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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with the Hurriyet (Turkey)

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 05, 2002

Friday, Aug. 20, 2002

(Interview with M. Kasim Cindemir, Hurriyet)

Wolfowitz: You're the Bureau Chief here?

Q: Yes, sir.

Wolfowitz: How long have you been here?

Q: This is my ninth year, but it's not all with (inaudible). I was with Anatollyah News Agency until '99 and since '99 (inaudible).

Wolfowitz: Is Anatollyah News Agency government or is it private?

Q: (Tenmi)

Wolfowitz: Anyway, you're interviewing me, not the other way around. (Laughter)

Q: I will start with non-Iraqi questions.

We all know that you have a lot of sympathy for Turkey and you follow Turkish politics and what happens in Turkey, so you know we're going to have early elections on November 3rd, and all the recent polls, older polls show that AKB will come in as the first political party.

Many people consider, including myself, that it is an Islamist party. They say they are not. They say they are changed, they are just regular political party. Many people don't believe them. How do you look at it? [What does] a party like that coming as the first party out of the elections mean for the region, for Turkish-American relations and Turkey's relations with the West?

Wolfowitz: Let me actually begin by, you mentioned that I have a lot of sympathy for Turkey and it's certainly true that I over many years of dealing with Turkey and Turks I like your country, I like your people, I like your way of doing business. But my real interest isn't motivated by sentimentality or sympathy. It's a sense which has only been strengthened over the last 25 years of how important Turkey is, and I feel like -- The thing that to me was so interesting and important the first time I visited Turkey in 1976, was I think I expected to see a Middle Eastern country and I thought I saw a European country, to over-simplify.

I know it's a bit of both and it's a bit in between, but that's a way of saying that to me Turkey represents where I believe the great majority of the world's Muslims would like to go. Not necessarily in every particular detail. Some may prefer not -- I don't mean they necessarily want exactly the kind of secular democracy that Turkey has, but I don't think most of the world's Muslims want to be governed by religious extremists or by tyrannical dictators. I think the events of September 11th have just brought out even more strongly how important that Turkish example can be for a billion people in the world who now suddenly are viewed with great suspicion by a lot of people, and quite unfairly in the great majority.

So I think Turkey's role in terms of this whole war on terrorism is difficult to exaggerate. It's very important. And it's particularly important in what I would call the second stage and the really long-term efforts that the President has referred to, and his phrase in the State of the Union message was building a better world beyond the war on terrorism.

He elaborated on it a little bit in the State of the Union, has on some other occasions, and I've elaborated a little more. At least I think I'm elaborating. I think what I said for example in Monterey where I talked about bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world is I think exactly what the President is talking about.

That's a long-term project but it's terribly important. It's just as important in my view in the long term as killing and capturing terrorists. And it's, to me, very obvious why Turkey has a major role to play in that regard and then finally, I will get to your question, why Turkey's present economic problems are something that concern the United States from a strategic point of view and not just because Turkey's an ally and we like Turks and we want them to do well. Yes, all of those things are true, but we have a real stake in Turkey doing well and I believe that very strongly.

You asked one of the most difficult, sensitive issues about the country's domestic politics. People could ask almost a similar question about religiously-oriented politicians in this country. We don't have a political party that's overtly religious, but we certainly have a lot of issues about what's the appropriate role of the Catholic church in politics; what's the appropriate role of the so-called Christian right in politics. They don't call themselves the Christian right, by the way. It's their enemies that call them the Christian right.

At the same time we have a very strong conviction in this country about the importance of separating church and state, that religious matters should be matters of individual conscience and not forced by government.

I guess I would say there are many ways to work out those issues and it's really -- I admit that I don't hesitate to criticize when I see countries going to extremes and imposing penalties on people for their religious beliefs or inflicting an extreme version of a religion on the majority. But I think when you get to the kinds of questions that you're asking about, I really think it's the Turkish people that have to decide.

I believe in the enormous value of democracy and I feel from the many Turks that I know that the belief in Turkey in tolerance and in secularism in some form, you can argue what that means, is so strong that I'm reasonably confident whatever happens in any individual election that the direction of Turkey in the long term is pretty clear, and that if anyone tries to impose a sort of medieval religious view on the Turkish people they're going to fail.

Q: In other words am I right in saying that what you're saying is that let's not get excited. What's going to happen with the (inaudible) party if they're elected they'll behave. That's what you're saying in a sense, right?

Wolfowitz: I'm saying Americans shouldn't get excited. If Turks want to say I'm terribly afraid of this party, then that's part of the Turkish debate. But I don't think outsiders should be leaping to pass judgments.

Q: Okay.

Wolfowitz: We don't know enough. You know enough to have an opinion. We don't know enough.

Q: What sort of government would be a role model, as you said, to other Islamic countries and Turkey? And would be able to take Turkey out of this severe crisis, economic crisis, and on the road to the full membership with European Union? What sort of a government would be able to achieve that?

Wolfowitz: Again, we're on this very difficult ground where an outsider like me has a very strong interest in Turkey getting it right, and at the same time recognizes that these are your decisions and not for me to prescribe. So let me try to answer it in those boundaries.

