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Turkish Minister Says Violence in Syria is Threat for Turkey’s Internal Security

September 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Turkey's prime minister Tayyip Erdogan voiced his outrage over violence in Syria, accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of "state terrorism." Margaret Warner talks to Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu for more on Turkish concerns over the Syria's civil war and why this is also a matter of internal security for Turkey.
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MARGARET WARNER: To explore all this, I spoke with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday in New York.

Foreign Minister Davutoglu, thank you for having us.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU, Turkish foreign minister: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: We’re sitting here at the United Nations while Turkey continues to be swamped by the blowback from Syria. How frustrated is Turkey right now with the United Nations?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: We are quite frustrated for several reasons.

One is from a humanitarian perspective. Now we have around 90,000 Syrian refugees in our camps and around 40,000 refugees in several cities.

It’s a humanitarian tragedy. In fact, it is a test for the U.N. now and it is a test for all the international community. And until now, it’s a huge failure that U.N. Security Council, especially P5, didn’t agree on any resolution regarding to the Syrian crisis.

Forget the political aspect. Even on humanitarian ground, that’s quite a frustration for Turkey and other neighboring countries who are paying the price.

MARGARET WARNER: So what would you like the — what do you think the United Nations and the international community should do just on the humanitarian crisis?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: First of all, there should be a clear signal and very decisive message to Syrian regime that their policy is not acceptable and there will be certain measures if they continue.

What is their policy of security attacking cities, urban areas by air force, by artillery, by tanks?

Even during war, it is a crime to attack an urban area indiscriminately by air bombardment or artillery shells. And until now, there is not such a clear message from United Nations that Syrian regime must stop this atrocity against civilian people. At least this is a must to be done.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re talking about a much broader action you want to see than simply helping Turkey take care of the refugees?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Yes, of course.

As a neighbor, we have been doing and we will continue to be doing our best to help Syrian brothers and sisters and Syrian people who are escaping to Turkey looking for a safe haven and for food and medicine. That is our responsibility as a neighbor.

And Turkey’s paying not only for the refugees. What we have paid out now is 300 million U.S. dollars, which is a huge amount. And this cost is increasing every day.

We are not complaining about this. This is our ethical and human responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Syria.

But for other steps, there should be a better coordination among the international actors.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, who do you blame for the inaction by the Security Council, the paralysis?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: I don’t want to give any name, but you know how U.N. Security Council failed until now in the last 18 months to produce any resolution.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re talking about China and Russia?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Of course, Russia and China blocked some, two, even three resolutions in the past.

MARGARET WARNER: Could the United States be doing more?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Of course United States and other P5 countries should be more decisive, more having one voice and a clear message. Even if the U.N. Security Council is not able to find a consensus, there are other things to be done as an international community.

MARGARET WARNER: Going back to the situation on the ground, to what degree is the conflict in Syria also a security threat to Turkey?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: It is a huge security threat. Why? Because we have 911-kilometer border, and now there is a power vacuum on this border.

MARGARET WARNER: A power vacuum.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Power vacuum, and the immediate security issue is some terrorist group may try to use this power vacuum for their own interests to create instability, PKK and even some al-Qaida.

Even today, several terrorist activities inside Turkey, PKK terrorist activities, are being — they are using this power vacuum.

MARGARET WARNER: And so when you’re talking about a power vacuum, you’re talking about areas in Syria. And you think that — you believe now that already it’s being exploited for attacks in Turkey?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Yes, yes.

For some — these terrorist groups, they are using this type of power vacuum for their own interests.

MARGARET WARNER: To what degree is Iran helping the Syrian regime?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: No, it is not something secret that Iran is — openly, they’re saying that they are supporting the Syrian regime. Of course, we are not…

MARGARET WARNER: But I mean tangibly.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: If today, Syria — when we look at the Syrian regime’s confidence, they have two sources, I can say.

One is inability of U.N. Security Council to produce a resolution. And, there, I see the Cold War logic functioning, unfortunately.

The second is some support from the region. And the main support is coming from Iran. That’s not a secret. And we are talking with Iran and with other important regional countries that it will not be in the interest of any country if there is an instability in Syria.

MARGARET WARNER: Now Prime Minister Erdogan was quoting in The Washington Post on the weekend as saying that Turkey, however, will not act unilaterally in any military sense.

Really? And why not?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Of course, Prime Minister Erdogan meant the political crisis inside Syria.

But if there is any security risk against Turkey on our border, it is our right to defend our border.

And it is our right — if there’s any terrorist threat attacking Turkey or creating risk, that is our right to make any — to take any measures.

MARGARET WARNER: In the past, different officials in your government have talked about, for instance, creating some kind of a safe humanitarian zone or even a no-fly zone. Would Turkey like to see that?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: If there’s any discussion on safe haven or some zone, secure zone, there should be — it should be supported by a U.N. Security Council resolution or by international community.

MARGARET WARNER: If the United Nations won’t act, would Turkey ever join a coalition of the willing, that is, a coalition that’s not U.N., but perhaps NATO and Arab-led, as it did — as happened in Libya?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Of course, in Libya, there was a U.N. resolution which created the base for this coalition of willing.

But if U.N. cannot do anything, all the other options and measures should be on the table. And those countries who will have concerns and common interests should study all these options.

MARGARET WARNER: And Turkey would take part?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Turkey is already taking part.

MARGARET WARNER: No, I mean in a military sense.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Yes, of course. Turkey will be not only on this, but Turkey will be in all processes related to Syria.

MARGARET WARNER: If there is an action taken on Syria and the conflict continues to grind on, what danger do you see of it sparking, really, a wider Sunni/Shia war in the region?

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: There is such a risk not only in Syria, but in the region.

Why? Because this inability of U.N. resulted in 300,000 casualties and 100,000 rape cases in Bosnia for three years. The U.N. was idle.

And I talked to his excellency Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon yesterday. He went this year and apologized because of the inability of United Nations in the 1990s.

I am afraid that, maybe after 20 years, another U.N. secretary-general will have to go to Syria and apologize from the Syrian people that, because of this inactivity, this idleness of international community.  Therefore, we must act together.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Minister, thank you so much. Thank you for having us.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: Thank you. Thank you very much.