Turkish Prime Minister Says U.S. Must Set Timetable for Iraq
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MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Prime Minister of Turkey: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell this Sunday referred to the situation in Iraq as a civil war. Do you think Iraq has slid into at least a de facto civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: At the moment, the number of people who have died in sectarian violence exceeds, according to some figures, 650,000.
Now, this figure in itself suggests that there is a civil war ongoing in Iraq, because when you have that many people who have died as a result of a conflict that is taking place, that could only be explained as a civil war.
With respect to some talk and discussions that is ongoing about the division of Iraq, that is something that we do not even want to think about, because for us the territorial integrity for Iraq is very important. The territorial integrity of Iraq is important for Iran and Syria and all the neighboring countries in the region.
So if we can read what is happening now and try to project into the future, then we should try to make sure that things run smoothly and that there is no division of Iraq. And in that respect, the Baker-Hamilton report is an important report that we have to look at.
And if we can control the future about what is going on, then we can prevent this civil war from growing. Turkey’s always ready to contribute whatever Turkey can, ensuring that a good outcome comes out of Iraq.
And let me also say whatever we have said about Iraq from the beginning has come to pass in Iraq.
Establishing a timetable
MARGARET WARNER: As you know, there's a big debate in Washington now about what to do going forward. In a nutshell, on the military side, what do you think the United States should do?
I mean, the ideas range from a surge, that is, an increase in troops, at least around Baghdad, to withdrawing troops fairly rapidly from combat roles and putting them into training. There are also ideas of moving American troops up to the more peaceful Kurdish area near the border with Turkey.
What would you say should be the U.S. military posture, say, in the next six months to a year?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: The world must be prepared for the future in Iraq. And that's what must be carefully planned, based on the experiences that exist, and it must be done by seeking wise counsel.
And by doing that, and if such a road map is prepared based on a consensus, including the views and the opinions of the neighboring countries, this will help the people in Iraq to feel more secure about their future.
You speak of the more peaceful north. Well, the north, there are also some issues there, as well. For example, in the city of Kirkuk, the demographics of the city are being changed, and that is like a bomb that is ticking to explode.
There are Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds who live in that area, and the demographics must reflect the situation as it is. And Kirkuk must be granted a special status based on its historical background.
There is a referendum that is planned for 2007, and I don't think the referendum results will be very positive. And, in my opinion, the referendum must be postponed.
MARGARET WARNER: I guess my question is, if you were giving a recommendation to Washington about what to do with its military forces, would you recommend drawing down American forces in a major way?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: I would think that a road map should be explained and announced. And I think that the number of troops must be slowly diminished.
I do not see any benefit to increasing the number of troops. Whatever happens with drawing down the troops, this must be done within the basis of a plan, and that must be explained to the Iraqi people. So respect for America amongst the Iraqi people will be restored.
MARGARET WARNER: But when you say road map, is that another word for timetable?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: Yes.
Turkish intervention in Iraq
MARGARET WARNER: Now, under what circumstances would Turkey feel it had to intervene militarily in Iraq?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: At the moment, you mentioned earlier that northern Iraq is peaceful, but it is not, because there is a terrorist organization. And it is there in northern Iraq.
PKK is attacking our country, Turkey, from northern Iraq. It is coming from northern Iraq.
And we had talked about this issue with our friends, with the president, as well. And as a result of that, Turkey and the United States appointed envoys with respect to discussing issues around terrorism. And General Ralston on the U.S. side and General Baser on Turkey's side are working on these issues.
And the whole object of this work is to ensure that what we discussed is translated into concrete actions. And, in that respect, of course, we would like to see the results of the work. But if this work continues to drag on and no result is achieved, of course, there is a limit to our patience.
MARGARET WARNER: How much more time will you give these negotiations between the U.S. and Turkey over the Kurdish rebels that are getting safe haven right now in Iraq? How much time will you give that process before Turkey has to take matters into its own hands and just go into Iraq itself and try to clean them out?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: The special envoys are working at the moment. And, of course, we do not see that there is a lot of time for that work, because this issue does not have a history of only a few years. This has been around for 30 years, so I have to say very clearly that work has to progress.
A collaborative effort
MARGARET WARNER: Let me move onto a dialogue with Iran and Syria. The Baker-Hamilton commission proposed this. It is reported that you, when you visited with President Bush, also urged him to engage Iran and Syria.
Why do you think that Iran and Syria would want to help the United States extricate itself from Iraq, leaving Iraq as an independent state, ready to defend itself and sustain itself, when they're acting in a very opposite way right now?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: We are very concerned and sensitive about what happens in Iraq. And when I say this, it also includes regional countries like Iran and Syria, because the fire is raging in our region, and we are very close.
So imagine America, which is 12,500 kilometers away, and the United States is very much concerned about what is going on in Iraq, and our countries are next door. So it's only natural that we would be concerned.
MARGARET WARNER: But my question is, you've just been to Tehran and Damascus this month. Did you get a clear signal from the leadership there that they are ready to, in Iran's case, to stop supporting some of these Shiite militias, in Syria's case to stop letting insurgents and material cross its borders, to try to help bring peace to Iraq?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: Our discussions were not centered on specific topics as such, but what we discussed was to look for ways through which we can resolve the difficulties in our region as they relate to Iraq.
And for that, all these countries agreed that the political unity and the territorial integrity of Iraq must be protected. And all the neighboring countries to Iraq want to take steps forward in that direction.
The U.S. wants exactly the same things. And, therefore, all of these countries have to work together.
Iran, Turkey, Syria, U.S., these countries could have bilateral or trilateral meetings. And in addition to that, there should also be an international consensus that includes all the neighboring countries at the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council. That is the kind of vision that I foresee.
Turkey's bid to the EU
MARGARET WARNER: The EU last week suspended negotiations in part with Turkey, eight of the 35 policy areas. Do you think that the European Union is sending a message to Turkey that it is uncomfortable really or doesn't want a large Muslim country, predominantly Muslim country like Turkey in Europe?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: No, I don't think those countries are sending messages in that respect. The issue is more about what Turkey can contribute in this process of accession to the EU.
Now, there are some who are perhaps not so happy about this, but many others also support Turkey's bid to the EU. And with respect to these eight policy areas and their suspension last week, I do not see that as being a permanent decision. That will be taken up later on.
MARGARET WARNER: And what would be the consequences for Europe if the EU were to say no to Turkey?
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: The EU cannot say no to Turkey at this point. Even if it did, that would not be the end of the world for Turkey, either. Turkey is a strong country.