Last week, Turkey hosted an extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss U.S President Donald Trump's internationally-opposed move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
After the meeting, the top Muslim body declared in a historic statement that the 56-member countries recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, while it also urged the U.S. government – which said it will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – to withdraw from the peace process.
In respect to the OIC's decision, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish Parliament, Volkan Bozkır, said that this summit has persuaded all groups that necessary measures are being taken.
Therefore, the U.S. should engage with this political platform that brought the Islamic world together and revise its decision, instead of accusing countries of overreacting.
Bozkır, a former ambassador and prominent figure in foreign policy, also said that the OIC's east Jerusalem declaration is an opportunity for the U.S. to revise its decision and has provided them an exit strategy.
Commenting on the U.S.'s foreign policy, Bozkır said that there is an apparent lack of order in the U.S., stating that individuals, who would not dare to speak before, are now saying what they think. He described this situation as a "dangerous."
Bozkır underlined that the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) are some of the issues that Turkey and the U.S. have to resolve. He also emphasized that Turkey intends to maintain its relations with the U.S.
Maintaining that Washington is making the wrong moves, Bozkır stressed that the U.S. has to collaborate with Turkey in the region to be on the winning side. At the same time, he added that initiatives that undermine Turkey's interests would not benefit the U.S.
Daily Sabah: During last week's extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), organized by Turkey in Istanbul, east Jerusalem was declared the "occupied capital of Palestine" and Palestine was recognized as a sovereign nation. You attended the summit as the president of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission. What is your take on this declaration?
Volkan Bozkır: Jerusalem is an indispensable holy land for Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The U.S. administration's imposed decision to render Jerusalem the capital – which takes only Israel and the Judaic community into consideration – and to relocate the U.S. embassy to the city has upset both Christian and Muslim communities.
While Palestinians are suffering and are blockaded, this unilateral decision which disregards any solution to the existing issue has put everyone into distress.
In the face of this issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is the current term president of the OIC, organized a summit within a week that was attended by around 50 high-ranking government officials of various countries, including presidents, kings, prime ministers, parliamentary speakers and ministers. As a result, an important message was conveyed.
Despite the U.S. and Israel's imposition, leaders of the Islamic world gathered and conveyed the message that no decision could be implemented in this matter without a consensus between the Islamic, Judaic and Christian worlds. I believe this was important.
Indeed, this summit brought with it an instant response; the summit was observed by billions through live broadcast. Moreover, the declaration surprised certain circles around the world and empowered those who deem Jerusalem a holy land. It demonstrated that people can gather around a common goal, make a common decision and protect their rights.
Condemning the U.S.'s decision and deeming it invalid is probably the most important message the summit conveyed.
Meanwhile, east Jerusalem was recognized as the capital of Palestine with the consensus of OIC countries. Therefore, it had a more enthusiastic repercussion than the U.S.'s decision; I hope this decision will be implemented officially in the following days.
The Palestinian issue, territories occupied by Israel and permanent peace have been discussed and negotiated for a long time under the supervision of the U.N. with the contributions of various countries. However, the U.S.'s untimely and unjust decision has caused indignation; it was declared at the summit that the U.S. could no longer be an intermediator in this process, as the U.S. has clearly sided with Israel.
I believe this could change the whole process. On the other hand, the U.S.'s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem carries no weight; at the summit, the U.S. was advised to revise this decision with nearly 50 countries against it. It's a region with prominent issues; so, we don't need the creation of additional problems.
I believe the summit has been very productive. President Erdoğan has once again shown that he would act to protect the rights of others. Therefore, the declaration has increased Turkey's credibility.
Meanwhile, the declaration is also important in terms of gathering the Islamic world under a banner, rendering the summit a tour de force. It bears hope for the region. On the other hand, it is an important platform for the Western world as well; they don't seem to support the U.S.'s decision, while they haven't openly criticized it. Now, they have this chance through the OIC declaration. It also calls countries which were to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem to revise their decision.
D.S.: If the U.S. revises its decision, will Turkey and the OIC also revise its decision to recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and the relocation of embassies to the city?
V.B.: The U.S.'s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem isn't an easy task. U.S. Secretary of the State Rex Tillerson said the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem could be accomplished within three years in the best case.