But it seems to me that what one wants is a government that can be, number one, democratic. That is to say it is responsive to what people want and it's not only that it's elected by the people but it's corrected by the people.

I think one of the great things about democracy is that if you screw up there's an external way to clear you out.

Secondly, it should be effective. I believe here Turkey is struggling with some problems inherent in the way your political system is organized. It's not unique to Turkey. Israel has, by most people's reckoning, too many political parties. I think Italy has the problem. We rather like our two-party system. I say we, except for people who try to form third parties in this country who think we've gone too far in that direction. But you want government that can be effective and it seems to me clear that a big part of the challenge in Turkey's economic crisis is the need for effective government policy.

I think a third thing you want is government that is, and I think this again relates to economic issues, where as much as possible the economic influences on government are out in the open or transparent.

Again, we've had a big debate about campaign finance laws. This is not anything that's unique to Turkey. But the issue of money and politics is a difficult one. You can't exclude it entirely, you don't want to exclude it entirely, but at the same time particularly where big economic decisions are involved, you certainly want things out in the open.

I think those are really democracy, effectiveness, transparency, I think those are the real goals.

Q: Sir, (inaudible) in December. Turkey is expecting a calendar for negotiations, full membership negotiations. With all that's going on and elections are coming, things don't look too good. But previous Administration, Clinton Administration, put very much in favor of Turkey integrating fully to the EU. The President himself, Clinton himself, at every occasion. Every time he met foreign EU leaders, every time he had meetings, he insisted on that. That Turkey should be enclosed into the EU.

Do you have the same behavior as Bush Administration? Do you really want to get Ankara into the EU? What are you doing in that respect?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely. I would go back to comments that I made when I spoke in Istanbul where I think I was as clear as is possible to be about our belief that it would be, for Turkey to join the EU would be not only good for Turkey, we think it would be good for the EU and we think it would be good for the United States. It's something we strongly encourage, strongly support, even though our EU friends sometimes complain that it's none of our business and we should stop pressuring them on this issue. I believe it is our business because, as I said, I think it's important for American interests as well as Turkish and EU interests for Turkey to become a member of the EU.

I am very impressed that in the midst of all the political uncertainty in Turkey and people saying it won't be possible for the Parliament to take any difficult decision, they've passed I guess it was 13 new laws, some of them of really historic significance, aimed at meeting the standards for EU membership. I hope strongly that the Europeans will recognize the significance of what's happened and take appropriate steps to reinforce those actions, to recognize how far Turkey is going in order to meet EU standards.

I think one of the very good things about this whole process can be that I think it becomes a great force for reform in Turkey. But at the same time I believe in the long run the EU will be a better, stronger institution if Turkey is a member of it and I believe it will contribute in a larger, strategic way to this problem about the idea that there's some unbridgeable gap between the West and the Muslim world. Nothing could be better for bridging that gap than for Turkey to become a member of the EU. So we believe in it very strongly.

Q: I'm just curious, is President Bush as much of an advocate of that as President Clinton was? It's just something personal that I'm wondering.

Wolfowitz: Oh, I think so. And bear in mind that, well, every time that I'm aware that this issue has come up anywhere in our Administration there's never been any issue about how important it is.

There may undoubtedly be some debates about what is the best tactic to get to the goal and whether -- we're not interested in pressuring the Europeans for the sake of having people say hurray, you've pressured the Europeans. We're interested in getting a result. There may be tactical arguments about how to get there but there's no question about our support for the goal.

I think given the importance of the decisions coming up in Copenhagen at the end of this year, there are intense discussions going on in our Administration right now about how we can best help support Turkish accession to the EU.

Q: Would you like Turkey to continue another six months --

Wolfowitz: I might say too, by the way, I know that both Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld are very strongly of that view, and I don't think there should be the slightest doubt what the United States would like to see. That's pretty much what I think Turkey would like to see.

Q: Sir, do you want Turkey to continue another six months as the commanding force of ISAF?

Wolfowitz: We understand, it really doesn't matter whether I would like it or not. We made an agreement when Turkey agreed to take on this job that it was a six month assignment and that we'd have a responsibility to find someone else to take the lead afterwards, and we're actively working on who those candidates might be.

Let me say that --

Q: Is your preference Turkey to continue another six months?

Wolfowitz: No. We just don't consider that an option.

Q: Okay.

Wolfowitz: It's been made clear to us that Turkey took it on as a six month assignment and that option isn't on the table.

There's no question that the Turkish performance is terrific. We're dealing with real professionals who understand the region, I think understand the people they're dealing with, deal very well with our military which is very important, because the connection between ISAF and the U.S. military is like that, is as close as it could be. In fact we have some U.S. officers in the ISAF command structure.

So from our point of view it's a perfect arrangement, but we understand it ends December 22nd, I believe, and we're looking for somebody to take over after that. We hope that Turkey will continue to play a role in Afghanistan and continue to be a positive influence because it has been a very positive influence. But we also understand if you want people to take on assignments when you ask them to do it that you've got to stick to your bargain.

