By George Mantelas
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in a written interview with TA NEA newspaper stresses that the relations between Greece and Turkey are not at their best and suggests unconditional, bilateral dialogue with the greek Government. He insists that "Greece has become a "safe haven" for Turkish criminals such as the eight fugitive soldiers", while stating his profound disappointment by the greek judiciary's decisions regarding the "8". He notes that "we are determined to make sure that the fugitive putschists will be extradited and tried in Turkey."
Regarding the issue of hydrocarbons on Cypriot sea plots, he warns directly the Greek Cypriot side that "if they still believe they have nothing to lose, they are wrong." He is even making "recommendations” to the companies involved in the research. He also adopts a warning style when he states that "no foreign country, company or vessel can conduct any unauthorized hydrocarbon or scientific research activity on Turkey’s continental shelf and the marine areas above it" and announces Turkey will proceed on its own research activities in the eastern Mediterranean. Finally, he concludes by sending a message to the USA: "The language of threats is not acceptable among allies."
Turkish justice decided, last Tuesday, to release the two Greek soldiers. In Greece it was welcomed with the best compliment toward Turkey. Does that mean that the relationships between Greece and Turkey are opening a new area?
In Turkey, we respect all rulings of our independent judiciary. In this context we too welcomed the recent release of the soldiers in question.
However, exactly because the Turkish judiciary operates independently, this decision concerning the two Greek soldiers should not be interpreted from any political perspective. In other words, the judicial authorities did not have Turkish-Greek relations in mind when considering this case. This case was and remains a purely judicial matter.
It goes without saying that we expect a similar impartial attitude from the Greek judiciary with regard to cases concerning Turkish nationals.
Indeed, how do you define the relationship between Greece and Turkey today? What are the stumbling blocks in your opinion?
We have to admit that currently the Turkish-Greek relations are not at their best. We have long-standing problems. New problems have unfortunately been added. Just after the failed July 15 coup d'état attempt, all senior Greek authorities have pledged solidarity with Turkey. Unfortunately, the words did not turn into action. Greece has become a “safe haven” for Turkish criminals like eight fugitive soldiers who actively joined the failed coup attempt. More than, 2500 Turkish nationals asked for asylum from Greece since July 15th, 2016.
SYRIZA’s pre-election pledges towards minority in the field of education and freedom of religion were not implemented either. The minority’s problems are unfortunately worsening too.
Complaining to public and third parties about our bilateral problems is counterproductive. Current state of relations is not in our countries’ interest. Building trust is important. We have to open a new chapter in our relations. During the NATO Summit, President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Tsipras had a constructive meeting. President Erdoğan conveyed Mr. Tsipras our readiness to launch the high-level visits. We should continue the bilateral dialogue process without preconditions. This is the way to settle our problems.
Do you still expect from Greece to extradite the 8 Turkish military?
We are deeply disappointed by the rulings of the Greek judiciary that denied extradition of the putschists several times.
They actively participated in a coup attempt which caused loss of many innocent lives, wounded many, and bombed Parliament with MP’s in session and targeted our elected President.
When they realized that they failed to overthrow our democratically elected government, this group of 8 fled the country hi-jacking a military helicopter.
The Greek judiciary, in contradiction with the norms and principles of international law, leaves the perpetrators without punishment and violates the rights of the victims.
Indeed, these eight putschists were granted asylum and released by the Greek courts over the past few months.
Greece has clearly exposed itself as a country that provides safe haven to putschists.
The release of the putschist traitors who plotted a coup in order to overthrow the democracy in a neighboring country by a country, which claims to be the cradle of the democracy conforms neither to international law, nor to good neighborly relations.
We remain determined to ensure that the fugitive putschists are extradited to and stand trial in Turkey.
One of the issues that Turkey is constantly raising concerns the search for oil and gas in the Cypriot EEZ. Under which conditions could Turkey use military force?
