Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday defended Turkey's "no" vote at Wednesday’s UN Security Council meeting that produced an agreement for the implementation of further sanctions on Iran. Erdogan said that during his country’s negotiations alongside Brazil for the Tehran agreement, which stipulated a transfer of enriched uranium from Iran to Turkey in exchange for uranium fuel rods for medical purposes, Turkey was in constant contact and coordination with the permanent members of the Security Council.
“When we were making strides towards the Tehran agreement we were in contact with the U.N permanent Security Council members,” said Erdogan at the Turkish Arab Economic Forum on Thursday. “Since the beginning we have always advocated a diplomatic solution to the problem. The U.N Security Council said that negotiations could still continue, and Turkey and Brazil will continue to negotiate.”
Erdogan attacked the Security Council’s decision to ratchet up sanctions, accusing certain permanent members of the council of dismissing a diplomatic solution, favoring instead a more hostile approach that Erdogan paralleled to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“With embargoes there is no way out of the problem. We learned this before. There are hundreds of widows and orphans in Iraq. Who is responsible for this?” said Erdogan, attacking “those people who have turned this region into a region of conflict.”
Erdogan explained that Turkey needed to vote against an additional embargo on Iran because of the fuel-swap agreement that his country had signed. He said that only if Iran proved that it was not standing by the words of its agreement could the international community reject the diplomatic progress that has so far been pioneered by Turkey and Brazil.
“Now that we signed [the agreement with Iran], we have to stand behind these signatures…This is why we said ‘no’ yesterday. If we want to advocate diplomacy, we had to say ‘no’,” said Erdogan. “Iran is behind its words.”
Erdogan had some harsh words for critics, both domestic and international, who are concerned that Turkey is shifting away from the west and moving towards the east.
“Those who claim that Turkey is detaching from the west are part of ill-intentioned propaganda,” said Erdogan.
Erdogan reiterated his support for EU accession and said that, despite hindrances coming from some Europeans towards Turkey’s membership bid, Turkey is still committed to meeting the requirements for EU accession.
“Within the European union there are countries that try to slow down negotiations and raise barriers. We are not discouraged. We are still committed,” said Erdogan.
The Turkish Arab Economic Forum at which Erdogan was speaking was formed three years ago after a strong push from Prime Minister Erdogan’s government to strengthen ties with the Arab world. Since then, visa requirements to Turkey for people coming from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya have been dropped. The trade volume between Turkey and Arab countries went from $7 billion in 2002 to roughly $30 billion today. According to figures cited by the Prime Minister, between 2002 and 2009, $6.2 billion in FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) came into Turkey from Arab countries.
“Each brother or sister who wants to invest in Turkey should know that our doors are wide open to him or her,” said Erdogan.
The developing ties between Turkey and the Arab world stretches beyond economic ties, according to the leaders who were gathered at the forum Thursday. Several, including Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, recalled the common history, culture, and religion shared between Turkey and Arab countries
“The Muslim world, led by Turks, led by Arabs, has built great civilizations in the past. The Muslim world was the source for innovation and enlightenment during the 9th and 17th centuries. There is no reason why we cannot go back to our roots,” said Simsek.
Erdogan also waxed poetic about the relationship between Turks and Arabs, quoting Turkish poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy who said that “the Arab is both the left eye and the left hand of the Turk,” which received thundering applause from the audience.
Harsh Words for Israel
Leaders from Turkey and the Arab world spoke at the forum on Wednesday about the need for political cooperation as well, particularly in providing a unified front against Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. All visiting leaders expressed their condolences and support to Turkey and the Turks who were killed by Israeli soldiers in international waters last week as they were attempting to transport humanitarian supplies to Gaza.
“Turkey’s martyrs are our martyrs as well,” said Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, about those killed by Israel on the flotilla. “We welcome the role Turkey plays” regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the pursuit of peace in the region.
Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, also expressed thanks to Turkey for the role it is playing in the region.
“I express my condolences to the people of Turkey for the murder of martyrs,” said Hariri.
No word was spared in the condemnations of Israel at the forum. “Our region has undergone such suffering under the criminal, barbaric actions of Israel,” said Hariri.
“At the moment, Israel is the reason for the black hole in the region,” said Amr Moussa.
Erdogan said that Turkey was standing up to state terrorism. He praised those who were on the boat going to Gaza with supplies, lamenting the fate of those who were killed or injured in last week’s attack by Israel.
“We are raising our voice against unfairness…we are against all forms of terror, including state terror,” said Erdogan. “I have seen with my own eyes that in different parts of their bodies there were bullet holes… doesn’t it mean we are keeping our eyes wide shut to state terrorism and piracy on the high seas?”
“While Gaza is under the blockade, we will never sacrifice the principles we believe,” said Erdogan, pledging further support for Gaza.