Our consulate in Jerusalem was established to represent Turkey in Palestine. We also have an embassy in Tel Aviv. Therefore, we can announce that we recognize east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
D.S.: The U.S.'s decision was not supported by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, while many other countries clearly expressed that they were against it. There are comments suggesting that the U.S. foreign policy is isolating the country. How do you evaluate these comments?
V.B.: I believe the comments suggesting that the U.S. is being isolated in terms of foreign policy are a bit exaggerated. In the current balance of power, all countries regard the repercussions of the U.S.'s decisions. However, it could be asserted that the U.S. has isolated itself especially from our region with their recent policies.
If the U.S. had retained its military and political presence in Syria and Iraq, the situation would be different in the region. The current fragmented status of Iraq was caused by the U.S. Withdrawing from Iraq before facilitating order has caused this fragmentation and allowed Daesh to emerge and threaten the whole region. Shiite-Sunni balance in Iraq was upset when the U.S. withdrew and Daesh gained power through the charade of being the protector of Sunnis.
When Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in 2013, the Western world acted against him. Even Russia lifted its veto on the Security Council decision. However, the U.S. was nowhere to be found. While various countries wanted to support the coalition forces, the U.S. withdrew itself, claiming that its public doesn't want overseas military deployment. In short, the U.S. asserted that there were no further threats they wanted to eliminate in the region and withdrew.
Now, Donald Trump looks at the region and sees that Russia and Iran have gained ground. Meanwhile Israel is rather comfortable, as neither Egypt nor Syria poses a threat. The U.S. is making moves now to recapture the area of influence Barack Obama has lost. The U.S. is continuing support to terrorist organizations despite the defeat of Daesh, Saudi Arabia's confiscation of $800 billion with the pretense of corruption, Qatar being blockaded by other Gulf countries and developments in Yemen are all caused by this. The U.S. is aware that all of this was probably caused in its absence.
However, the U.S. is making the wrong moves. It has to collaborate with Turkey in the region to be on the winning side. Initiatives that undermine Turkey's interests wouldn't benefit the U.S. One should not act against the common opinion and desires of the region. I believe the U.S. will make this analysis.
D.S.: You have said that the US should collaborate with Turkey and create policies that take Turkey's national interests into consideration; however, the situation is completely the opposite. For instance, the US National Security Advisor McMaster labeled Turkey and Qatar as terrorist countries. Then, he claimed he was misunderstood; yet, his statement was criticized by the Department of the State as well. What is your take on this issue?
V.B.: There is an apparent lack of order in the US. Those who wouldn't dare to speak are now saying what they are thinking of. This is a dangerous situation.
Making statements about Turkey isn't the duty of a security advisor. These kinds of unthoughtful and uncalculated false statements may have negative effects on Turkish-American relations. While most try to maintain the relations with rationality, statements of unrelated officials create concerns about how to amend it. In this respect, the statement of the said official doesn't concern Turkey. If the same statement was made by prominent political figures, we would take it seriously. These figures are President Trump, the US Vice President and the Secretary of the State.
The East Jerusalem declaration of the OIC is an opportunity for the US to revise its decision. I believe this summit, which allows a political platform for discussion, has also provided an exit strategy to the US. If the summit wasn't organized, countries would condemn the US decision by themselves and that could have led to certain violent protests. However, this summit persuaded all groups that necessary measures are being taken. Therefore, the US could engage with this political platform that brought the Islamic world together and revise its decision, instead of accusing countries of overreacting. The lack of such a political platform could've led to other means of protest.
D.S.: What is your forecast for the future of relations between Turkey and the US? The visa crisis along with YPG and FETÖ continue to be an issue between the two countries.
V.B.: Common interests determine every relation between any given country; this is also true for the relations between Turkey and the US. If there are common interests, countries act together. Higher number of common interests results in better relations. Meanwhile, if common interests start to wane, relations start to deteriorate. Turkey expresses that it wants to be friendly with all countries, to find peaceful resolutions to issues and to preserve the territorial integrity of all countries. Therefore, Turkey is advocating a stable and peaceful world. In this respect, Turkey has to have good relations with all countries, including the US.
We have fought with Russia for three centuries and the country was deemed our archenemy. Yet, today, we have healthy relations with Russia. We have rendered the economic benefits a part of our political relations. Leaders of both Turkey and Russia are aware of this and have developed relations between the two countries to this point; we were even able to overcome a crisis as common interests were seen more prominent. The Western world is discomforted by these relations; however, Turkey's good standing with Russia is also beneficial for the West. Certain issues the West cannot resolve with Russia could be resolved through Turkey.