This hydrocarbons issue provides yet another example of the Greek Cypriots’ shortsighted approach, which they have also been displaying in the Cyprus settlement negotiations for the past half-century. You see, the Greek Cypriots continue to act as if the Island belongs to them alone. With their unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, they are disregarding the Turkish Cypriots’ inalienable rights. Just as they are not genuinely ready to
share power with the Turkish Cypriot side, they also do not want to share the Island’s natural resources.
It should be understood clearly that is not simply a matter of sharing potential revenues. It is much more fundamental than that. The Island’s natural resources do not belong only to the Greek Cypriots, to share as they see fit, because the rights of the Turkish Cypriots are inherent. What is needed, therefore, is a mechanism that will allow the Turkish Cypriots to participate equally in decision making from the initial stage with regard to hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation. This is the heart of the issue.
Along with the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey has been warning the Greek Cypriots from the very beginning not to take such irresponsible steps. If they still believe they have nothing to lose, they are mistaken.
Turkey will continue to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, as well as its own rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Our aim remains ensuring peace and stability in the region. As for companies cooperating with the Greek Cypriots in the area of hydrocarbons, they will now need to review their cost-benefit assessments and reevaluate the situation.
Your country connects this issue with a settlement in Cyprus. One of the problems for this solution is your refusal to immediately withdraw the Turkish troops, in parallel with the Greek ones. If a solution comes, why does Turkey refuse to withdraw all its troops from the island?
First of all, it is not correct that we connect the issue of hydrocarbons with the broader issue of a settlement in Cyprus. On the contrary, there is no need to wait for a settlement to establish joint decision-making mechanisms on hydrocarbons between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. It should be recalled that the Turkish Cypriots side proposed the establishment of an adhoc committee for this purpose years ago, in 2011.
As regards a future settlement in Cyprus, we continue to believe that it will definitely contribute to the security and prosperity of the entire Eastern Mediterranean region. We also maintain that only a negotiated settlement based on dialogue and diplomacy can be sustainable.
Regrettably, the last Cyprus settlement process ended in July last year, when the Conference on Cyprus closed without an agreement. The reason was simple: the Greek Cypriots still cannot digest the Turkish Cypriots’ political equality. I need to emphasize that the Conference on Cyprus was not exclusively about troops or guarantees. All outstanding issues were to be taken up; progress was required on all negotiation chapters. The Greek Cypriot side, however, showed no willingness to share power with the Turkish Cypriots as equal partners. At the same time, they insisted throughout on “zero troops and zero guarantees”. And that led to a “zero outcome”. It should have been obvious from the start that such a mindset would never lead to a win-win outcome.
At any rate, that process is now in the past. For a year now, we have been engaged in a reflection on the possible road ahead, in close consultation with the Turkish Cypriots, in line with the UN Secretary-General’s call. We recently shared our vision for the future of the settlement process with Ms. Lute, the official tasked by the Secretary-General to hold exploratory contacts with the two sides on the Island and the three Guarantors. Following her contacts with the other two Guarantors, she will report to the Secretary-General.
At this stage, we think it would be a good idea for the two sides and the Guarantors to informally discuss the way forward and agree upon what exactly we are going to negotiate. We need to come to an understanding on the general principles of a future settlement. We believe any future process should be based on the Island’s current realities and on the experience gained from past negotiations. Such a process must aim for realistic expectations and sustainable outcomes.
Coming back to search of oil and gas, will Turkey be opposed to the explorations in Greece? And, if so, in which sea areas?
To start with, Turkey is not opposing any activity as long as it does not affect its sovereign rights and legitimate interests.
With respect to the Bern Agreement of 1976, both countries have carefullybeen refraining from exploration as well as exploitation activities over the Aegean continental shelf that is yet to be delimited, until just, viable and comprehensive solutions are found to all interrelated issues stemming from that sea.
As for the Eastern Mediterranean, for several reasons, this basin has become a region of instability and home to complex issues, as well. The maximalist and unrealistic designs further aggravate the already existing problems in the region. I have already highlighted our position on the Cyprus issue in my answer to your previous questions.