Q: Sir, the Cypress [probem] is not getting any better. Talks are -- What do you see a solution at this point? Is a critical juncture. If it gets worse, it will affect Turkey's relations with the EU as you know very well because they will accept them and the summit talks don't look too good.

Would the U.S. government see what should be done?

Wolfowitz: This is one of those issues where it's very nice to be in the Defense Department, and it's a very complicated issue and the State Department is working on it. I don't mean to be facetious. It is a State Department lead and Ambassador Westin I think is going to Ankara to be talking about this subject shortly.

I've had quite a few discussions with Ambassador Grossman, the Under Secretary of State who is a former Ambassador to Turkey, and each time I learn more about the complexity of the Cypress issue, and each time I go away saying I'm glad Grossman has got the main responsibility.

We would clearly like to contribute in any way we can to finding a solution, and we fully understand the anxiety in Turkey about things that might happen or not happen at the end of this year. So I know that Grossman and his colleagues at the State Department are very much focused on the Cypress issue. I know Secretary Rumsfeld has made it clear that if there's anything we in the Defense Department can do to support it diplomatically, we stand ready to help. But it is a diplomatic problem, not a military one.

Military problems are easier.

Q: Okay, sir. Also a bureaucrat.

With your permission, if and when President Bush decides to move against Saddam regime in Iraq, will you have Turkey's support? Can you count on Turkey when that happens?

Wolfowitz: I, for reasons that I hope you and your readers will understand, am not going to say very much about this subject because my boss has already complained about the frenzy of discussion on this subject and I don't want to contribute to it.

I think what's important to emphasize is that the President of the United States has not made any decisions yet about what's the right course of action. He identified a problem very clearly back in January in the State of the Union message. It's a problem that demands some kind of solution but he didn't set a time table, he didn't say what kind of solution, he didn't say what role military force would play in the solution. There really are many different ways ahead. We've had useful discussions with Turkish officials and Turkish leaders. Obviously there are significant differences in the Turkish point of view and our point of view, but we haven't made up our minds yet, certainly the President hasn't made up his mind about the course of action. I'm quite sure that what he decides is going to be shaped in part by, I know it's going to be shaped by what he hears from his friends and therefore it will be shaped in part by what he hears from Turkey.

But ultimately it's going to be some mixture of politics and diplomacy and disarmament regimes. There are many different pieces in this mix. Hopefully when he decides on a course of action we'll find ways of cooperating between our two countries because our interests are so strongly intertwined.

Voice: Sir, you raised earlier you wanted to mention some items that were in that one document.

Wolfowitz: I alluded to them. Let me come back to it in case I didn't refer sufficiently explicitly.

The laws that were passed by the Parliament in August, they're more than just about meeting some qualifications for EU membership and to be honest, I'm looking for some opportunities with American journalists to also point out what remarkable steps Turkey has taken with respect to the death penalty, with respect to the use of non-Turkish languages, dialects, and a number of things that we would identify as clearly in the area of civil liberties. Some of these, my understanding, they're in some ways on the order of what we think of as provisions in our Bill of Rights. Those are very very big steps and I know they were taken in part with a view to the negotiations with the EU, but I think they reflect much more than just this is what the EU wants. I think it reflects the conviction of [money], obviously a majority of Turkish Parliamentarians that this is where Turkey wants to go.

It goes back to my point earlier about why I believe that Turkey represents such an enormously positive force in the Muslim world and one that the United States has a big interest in succeeding.

Q: When you were in Turkey, Turkish side told you what their concerns were as far as Iraq was concerned. I know we won't get into economic losses or status of (inaudible), etc., but one very important issue and you know that very well is the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Would you go on the record to say now that as long as your a strategic partner Turkey is opposed to it, U.S. government will never allow an independent Kurdish state in Iraq?

Wolfowitz: I think, I'm always hesitant to change formulations, but I think we've been very clear that we are opposed to a Kurdish state in Iraq, and not only are we opposed to it, but we are actively working and thinking about how to make sure that it doesn't happen. And not only in a negative way by thinking about things that can be done to prevent it, but in a more positive way to think about how to make sure that the Kurds of Northern Iraq think of themselves as Iraqis.

I think there's still a long way to go and it's hard to think of yourself as an Iraqi when your government is as horrible as the government that's in Baghdad. But we're giving a lot of thought to what a post-Saddam Iraq would look like and I must say this is a subject on which I think there is substantial if not complete, virtually complete agreement between Turkish officials and our officials, that what we want to see is, after Saddam, an Iraq that is democratic, that maintains a territorial integrity of the whole country, that draws people to the capital rather than fragmenting the country. And when we talk to Kurds or Iraqi opposition in general we emphasize the importance of thinking of themselves as Iraqis and not as separate ethnic groups.

I think there's a lot that can be done in that regard and it's more than just making statements of what we're opposed to. We are opposed to it, but we don't simply stop there. We think, and we're thinking with your officials, about how to make that a permanent fact and to create an Iraq in which all the people in Iraq are happy to think of themselves as Iraqis.

Q: The issue of ESBP, sir, is there any change in your position?

Wolfowitz: No.

Q: You're still supporting the Ankara Agreement?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely. We think it was a good agreement and we think it ought to be implemented.

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