The borders between Turkey and Iran determined by the Treaty of Kasr-ı Şirin signed in 1639 are still valid. The West also criticized these relations; however, all these recent agreements between the West and Iran are taking place because of Turkey's good relations with the country. Turkey's good standing with Iran allowed the resolution of certain issues, as Iran is more trusting towards Turkey rather than the West. Now, Trump is rejecting these agreements. His rejection of the agreements that the international community is satisfied with is as wrong as the US' Jerusalem decision.
YPG and FETÖ constitute some of the issues that Turkey and the US has to resolve. We have discussed the visa issue and it will be resolved after a roadmap is determined. Turkey intends to maintain its relations with the US. We desire these relations to be healthy; therefore, when we have issues with certain decisions of the US, we explain why we have issues. President Erdoğanis very direct; he says the same things to President Trump and Vice President Pence that he says to the public. Therefore, there is communication through the press. In this respect, the US will reconsider its common interests with Turkey.
D.S.: Let's talk about Turkey's relations with Europe. Relations were first tense with the Netherlands and then Germany. These tensions have also affected our relations with the EU. However, it seems that Turkey is going to submit a new position paper about visa-free travel. Relations are normalizing. How do you assess this situation?
V.B.: Firstly, EU membership is a strategic target for Turkey. If you look at Prime Minister Yıldırım's speech during budget discussions, you can see that relations with EU is the most prominent part of his talk on foreign policy. Therefore, Turkey hasn't altered its course in this strategy.
A recent poll has revealed that 78.9% of the Turkish citizens want Turkey to be a EU member. However, the same poll also revealed that only around 30% of the Turkish citizens believe EU will allow Turkey to become a full member. The aforementioned 30% changes according to Turkey's relations with EU; if the relations are good, it shows a significant increase. For instance, it was around 60% when visa-free travel was being discussed. Similarly, if a EU official makes a negative remark about Turkey, this rate decreases. In this respect, EU's disposition towards Turkey is prominent as Turkey is determined to be a part of EU. We could implement whatever necessary to ensure visa-free travel, update the customs union to increase our trade to US$300 billion. We may also join EU operations abroad. However, current developments in certain countries have caused a shift in Europe.
When you look at times when Turkey has good relations with EU, you see that they are times in which Islamophobia and xenophobia are minimized and countries are governed by tolerant and respectful administrators. The Netherlands almost elected a racist prime minister, while Austria elected a racist Islamophobic party for the first time in their history. Similarly, in Germany extreme right ideologies have weakened Merkel. In such an atmosphere, they started to question negotiations with Turkey and undermine the process. Yet, there is another issue; Europe is facing the threat of partition. Countries that supported terrorist organizationswhich have dug trenches within cities and forced many citizens to immigrate from their homes and alleged Turkey was using "excessive force" against them are tasting their own medicine. Spain detained the Catalonian government and the prime minister that suggested an independence referendum. Excessive force was used and the military almost blockaded the region. Now, there are cries for freedom in Scotland, Corsica, Bavaria and Northern Italy. Using these as an excuse, Europe is acting like Turkey's accession negotiations are no longer a priority. Despite all of these developments, relations between Turkey and EU should be maintained, while emphasizing common interests and benefits.
I believe our Foreign Minister and EU Minister's initiative about visa-free travel is correct. It will ensure that Turkey is doing everything it can and will force EU to take action.
D.S.: German Foreign Minister stated that the balance of power is shifting and the power vacuum in the Middle East caused by the US' withdrawal is being filled by Turkey, Iran and Russia. We are possibly observing shifts in foreign policy that corresponds to the shifts in economic balances. As a prominent member of Turkish foreign policy, what do you think will be Turkey's center of gravity in foreign policy?
V.B.: Turkey is living in a very interesting region; we have 13 neighboring countries and none of them are similar to each other. Turkey having good relations with these neighbor is only possible through a meticulous balance. In this respect, as President Erdoğan has stated many times, Turkey's goal is to increase its number of friends while decreasing the number of those who view Turkey negatively. This includes not only our neighbors, but all countries around the world.
These friendly relations, on the other hand, doesn't mean that anybody can shove Turkey around. We will have good relations with all those who accept Turkey as it is; a prominent power in the region and a just intermediator. Meanwhile, after employing every possible diplomatic means, we will fight against any power which attempts to undermine Turkey's national interests and sovereignty.