Furthermore, as the country with the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has legitimate rights and vital interests in the maritime areas of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey has registered the outer limits of its continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean with the UN, western terminal point of which is linked to the future solution of the Aegean disputes. As a matter of fact, the maritime jurisdiction areas have not yet been delineated among all coastal parties in the Eastern Mediterranean. And this constitutes an important problem. Hence, neither the unilateral steps and the invalid bilateral agreements, nor those maximalist designs can bear any legal effect on Turkey’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction based on international law over its continental shelf. At the end of the day, a clear picture of maritime jurisdiction areas would be achieved only through equitable delimitation agreements among all
relevant parties concerned. Turkey stands ready today, as it did in the past, to give its full support to ensure a just, equitable and peaceful resolution to this matter.
Turkey has been fully exercising its sovereign rights over its continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean. No foreign country, company or vessel can conduct any unauthorized hydrocarbon or scientific research activity on Turkey’s continental shelf and the marine areas above it. In this respect, Turkey will soon be starting its own hydrocarbon exploration activities in its maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as in the Black Sea.
Is Turkey's “casus belli” on the 12-mile issue still valid?
The declaration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly unanimously adopted on 8 June 1995 was in reaction to a decision of the Greek Parliament adopted on 1 June 1995 that authorized the Greek government to extend Greek territorial waters to 12 nautical miles at an appropriate time.
For every action, there is a reaction. This is a universal rule of physics.
Hence, the declaration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly serves as a political warning in advance. It is not a declaration of war (casus belli) as has been deliberately distorted by Greece.
With the declaration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, we made our position crystal clear on the breadth of our territorial waters in the Aegean and our resolve to protect Turkey’s legitimate and vital rights and interests in the Aegean. There has been no change in Turkey’s position.
How is Turkey coping with the migrants’ crisis? Is the agreement of March 2016 still in force?
Irregular migration is a global problem and has global repercussions. The solutions are beyond the means of a single country, requiring international burden sharing. Therefore, we believe that all countries should exert joint efforts in order to prevent and overcome the problems brought by irregular migration.
Turkey, with a view and determination to prevent irregular migration, has strengthened border controls, intensified cooperation among law enforcement agencies; increased penalties for migrant smugglers, prepared Action Plan for Migrant Smuggling; initiated operations for dismantling migrant smuggling networks, increased capacity of Turkish Coast Guard Command and removal centers.
Given the complex and cross-border nature of the irregular migration, international cooperation and solidarity are indispensable to find a solution. With this understanding, Turkey participates in almost every international and regional activity in this field.
Due to Turkey’s tremendous efforts, in 2017 more than 175.000 and as of August 2018, nearly 142.000 irregular migrants were identified. Moreover, as of August 2018, 3.013 smugglers were apprehended.
Turkey is determined to continue its efforts to prevent irregular migration and expects more support and cooperation from the international community.
Turkey had three main objectives while proposing the 18th March Agreement: preventing loss of lives in the Aegean, breaking the migrant smuggling networks and replacing irregular migration with legal migration.
While the daily average of irregular crossings to Greece was 7.000 in October 2015, due to Turkey’s resolute action against irregular migration these figures declined to less than 50. If Turkey had not proposed and initiated the 18 March Agreement, more than 1,5 million irregular migrants would have reached the EU since 2016.
Within the framework of the 18 March Agreement, the return exercise from the islands and “one for one” mechanism are working properly. So far, we took back 1.681 irregular migrants from the islands, while 14.998 Syrians from Turkey have been resettled to the EU.
Now it’s EU’s turn to fulfill its commitments emanating from the same 18 March Agreement. Visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, activation of the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme, allocation of the second 3 billion euros for the Syrians on the ground, opening new chapters in Turkey’s accession process as well as updating Customs Union are among the EU commitments that are yet to be realized.
