we need air defense systems urgently in Turkey, and we try to buy –


MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Because of the threat in the neighborhood.  Everybody has missiles.  And in the neighboring countries, in Syria, in the others, and NATO is not capable enough to cover our airspace yet, not only the Turkish –

BRENNAN: NATO is not capable enough?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Not capable enough yet, no.

BRENNAN: Well, NATO would say the system that you’re choosing, the S-400, is incompatible with their systems, and therefore isn’t as good as the umbrella being –

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  No, not at all.  Secretary-general made it very clear that any member state can buy any system from any country.  This is the clear statement of the Secretary-General Stoltenberg. 

BRENNAN: But it’s not compatible with their defense system.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  No, it doesn’t have to be integrated to the NATO system, and this is not our aim.  This is for our own use, OK?  This is a defense system.  And it will not be integrated to NATO system.  We made it very clear, and we made very clear that this system will not see any NATO system, including F-35s, as an enemy.  So therefore, we propose United States to establish a technical working group to make sure that this system will not be a threat neither to F-35s nor to NATO systems.

BRENNAN: So the F-35, as you know, there was some news ahead of your arrival on exactly that front. Would the U.S. – you know, I guess two of the JSFs are sitting in New Mexico with Turkish pilots being trained, but that the whole of the system and the F-35s won’t be transferred to Turkey, according to the United States, if this S-400 purchase goes through.  That is not impacting your calculus.  You are still dedicated to the S-400?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Well, S-400 deal is a done deal, and we will not step back from this.  And F-35 is a comprehensive program, and Turkey is the part of this.  And we have been producing many parts of this F-35 jets, okay?  And we have already paid $1.2 billion, and another $2.3 billion is on the way.  And we have actually fulfilled all our obligations as one of the country which is in the program.  So this is a very comprehensive program.  So it is not like U.S. is producing something and U.S. is selling to NATO allies, including Turkey.  So we are the part of this program.  So it shouldn’t be that simple, I mean.

BRENNAN: But that’s why – well, particularly because, as you say, Turkey is part of the production of the F-35, that is why the State Department says that’s why you should reconsider this, because halting the transfer means potentially a cost in Turkish jobs, that all these other countries – I think nine in total – can help produce the parts. So Turkey is going to be hurt.  Can you help people here understand why it’s worth it?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Turkish people understand very well, and Turkish defense industry is not depending only on this project.  And we are developing our defense industry and we are actually producing 70 percent of what we need now in Turkey, and we will continue actually improving our defense industry in the future as well.  And Turkish people understand very well, and they understand the threat in the neighborhood.  We are not living in like very peaceful region.  All the conflicts, and we are at the frontline of the NATO actually facing all these challenges, conflicts, terrorism, irregular migration.  If you look at Turkey, all the frozen conflicts, from Nagorno-Karabakh to two regions of Georgia, and as well as Crimea and Cyprus issue and Transnistria issue, conflicts, frozen conflicts, all are in our neighborhood, and terrorism as well.  Therefore, this is an urgent need of Turkey, and Turkish people understand this perfectly.

BRENNAN: And they understand they’re not getting the F-35s and that it may cost Turkish jobs?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  It’s not sure yet.  It’s not sure yet.

BRENNAN: You think you can change minds.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Of course.  We are working on it.  And different statements are coming from different institutions in the United States, as well as in many other areas, like withdrawal of the United States or decision to withdrawal from Syria, and other issues.  So different and contradicting statements are coming.  But overall, we agree to continue working on this issue as well, and we will be working.

BRENNAN: So to be clear, when I’m referencing what the Pentagon has said about pausing the transfer here, you are saying you’re hearing from others in the Trump administration that they might –

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Trump himself admitted on the phone that U.S. made the mistake, not to sell Patriots to Turkey, and he promised Erdogan that he will take care of this issue, and he’s the president of Turkey – he’s the president of the United States.  Sorry. 

BRENNAN: But on the F-35s.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Yeah, in particular –

BRENNAN: You think the president would reconsider that.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  And he promised that he will do his best to resolve this issue.

BRENNAN: To go through with the F-35s.


BRENNAN: Despite what the Pentagon has said this week.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Right, right, on this issue and also S-400 issue.

