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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with CNN Turkey

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 14, 2002 12:00 PM EDT

(Interview with Nuri Çolakoglu, CNN Turkey)

Çolakoglu: It is a great honor and privilege to have you back in Turkey again. These are quite interesting times in Turkey, but I hate to say that Turkey has always been interesting in this respect. The last time I listened to you was in March this year, about four months ago. And you were talking at the American Turkish Council meeting in Washington at the Ritz Carlton. And if I may quote you: We appreciate also the extraordinary difficulties now facing Turkey's economy and we support Kemal Dervis, whom I am proud to call a friend, in his crucial mission to bring about much-needed reforms. He is certainly the right man to undertake such serious challenges. He is one of the most knowledgeable economists and one of the finest civil servants I have known. But no man, no matter how brilliant, can fix the problems of the Turkish economy by himself. It will require enormous political will to make the necessary changes. And political will is not a normal characteristic of coalition governments, whether in Turkey or anywhere in the world. But this is not a normal time and it is not a time for business as usual." This prediction has been proven all the way through. Therefore, how do you assess the situation in Turkey?

Wolfowitz: Well, let me begin by saying "iyi aksamlar [good evening]. It is about as much Turkish as I can manage. It is delightful to be back here. I was actually in Turkey for the first time 26 years ago. I mention that because if you look at Turkey over the course of a quarter century you see enormous progress, and I think people should take some confidence from that. I know this is a very difficult time. I don't claim to be a prophet, but I think that analysis was accurate that politics and economics go together. And I do believe Turkey was beginning to turn the corner from an economic point of view until the current political crisis hit. It is going to take resolution of those political uncertainties, I think, to get back on the road to economic recovery. But Turkey is a democracy and democracies do things in turbulent ways. We debate issues; we don't just come to some instant consensus. But when the decisions are reached and enjoy public support, I think that is important. So I have a lot of confidence. Look, Turkey came in third place in the World Cup. That should give people a lot of confidence. My prediction is the next World Cup is going to be Turkey versus the United States, but don't ask me to predict the winner.

Çolakoglu: And also we know that this year in Indianapolis, in America, Turkey and the United States might again face each other, this time at the World Cup for basketball, which is only two months away. We wish them both luck. Going back to this issue, of course, this is a very difficult time in Turkey because, as you rightly indicated, we have a very difficult economic program, which we really tread finely through. Secondly, Turkey is running short on its time to make necessary accommodations to meet the Copenhagen criteria, to be able to get the date from the EU to start candidacy negotiations. And everyone knows the third reason is, and that is why you are here, the developments in the Middle East, especially the Iraqi situation that is coming. We would probably need a very strong, rather unified government in Turkey.

Wolfowitz: Don't presume. The reason I am here actually is to discuss the whole range of issues. And there are so many, just between our Defense Department and your Defense Ministry because we cooperate on so many things. I am actually going to go from here to Afghanistan and come back. So in Kabul I will meet the head of the International Security Assistance Force, who of course is a Turkish general. We are very appreciative of the role Turkey has played there. There is a wide range of issues to discuss, and though I am not an economist and the Treasury Department has the lead on these issues, I think the more we can understand the situation here in Turkey -- because we want to be helpful -- the better it will be. But the fact is that Turkey lives in a turbulent part of the world. It's kind of a misfortune, but it is our good luck that Turkey is here and not some country that is much less reliable. Whatever happens in the future including with Iraq, we want to make sure that we work together so that the outcome is one that is good for Turkey, good for the whole region, good for the United States. I believe we can achieve that.

Çolakoglu: What sort of a role would you be expecting Turkey to play in the Iraqi situation because we know that the Iraqi question is of utmost importance to the American administration? President Bush has underlined it in the State of the Union address again and again. We got the feeling once the American elections are over and once things are bit more settled in this part of the world, we might see some sort of a move toward solving this long, dragging Iraqi problem.

Wolfowitz: President Bush has made no secret of his view of the Iraqi problem and of the danger that he believes is posed to the United States and to the whole region and to the whole world. But, to be very honest, trying to think through what is the best way to deal with that danger, what is the best solution for that problem, I didn't come here with a solution, I came here to listen and to learn. The Turkish perspective on this issue is enormously valuable because you are their neighbor. You dealt with them over a long period of time. There is a huge Turcoman minority in Iraq. So I expect to learn in this visit. I expect to get a better understanding of what Turkey's interests are in the outcome and how to secure those interests. And I hope I will come back with some ideas about how we can deal with this problem because as President Bush has said, it is not one that we can continue to live with for another ten years.

