“Considering the alternatives, we have no other choice but to pursue and facilitate dialogue, for there is no military solution to this problem,” Gül said in a speech delivered at the Council on Global Relations in Chicago on Tuesday. “Any such move will not only further complicate the matter at hand but will also create new layers of conflict in our region and beyond.”
Gül's remarks came a day before Iran and the major world powers met in Baghdad for the latest round of talks on Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday. Turkey, which has dismissed sanctions and military action as possible solutions to the row over Iran's nuclear program, hosted two past rounds of the talks between Iran and the P5+1 group, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the US, France, Russia, China and Britain -- plus Germany.
Gül said Turkey is pleased to see that the parties agreed to sustain their dialogue with a focused agenda in İstanbul. “Now we hope that the Baghdad meeting to be held tomorrow will take this agreement further and translate it into practical steps on both sides,” he added.
The Baghdad talks come amid concerns in global oil markets over toughening sanctions on Iran's vital crude exports and the possibility of Israeli strikes against Iran, which has in turn threatened reprisals if it comes under attack.
Gül said Turkey was concerned about the possibility of nuclear proliferation and the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, but made it clear this principle extends not only to Iran but also to Israel. He warned that attempts to develop or acquire such weapons may well trigger a regional race for their possession, which in turn would lead to further instability threatening international peace and security. “That is why,” Gül added, “we have always called for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East including both Iran and Israel.”
The Turkish president stressed that Turkey is supporting Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but that Turkey also demands Iran be transparent and assure the international community through the necessary verification measures as to the non-military nature of their program.
Iran has repeatedly dismissed Western suspicions that it seeks nuclear arms and says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity.
Gül offered measures to close the gap of confidence on both sides as the key to resolution and to pave the way for a meaningful process of dialogue, citing Turkey's past experience. He recalled a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil under which Iran agreed to send more than half of its nuclear stockpile abroad for enrichment and added that a similar agreement continues to be sought today. “It is quite unfortunate that this opportunity had been lost then,” he said.
The deal quickly collapsed after being dismissed by the US and other Western powers.
Speaking about Turkish foreign policy in general, Gül said Turkey has also been instrumental in facilitating peace and reconciliation on a number of occasions, adding that Turkey’s efforts to create a common ground of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan or between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia for instance have already borne fruit.
He added that Turkey has been heavily criticized along the way by friends and foes alike for being too ambitious, too independent and even too different. He noted that Turkey has become more assertive in its actions aimed at bringing more stability and welfare to the region.
To support its widening horizons of foreign policy and engagement, Gül said, Turkey is also expanding its diplomatic network. “Within the last three years we have opened more than 40 new missions abroad while the rest of the world was reducing the number of diplomatic missions due to the economic crisis,” he said.
As far as the Arab Spring is concerned Turkey has been the most ardent supporter of this historic transformation process from the outset, the Turkish president claimed. He contended that every step towards democracy will make these countries more reliable partners of the international community while meeting the legitimate expectations of their own people. According to Gül, in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which are now at the post-revolutionary stage of institutionalizing change, Turkey is their most active partner.
Ankara’s evolving response to the upheavals of the Arab Spring is broadly in harmony with its NATO and European Union allies, who had balked at Turkey’s previous “zero problems with the neighbors” policy, that indulged Syria and its ally Iran, and which some derided as a neo-Ottoman turn away from Turkey’s long-standing Western ties.
Gül said Syria is still in the middle of the revolution which has not yet come to fruition because of the repressive policies of the regime. He said every day scores of people are dying in pursuit of their dignity and the international community has a responsibility to support their journey to democracy. He added that Turkey is doing all it can to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and, among other things, Turkey is now hosting close to 25,000 Syrians who have fled the regime’s campaign of violence in the country.
Turkey is piling pressure on Syria with economic sanctions and by harboring Syrian opposition groups and military defectors. Revolted by the killing of Syrian civilians and seeing the tide of history turn with the Arab Spring of popular uprisings, Turkey has calculated that its long term interest lies in supporting the Syrian people’s struggle for democracy.
Gulf Arabs and Turkey alike want to see a street uprising and insurgency in Syria unseat President Bashar al-Assad to help roll back the regional clout of his close ally Iran and prevent any spillover of its increasingly sectarian bloodshed.
The Turkish president said the Turkish government is constantly in touch with the opposition represented by the Syrian National Council (SNC) and is encouraging them to put forward a new vision for a new Syria that will encompass every citizen in the country and fully ensure their rights.
He complained that the international community as a whole has so far performed poorly in providing an effective response to the crisis at hand. Gül recalled UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan and said this might still be the last chance for an orderly transition in Syria if it is urgently implemented in all its aspects.