BRENNAN: When was this phone call?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Recently.

BRENNAN: Recently.


BRENNAN: Well, we’ve heard a lot about President Trump and his phone calls with President Erdogan having tremendous impact. So any detail you can share from that would be interesting.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  This is only the thing that I can share with you.

BRENNAN: That’s the only thing.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Not every details

BRENNAN: Well, can you tell me a little bit about the phone call that we all heard happened that had a tremendous influence on President Trump’s thinking about engagement in Syria? He’s reconsidered numbers, but the bottom line was he decided.  And it was credited to your President Erdogan for pulling the trigger to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.


BRENNAN: Is Turkey better off with U.S. troops in or out of Syria?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  I think for the future of the country, for the territorial integrity of the country, it is better that all the countries leave Syria.  OK?  And our problem with the staying of United States is that U.S. has been engaged with PKK, PYD, YPG terrorist organization.  So we have been asking United States to actually disengage, disengage with terrorist organization.  It seems that they still support these terrorist organization which is posing a threat – a direct (against ?) Turkey.

BRENNAN: But having U.S. forces there working on the ground with the YPG and others, isn’t that a bit of a restraint?


BRENNAN: Isn’t that a good thing?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  No, U.S. has been supporting this terrorist organization and U.S. has been giving weapons, including the heavy ones, to this organization, terrorist organization, which is a big risk for us.  And we have been asking them.  And we also agreed on Manbij roadmap, and we agreed to actually take out YPG from this region and to work together actually to establish the local structures and the governance, also the security structures.  Therefore, this roadmap has been not implemented yet.  There are many issues that we should actually continue working with the United States.  So it is better that all the countries actually get out from Syria.  It is important for the stability of the country and also for the territorial integrity.

BRENNAN: You object to the 400 to 1,000 U.S. troops that may be staying there?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  I think – I think 200 of U.S. troops will be staying

BRENNAN: Near the border.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Yeah, in – no, I think in south, further south.  But now we have been working together to coordinate the withdrawal of the United States from Syria, as well as the possible safe zone and other issues.  And even though U.S. has not – U.S. doesn’t have direct role in Manbij, but Manbij memorandum, implementation of it, is also important for the future of the country.  And the political process is also important.  And U.S. has been one of our main partner in Syria as well.  We have been working together.

BRENNAN: And the YPG and other –

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Even though we disagree on YPG issues.

BRENNAN: Right, who have been fighting alongside and with the help, as well, and support of the U.S. But to be clear here, do you know what the U.S. policy in Syria is?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  No.  (Laughter.)  And this is the problem.

BRENNAN: Where does that problem stem from?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Well, again, I don’t want to make comment about the internal matters of another country, but, again, different positions, different statements coming from different institutions and departments here in the United States – State Department and Defense, actually, ministry as well as the military on the ground, CENTCOM, and this and that – all different positions and different – there is no clear strategy.  This is a problem.

BRENNAN: Specifically on U.S. troops, any kind of safe zone? Any kind of European forces there?  You still have not been given details of what this looks like.  I mean, what –

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Well, we have the task force, actually.  And the task force met three times.  And now we have been exchanging our proposal on all these issues.  So we are going to discuss this issue today and tomorrow with my counterparts.

BRENNAN: I want to get to some questions from the audience in a moment, can you button up for us, though, what is the chief question you have for the national security adviser and the secretary of state when you meet with them?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Well, Syria is one of them.  And these S-400, F-35 is another one.  And also – (inaudible) – issue that we have to discuss.  And there are some consular issues, legal issues.  Many issues in our region.  Not all of them are actual negative ones.  I mean, we have also positive agenda.

BRENNAN: What’s going well?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  On, like – (laughs) – like we need to reach $75 billion trade volume – bilateral trade volume as well, economic cooperation and also our alliance in NATO.  And also in our region many issues that we need to work together.  We should continue working together as two allies.

BRENNAN: I saw a hand up over here. Can we get a microphone up front?  Would you just identify yourself when you ask your question?

Q:  I’m Lieutenant Colonel Sylwia Szawlowska.  I’m the Polish assistant defense attaché here.  (Speaks in Turkish.)