If Turkey puts aside her tremendous efforts the Aegean Sea will become an irregular migration route once again.
What do you expect from the Summit meeting in Istanbul between Russia, Germany, France and Turkey next September?
Our main objective is to achieve convergence in international community in order to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis in Syria.
In order to do so, we need to establish a functional linkage between Astana, Sochi and Geneva processes. We believe that the Summit in Istanbul will facilitate productive consultations among our leaders.
Naturally, this Summit will also present an opportunity to take up other issues of common concern.
A technical meeting with the participation of teams from all four countries is planned to be held in the beginning of September to discuss the preparations for the Summit.
How would you define the relationship between Turkey and Europe? And between Turkey and the USA, especially after the sanctioning of two Turkish ministers by USA?
I will define Turkey’s relationship with the EU as multifaceted.
The backbone of this relation is Turkey’s accession process. Turkey has chosen membership to the EU as her strategic goal. We see our future in the EU. Unfortunately, our accession process is today extremely politicized. Every now and then, we hear voices from the EU that advocate a “special partnership” between Turkey and the EU. We already have a very special relationship with the EU. Our main objective is full membership. Turkey and the EU have to be more than partners for the sake of the future of Europe.
Recent challenges have particularly proven that Turkey and the EU share a common fate in this geography. It has also proven that if we create an atmosphere of sincere cooperation, we can make huge differences. Having worked together we have saved thousands of lives and provide safe and dignified lives for millions. This interdependency tells us much about how to build our future relations.
Nevertheless, our relationship with the EU is not and should not be based only on crisis management. It should be built on a vision that requires deeper cooperation and engagement.
As Turkey has become a regional power and started to play an important role on addressing the global challenges, Turkey-EU relations has been expanded to new areas. We work together on many fields such as energy, transport, counter-terrorism and economy. Turkey has valuable capabilities and has been contributing to the EU in these vital areas for decades.
On the other hand, on 1 August 2018, United States (US) Department of the Treasury decided to impose sanctions on our two Ministers over the detention and arrest of a person, who is a subject of a judicial process in Turkey. This decision disregards the principles of rule of law and judicial independence.
We reciprocated to this decision and announced sanctions on two US Secretaries.
Turkey believes that the priority in resolving problems of any kind in international relations should be given to dialogue and negotiation. The language of threat is not acceptable between allies. In this framework, we work hard in good faith to solve the current problems with the US.
The relations between Turkey and US are not only crucial for the interest of the two countries, but also for international peace and stability. We hope that the problems would be solved with common sense and good will.
Do you think that Turkish economy will drive the country to call from IMF help, like Greece did eight years ago?
Over the past 15 years the Turkish economy has been tested on many occasions and it has proved its resilience.
This was also true after the most recent global financial crises.
Turkish economy grew by 5.8% on average in the period 2002-2017.
The resilience of the Turkish economy stems from the economic/fiscal reforms that have been taking place in Turkey for the last two decades.
Our Minister of Treasury and Finances held recently a teleconference with current and potential foreign investors. More than 6 thousand investors followed the teleconference.
He gave clear messages and warranties on our adherence to principles of liberal economy.
Fiscal discipline, free market rules are the permanent guidelines for the Turkish economy.
Our government and relevant authorities have already introduced adequate measures to address volatility in exchange rates and markets.
Measures were also taken by the Central Bank of Republic of Turkey and the Banking Regulation and Supervision Authority (BDDK).
We aim for more sustainable growth through new macro prudential measures and tight fiscal policy.
All our ministries and government agencies are instructed for an ambitious saving program.
Turkish banking sector is one of the strongest in the world with solid fundamentals and is capable of managing current volatility.
We will not hesitate to provide support to the banking sector, if needed.
Turkey does not intend to seek financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Our efforts to attract foreign direct investment continue as before.
A well calibrated investment incentive system awaits foreign investors. Time is ripe in Turkey to get into the market or to strengthen the presence