Çolakoglu: Exactly. And also we see that in the American press there are lots of scenarios being played out on the Iraqi situation: the number of troops, the scope of the operations, what sort of a strategy, what sort of a force is going to be used. And we understand that this is a hotly debated issue in Washington.

Wolfowitz: Well, it is. And everybody can be their own instant military analyst and unfortunately everybody can bring in some leak or other on their side. I think there is a lot of information out there. Fortunately, not all of it is accurate. We don't seem to be very good in keeping secrets, but we are very good at confusing the picture. Now, a lot of the data is serious, and the danger is serious. The different courses of action all have different risks and costs associated. But what I firmly believe, and I think Turks would be good judges of this, is that there is an historic opportunity to establish in the Arab world a democratic country, with some of the most talented people in the Arab world, and a democratic Iraq that maintains the territorial integrity of Iraq, which is important to us as well as to Turkey. I believe it has the potential to be a real dynamo for the region. And I know Turkey has suffered economically from the last ten years. I think Turkey stands to benefit enormously economically from a prosperous, democratic Iraq.

Çolakoglu: Yes, of course. And also in the meantime Turkey has its natural allies and some natural interest, I would say, because that part of the world had been under Turkish rule for a long time, and we have a Turkish-speaking, Turkish-origin minority,Turcomans. And they wish to have a say in the development of these events as well. Would these people be given a fair chance at the time of a democratic development?

Wolfowitz: You know, I think a real test of whether a country is a democracy is how its treats its minorities. And actually it's one of the things that impress me about Turkish history -- the way Turkey treats its own minorities. And I think it is one of the things that are so appalling about this tyrant in Baghdad is that he treats even the majority pretty badly. The minorities' situations are terrible. It is going to be a challenge, but my hope is that just as we have seen in Eastern Europe, where people suffered for decades under tyrants, they learned to appreciate the importance of working together to prevent the return of tyranny. I hope we can see the same thing in Iraq.

Çolakoglu: As this present Palestinian-Israeli conflict is continuing, it is getting worse and worse from time to time. Do you think you would be able to unite the Arab world in an action against Iraq, to establish a democratic government in Iraq?

Wolfowitz: The Palestinian-Israeli dispute is something that is very important to try to solve. And I believe that the direction that President Bush has been trying to lead in is actually a direction, in spite of skepticism and criticism, that increasingly people understand is the way things have to go. And we have great faith in democracy, and of course that is something Turks and we have in common. I think political reform among the Palestinians really is the key to resolving that issue. The Israeli occupation could end tomorrow if the Palestinians would reform their institutions and end terrorism. I really believe that. And I think that they were so close to a solution, at least the Israelis had offered something that was so close to a solution, two years ago. Going down the road of violence is not the way to deal with it.

Çolakoglu: But before this problem is solved, do you think it could create some problems in your backyard while you are trying to deal with another problem in the other part of the world?

Wolfowitz: My view of it is this: I think trouble in the Occupied Territories, trouble between Israel and Palestinians, plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein. There is no question it helps him. I think also that the Iraqi regime feeds that conflict with money and with probably all kinds of other support. So when the two go bad, they go bad together. I also believe that progress on either one will help the other. I don't think it is an accident that we made so much progress in the Middle East ten years ago right after the Gulf War and after the defeat of Saddam Hussein. That is when we got the Madrid Conference; that is when we got the Oslo Agreement. And it is not an accident, as the old Soviets would have said. It is not an accident, comrade: when troublemakers are weak, it is easier to make peace. When the troublemakers are strong, it is harder.

Çolakoglu: Well, back to the Iraqi question, of course when Turkey looks at the Iraqi question, Turkey's main concern is whether this is going to lead to a disintegration of Iraq and whether you would have a Kurdish region in the North, maybe autonomous or independent and which would have some kind of spillover effect into Turkish territory. Because this is a problem which Turkey really had to live with for the last two decades and suffered a lot with the loss of some 40,000 lives, which is a very heavy toll.

Wolfowitz: I know.

Çolakoglu: How can Turkey's worries be accommodated on this issue? Because this is, I think, the acid test for Turkey's stance as far this Iraqi problem is concerned.