Quick question regarding Russia and NATO.  Can you please tell us how, you know, Russia is not NATO’s friend?  And while shaping your policy, while formulating your policy, do you have any red lines in defense cooperation in Russia?  How far you can go, bearing in mind that it may have detrimental effects for NATO’s cohesion and defense capabilities?  Thank you.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Thank you very much.  First of all, Turkey is supporting the dual track policy of the NATO towards Russia – deterrence and dialogue.  And during the ministerials I see that some countries are in favor of more dialogue and others are in favor of more deterrence.  While, in any case, it’s a dual track policy, and we support that.  And we have been increasing our bilateral trade war with Russia as well.  Russia is actually a country in the region and is a neighboring country.  And we need to work together.  And in Syria and on other files, we have been working together.  And the outcome is there.  And Astana process actually has been very instrumental to keep Geneva process alive as well.

But we disagree with Russia on many issues.  Their aggression on Black Sea.  We don’t recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea.  And we support the territory integrity of Georgia as well.  And we also disagree in Syria as well, in many areas.  Some areas we work together, in some areas we disagree with Russia.  And we import gas and oil from Russia as well, as many other NATO allies do, including Germany.  I don’t know whether Poland is importing anything from Russia or not, but as a neighboring country I know your trade volume has been also increasing.

But the system that we are buying, if you mean that particularly, S-400, will not be a threat to NATO, as I mentioned at the beginning of our discussion.  So we have been working with Russia as many other NATO allies, Western European countries.  But it doesn’t mean that we are undermining the allies – NATO allies and we agree with Russia on everything.  So there is no shift in our foreign policy, particularly in that regard.  Thank you.

BRENNAN: Why is it worth alienating allies and risking U.S. sanctions?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Say it again, please

BRENNAN: Why is it worth alienating allies and risking U.S. sanctions?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  No, we are not alienating allies.  We have – for instance, on Black Sea, we have trilateral mechanism between Turkey, Romania, and Poland.  And we have been supporting all NATO activities in that region as the eastern flank as well.  We are not alienating of any NATO allies.

BRENNAN: The U.S. is threatening – the U.S. is threatening sanctions.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  And we are not choosing between Russia or any other allies, actually.

BRENNAN: So you don’t think that the threat to put sanctions under the CAATSA law is actually going to happen? The U.S. won’t follow through on that?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  We signed this agreement.  We finalized S-400 agreement before CAATSA.

BRENNAN: So you don’t think it will apply.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Right.  Well, it shouldn’t be.  It shouldn’t.

BRENNAN: Here in front. Can we get a microphone?

Q:  Hans Binnendijk. 

Back to the F-35s, if I might.  As you know, the United States Congress has the power to block this sale.  And there is bipartisan legislation to do that if Turkey continues to pursue the sale, as you say you will, of the S-400.  What happens to U.S.-Turkish relations if that sale is blocked?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  It will have definitely a very negative impact in our bilateral relations, which we do not prefer.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of both us, as Turkey, as the U.S. administration, to explain the situation to Congress, actually, and why Turkey had to buy S-400s, and why this program is important.  I mean, F-35 and Turkey is part of this program.  And Turkey has contributed a lot.  So it is our joint obligation to explain the situation to the Congress.  Thank you.

BRENNAN: We have a question back here behind me. This gentleman here in the third row.

Q:  Thank you.  Minister, Stephen Flanagan from the RAND Corporation.

Minister, could you clarify Turkey’s strategy with regard to security and defense of the Black Sea?  Because I’m hearing even now conflicting signals.  Back in the run-up to the Warsaw summit, President Erdogan warned NATO allies that the Black Sea was in danger of becoming a Russian lake.  Yet, since that time we’ve seen increasing buildup of the Russian military, the Black Sea fleet in Crimea.  And yet, Turkey’s cooperation with Russia has continued.  What would you like to see from NATO in terms of engagement in the Black Sea?  And how does Turkey fit into that strategy of enhancing deterrence and defense, and even perhaps advancing dialogue at some point?  But how can we advance dialogue at a time when Russia is trying to turn the Sea of Azov into a Russian lake?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Right.  Thank you very much.  I don’t see any contradiction there.  And as I emphasized during the answering one of the questions – previous questions, we have been supporting NATO policies and decisions, particularly on Black Sea issue.  And we have one agreement, Montreux agreement, about the passage of the ships through Bosporus.  That is different story.  But we have been actively supporting all the activities and the decisions of NATO on the region and in Black Sea.  And we have been also emphasizing that NATO allies, Black Sea allies, should also do their own actually to strengthen their capability and to increase their capacity as well.

