Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been in DC. He met, and had lunch with, Pres. Obama earlier today. In the evening he gave a 45-minute presentation at an event hosted by the DC branch of the Turkish ‘SETA’ think-tank.
He arrived a little late and looked a little tired– quite possibly because he was dealing (at a distance) with his government’s response to the attack that killed seven Turkish soldiers in the north of the country earlier today?
The most notable aspect of his presentation was the amount of time– more than eight minutes out of the 45– that he spent talking about the strong concern he has for Gaza’s people. (How many other Middle Eastern leaders, coming to Washington, would voice the same amount of concern, I wonder?)
Turkey is very sensitive to the Gaza question, and I’d like to tell our critics that our attitude is the result of our fair conscience..
In Gaza, children and defenseless women are being killed… Sulphur bombs are being used. When the casualties from those attacks came to Turkish hospitals I went to see them, and saw the terrible effects those bombs have on their bodies.
Gaza, this part of Palestine, has become nothing more than an open-air prison…
He recalled a visit he himself had made to Gaza, expressing irritation that the Israelis had made him wait in his car for 35 minutes before letting him in. (“This, while any time an Israeli diplomat comes to Turkey, I make sure he goes straight through the VIP lounge.”)
He talked about the tragedies he’d witnessed in Gaza– “Hospitals, schools, destroyed last winter and not being reconstructed yet.”
Israel’s security and safety are very important, but they can only be assured through adherence to international law.
Israel says it’s being attacked by missiles. But the casualties there were only three or four people– and in return, they launch sulphur bombs that cause so many thousands of casualties?
The extreme concern he voiced about Gaza was part of a broader address in which he also made these arguments:
(a) That climate change is a prime example of the fact that, just as today’s big problems are global, so too must be the solutions to them.
(b) Solving today’s big problems needs a diversity of backgrounds and outlooks.
(c) Today’s problems can’t be solved through raw military power… “Countries need to shift their spending from military spending to spending on nutrition and human needs. Two billion people today are hungry. That needs attention!”
(d) “We’ll combat terrorism everywhere, but we need to win the hearts of our people.” (It was only after the event that I learned of today’s attack in northern Turkey. Perhaps that was the context for this and several others of his comments.)
(e) Turkey can’t establish peace and prosperity so long as there is conflict around us.
(f) We need to have a multidimensionality of approaches for dealing with both domestic and global challenges.
(g) “Of course we’ll continue to build our relations with Iran. We have a long common border, and we have had no problems with Iran…
Regarding Iran, he also noted that for a country that has nuclear weapons to try to argue that Iran should not have them is to apply an unacceptable double standard.
Regarding Turkey’s longstanding attempt to gain admittance to the European Union, he expressed noticeable frustration with the attitudes expressed by the European powers, whom he accused of repeatedly “moving the goalposts” on Turkey’s accession.
He said, “If the Europeans don’t want Turkey to join, let them just say so!”
But, he added, the kinds of criteria that had been established by the Europeans for Turkey were ones that Turkey itself had anyway taken ownership of. “So if they say that meeting the Copenhagen Criteria is no longer sufficient to get us into the EU, then we’ll call them the Ankara Criteria and continue pursuing them, regardless.”
I’d never seen Erdogan in person before. After listening to so much Arabic oratory in recent weeks, I found his rhetorical style fairly blunt and forthright by comparison. Perhaps it’s something to do with the texture of the language, itself?
But he made such excellent good sense! There probably is a good role in human affairs for “telling things how you see them”, which is what he seemed to be doing.
I imagine he may have said many of these same things to Obama, over lunch. I wonder how that conversation went…
But honestly, at a time when NATO is so deeply involved in hostilities in a number of Muslim countries, the sway that Turkey– which, as Erdogan made a point of noting, is NATO’s only majority-Muslim member country– has over the US is considerably greater than it would otherwise have been. So I hope Obama listened to him carefully.
Especially when he was talking about Palestine and Iran.