Wolfowitz: It is one of the things I get a better perspective on from talking to Turkish officials while I am here. But there is no question that that has got to be an essential part of whatever the outcome is. And I think, and somehow I'd like to get a better fix on, that in fact over the last few years Turkey has been able to cooperate with the Iraqi Kurds in ways that have made it easier to deal with the violence in Eastern Turkey that you referred to. So I believe that a democratic Iraq can be a partner for Turkey in curbing violence. Violence is not the solution to problems. Democracy is a solution for problems.

Çolakoglu: One final question about bilateral relations with Turkey. The U.S. and Turkey seem to be having a smooth ride as far as bilateral relations are concerned, economic, foreign policy or military. What would be the highlights of the issues? What would you like to concentrate on during your trip to Ankara starting Tuesday?

Wolfowitz: First of all, because I am from the Defense Department, there is a whole range of defense issues including by the way the fact that we have just signed an agreement with Turkey to proceed with the development of the joint strike fighter, which is a stealth aircraft that is going to be the fighter of the next quarter, even half century. It is very exciting to have Turkey as a partner in that. There is a range of international security issues that we work closely with Turkey on, particularly in Afghanistan, where Turkey, as I said earlier, is key to the International Security Assistance Force, but also fights for this on the other side in Operation Enduring Freedom. Both here and in Kabul I expect to learn a lot about how we can work to make sure that Afghanistan doesn't once again become a sanctuary for terrorism. So that is very high on our list. We are looking to address some of the problems that were left over ten years ago, and we admit they were.

Çolakoglu: From the first Gulf War?

Wolfowitz: Yes. And we have with the Congress today a request for another 228 million dollars of assistance for Turkey. 28 million of that is to help pay for the security force in Kabul, but another 200 million is quite frankly on our part an acknowledgement that there were promises made ten years ago that need to be kept. And while that money still hasn't been approved by the Congress, I am absolutely confident that it will be. So issues of security assistance are important. And then, if I can step outside of my portfolio as a Defense person, I'd like to understand everything I can about the economic problems here because quite honestly our Secretary of Treasury pays some attention to the Secretary of Defense when the subject is Turkey. I was in a meeting not a few months ago, where the subject was IMF. And you might think the Secretary of Defense wouldn't have much to say about the IMF, but because it was Turkey and the IMF, he had a lot to say. And the Secretary of Treasury listened.

Çolakoglu: Exactly. And we appreciate the assistance and cooperation that is coming from the American administration in overcoming this economic crisis. One last tiny question about Cyprus. I know Cyprus is also beyond your agenda.

Wolfowitz: I would hope to understand more about it.

Çolakoglu: Exactly. And after this very unfortunate accident where two Cypriot Greek commanders lost their lives. Yesterday all of a sudden on the Greek Cypriot side emerged some fighter helicopters imported from Russia, which were not thought to exist in southern Cyprus and where the Greek Cypriot spokesperson denied officially that they didn't exist because Turkey had said that the Greeks are on the way to buying 48 fighter helicopters from Russia. The Greeks denied this, but all of a sudden at this funeral procession of the two generals, we saw that some night vision and very heavy anti-tank missiles, some Greek helicopters were hovering over the south. What would be the American reaction to this?

Wolfowitz: We very much want to do anything we can to assist the Secretary General of the United Nations in coming to a political solution for Cyprus. In fact, our agenda, you ask me what is the subject of discussions. It is so long that it is hard to get through them in a ten-minute interview. But clearly Cyprus is one, and anything that we can do to be helpful to understand that situation better. Clearly the solution in Cyprus isn't more helicopters and more military forces. The solution has to be a political one. But it also points to a larger issue of what can be done to advance Turkey's membership in the European Union. We strongly support that, and we believe that it would probably be good for Turkey and would certainly be good for the European Union. I am being a little bit joking, but it is not a favor in my view that Europe does to Turkey, but it is a favor that Europe can do for itself and for us, because I think the integration of Turkey into Europe would be a great way of reaching out to the Muslim world. Turkey is Turkey. It's unique. But it also has a characteristic of being one of the few democracies with a Muslim majority. And I believe that if we are going to get at this steeper problem of terrorism, we need to see more countries with Muslim majorities that are democratic. I think Turkey has the potential of being a model and I think the Europeans should encourage that model.

Çolakoglu: Dr. Wolfowitz, thank you very much for being with us and for sharing your views. This has been very useful.

Wolfowitz: Enjoyable. Thank you.

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