So there are 29 allies, and almost more than 25 of them have been buying gas from Russia, oil from Russia.  They are doing trade with Russia.  Despite the EU sanctions, they continue their trade.

And this is exactly what we do.  We actually just increased our bilateral trade with Russia.  And it is – of course, it’s – Turkey is an independent country and sovereign country, and Turkey should actually have good relations with all the neighboring countries.  Turkey doesn’t have to choose between Russia or any others.  And we don’t see our relations with Russia as an alternative to our relations with others.  And nobody, neither West nor Russia, should or can ask us to choose between.  OK?

And it happened with Ukraine, and look at what happened.  Whatever the decision was actually taken by Ukraine then, the situation wouldn’t be better, because West asked Ukraine to choose only them, and Russia did the same thing; vice versa, I mean.  So Turkey cannot be put in same situation.  And we need to balance our relations with everybody.  And I don’t see any contradiction there.

I’m sorry, but I have to be very frank and open.  And Turkey shouldn’t be imposed such conditions, neither by Russia nor by any others.

BRENNAN: We have a question here in the yellow jacket.

Ma’am, could you just identify yourself?

Q:  Yes.  Hi.  Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, deputy prime minister of Ukraine.

Minister, you said that Russia is pulling my country to its side; NATO is pulling it to another side.  It’s our decision.  We have decided to move to NATO.  That’s one thing.

I wanted to actually ask you another thing.  Is the – are the recent actions of Russian Federation in the illegally annexed Crimea against Crimean Tartars on the 27th of March, when they actually put behind the bars 23 Crimean Tartars and accused them illegally of terror attacks, is it going to have an impact on your development of your economic and defense relationship with Russia?  What is type of leverage that you are going to use on Russia to help us release those Crimean Tartars, as you’ve been previously doing in helping us release some of them?  Thank you.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Good.  I appreciate that you recognize what Turkey did.  We were able to do it because we have good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.  Ukraine – we have excellent relations with Ukraine.  And we do respect, actually, any decision of Ukraine and we have been supporting.  And we have been also supporting you and NATO activities in Ukraine as well.  And also we have very good defense and defense-industry cooperation.

But my point was different.  It was not your mistake to make a decision.  But my point was that both Russia and Europe made big mistakes on Ukraine.  That’s – that was my point.

And with regards to all these Crimean Tartars, as well as Ukrainians, we have been able to get some of them back.  And Mr. President Poroshenko and the administration in Ukraine appreciated that.  But we will continue doing so.  At every meeting with Russia, with Russian counterparts, at any level, we raise all these issues.  And even in Antalya and in other occasions when I meet Lavrov, when president meets, President Putin, we actually ask them, insist them, to release all these Crimean Tartars as well as Ukrainians in Russia and all this Kerch Strait issue.

And Turkey has been doing its best, actually, to bring back all these Ukrainian ships, as well as crew.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work.  But as Turkey, we will continue working on this.  And your administration is aware of our efforts in that regard as well.

BRENNAN: We are running out of time. But just very quickly, you said both made big mistakes in Ukraine, the West and Russia.  Are you saying they are equivalent mistakes in terms of the Russian annexation of Crimea, just to clarify?

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  As I said, it is unacceptable.  And the mistakes of the West or any decision of Ukraine cannot justify the illegal annexation of Crimea and we will never recognize this illegal annexation. By the way, many Western countries already forget what happened in Crimea and they never mention this at any platform, unfortunately, or, I mean, those – your allies and our allies – common allies.  But some countries, like Lithuania, Turkey, and a few other countries, always remind that this is a(n) illegal annexation and we should continue to be vigilant on this issue as well.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Minister. We are out of time.  Thanks to all of you for participating.

MIN. ÇAVUŞOĞLU:  Thank you.  (Applause.)