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Turkish FM on WikiLeaks: ‘We Don’t Take These Observations Seriously’

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before a bilateral meeting on Nov. 29. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“Do I look like a dangerous man?” Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said with a grin. “I look in the mirror. I don’t see a dangerous face.”

The minister was bantering over breakfast Tuesday morning with a group of foreign policy reporters at a downtown Washington hotel, shrugging off some of the choicer observations made about him by American diplomats in the most recent batch of WikiLeaks cables.

Turkey came in for more than its fair share, No. 2 among all countries. According to a graphic on the WikiLeaks website, the roughly 11,000 cables about Turkey were outstripped only by those on Iraq (15,365).

One 2004 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara had quoted a Turkish Cabinet officer calling Davutoglu an “exceptionally dangerous” Islamist influence on then-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A 2006 missive described Davutoglu and Erdogan as handicapped by “their Turkey- and Islam-centric vision of how they want the world to operate.” And a 2010 cable said Davutoglu aspires to impose on Turkey’s neighborhood the sort of sway the Ottoman Empire enjoyed for centuries.

So it had to be an awkward coincidence when Davotuglu was the first foreign minister Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with in person after the WikiLeaks document dump appeared. Their meeting began with a discussion of WikiLeaks, he said. Clinton apologized for the revelations, but stressed that they were “based on the observations of individuals,” and did not reflect official administration views. “We have excellent relations with Hillary,” Davutoglu said. “These documents won’t affect our foreign policy. … We don’t take these observations seriously.”

He didn’t seem to. He shrugged off the suggestion that Turkey’s expansion of relations throughout its region — from the Balkans to Iran to Central Asia to the Middle East — means Ankara is trying to recreate the Ottoman Empire. Just because the Brits maintain ties with the British Commonwealth states, “does that mean it wants to restore the British empire?” Of course not. “There is no hegemony or imperial-type ambition.”

Imperial it may not be, but he repeatedly described Turkey’s foreign policy as “confident” and “self-confident.” And the message to its longtime ally Washington was clear: Ankara ‘s foray with Brazil trying to craft a deal on Iran’s nuclear program earlier this year was no fluke. “We have a multi-dimensional foreign policy. Some may not like this,” he said, but there are things about other countries’ foreign policies that Ankara doesn’t like either.

So while Turkey is a member of NATO, it no longer wants to be seen as the outer frontier of an alliance aimed at one of its neighbors (Iran) as it was during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. And while Turkey did enforce the U.N.-passed sanctions against Iran (after voting against the resolution in the Security Council), Ankara has no apologies for not joining the U.S. and Europe in imposing additional sanctions on Iran, Turkey’s No. 2 supplier of natural gas.

“We have a Western orientation, we have an Eastern orientation, we have a northern orientation, we have a southern orientation,” he said. “We are that self-confident.” The leaked cables from U.S. Embassy Ankara show U.S. officials were slow to grasp that reality about the AKP Party and government. Davutoglu’s words and Ankara’s deeds over the past year should leave no doubt.

“I am extremely dangerous, yes — for those who want to have instability in our region,” Davutoglu said. “I am extremely dangerous for those who want to create new tensions.” Left unsaid, but clear enough, is that the Turks will be pursuing their own definition of what stability means.

12/8 Update: WikiLeaks has since moved its site, and the cables referenced in this post can now be viewed here: 2004, 2006 and 2010.

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