SPIEGEL Interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 'If the EU Doesn't Want Us, They Should Say it Now'

In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discusses Iran's nuclear program, Turkey's geopolitical role, its ties with the European Union and his difficult relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "As political leaders we will leave our offices one day, but our people will remain and have to get along with each other. So we shouldn’t give them negative messages."
REUTERS

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "As political leaders we will leave our offices one day, but our people will remain and have to get along with each other. So we shouldn’t give them negative messages."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the world is alarmed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, especially after the announcement that it is now capable of enriching uranium on an industrial level. Do you share Western fears about the possibility of Tehran developing a nuclear bomb?

Erdogan: We are against nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they are in the hands of Iran or Israel or any Western country. But obviously some states are allowed to have weapons of mass destruction while others are not. If nuclear energy is used for the sake of humanity, then we say yes. But if it is used destructively, then no. The knife in the hand of a murderer kills, but if you give it to a doctor he will heal with it.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe that Iran is exclusively pursuing civilian use of nuclear energy?

Erdogan: Right now I can only take the answers that I am given. I personally spoke several times with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about this -- also at the request of France, the United Kingdom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And he is always saying: We will use it only for the benefit of our people. For now I have to accept it like this, without implying something else.

SPIEGEL: As the international community pushes to increase pressure on Iran, Turkey is developing closer and more amicable ties to Tehran. Do you support sanctions against Iran?

Erdogan: If the nuclear program is indeed meant only for civil purposes, then it is wrong to impose sanctions. I said from the beginning that we think a diplomatic way would be better.

SPIEGEL: Three weeks ago the United Nations Security Council decided to sharpen punitive measures against Iran. Was this a mistake in your opinion?

Erdogan: The Security Council made this decision on the basis of its own conclusion and evidence. First we would like to see exactly what the embargo means in practice and which countries follow it.

SPIEGEL: As Iraq's neighbor, you share the international community's concern about the possible disintegration of the multi-ethnic state. But you are also complaining about a special problem: PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) fighters who are hiding in the northern part of the country.

Erdogan: Yes, unfortunately these terrorists have found safe haven there. They are attacking us from northern Iraq, they are smuggling weapons and terrorists into our country. We already sent a diplomatic note to the government in Baghdad. We expect decisive action to be taken against those terrorists. Otherwise we have the right to defend ourselves.

SPIEGEL: Your chief of staff, Yasar Büyükanit, just pleaded publicly for a miltary intervention. Do you really want to send your army into northern Iraq?

Erdogan: For years we have been patiently waiting. According to international law we have the right to guarantee our national security. When the Iraqi Kurds fled from Saddam Hussein, we hosted them in our country. That's another reason why it is inconceivable to us that they are now providing hiding places for the terrorists.

SPIEGEL: Under your leadership Turkey is re-emerging more strongly as a regional power -- you are intensifying your relations with Arab and Islamic states and you are taking part on a regular basis in summits of the Arab League. Meanwhile, a crisis seems to be looming in your relationships with the United States and Europe. Is Turkey in the process of realigning itself geopolitically from west to east?

Erdogan: I don't understand that. When we strengthen our relations with the Gulf states, when we cooperate with the Arabs, everybody asks if we are looking for a new geopolitical place. But in the Middle East and the Gulf, you can find German, French and British goods everywhere. German relations to these states are very good, as are English and French relations. Does this make them Arab-oriented? The whole world is an open, free market. No state can exist without the others.

SPIEGEL: But the language you use to describe your relationship with, for example, Saudi Arabia is striking: "We are not only bound by friendship, but by ties of brotherhood, as people of the same civilization."

Erdogan: What is wrong with it? We all want an alliance of civilizations, don't we? Turkey and Spain are co-chairs of the United Nations initiative with this name. Turkey is the gateway to the east for Europe, and the gateway to Europe for the east. We have a bridging function that Europe shouldn’t underestimate.

SPIEGEL: Would there be an alternative to Europe at all for Turkey?

Erdogan: Look, about 60 percent of our trade is done with the EU and not with the Gulf states, up to 10 percent with US, around 6 percent with China and the rest is done with other countries. Don’t forget, Turkey's path toward Europe started back in 1959, almost 50 years ago. But we have been pushed to the side ever since. Despite all the hurdles we will not deviate from our course towards Europe –- even by one step.

SPIEGEL: Out of frustration, the Turkish population is increasingly turning away from Europe.

Erdogan: Unfortunately, our European friends are instigating this negative view with their discouraging statements. When the opening round of negotiations began in 2005, 70 percent of Turkey’s citizens favored the EU; today it is only 50 percent. If you ask if they want Turkey to become an EU member, 60 to 65 percent still say yes. But if you ask: Do you believe Europe will accept Turkey, 60 percent say no.

SPIEGEL: What are you saying?

Erdogan: We want to be treated by the same standards as other countries. If you compare us to some other newly accepted EU members our performance, especially in terms of the economy, is much better.

SPIEGEL: Turkey wants confirmation now that it will finally become a member of the EU?

Erdogan: We would like a clear target date, a road map, a timetable for negotiations. With that Europe could prove to our people that they are sincere.

SPIEGEL: Which date do you have in mind?

Erdogan: One could set 2014 or 2015 as a date for our accession to the EU. But above all I am calling on the EU to be honest: If the EU doesn’t want us, they should say it now and clearly. If we are not wanted, then both sides don’t need to waste their time with negotiations. Is Europe a home for an alliance of civilizations or is it a Christian club? If the former is true, then Turkey should be part of it.

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