Erdoğan, who visited Abu Dhabi and Riyadh earlier this week, went from the Saudi capital to Jeddah on Tuesday night for talks with Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Speaking at a joint press conference following his talks with İhsanoğlu, Erdoğan was asked whether “Turkey’s attitude towards Arabs, which has recently shifted in a positive direction, would change if Turkey becomes a member of the EU,” the Anatolia news agency reported.
“We have an unchanging principle,” Erdoğan said, quoting a verse from the Quran which says, “Pursue, then, what is exactly right [in every matter of the religion] as you are commanded [by God].”
“We have put forth our stance in the Middle East as a humanitarian position which stems from our own values,” Erdoğan said, in apparent reference to Turkey’s harsh criticism of Israel since last winter when a three-week offensive by Israel in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of whom were civilians.
“We made our stance in Georgia clear as well, and we will do the same if such a thing happens in another place in the world,” Erdoğan stated, highlighting that Turkey had defended Georgia’s territorial integrity during its brief war with Russia in the summer of 2008.
“The EU will never change this [stance]. We consider the EU a political club but not a Christian club. There has been no other country that has been kept at the EU’s door for 50 years. The EU has not acted fairly here.”
Shortly after the creation of the European Economic Community in 1958, Turkey made its first application to join in July 1959. On Dec. 17, 2004, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Turkey, and on Oct. 3, 2005, the EU opened accession talks with Ankara, an EU candidate since 1999.
The EU suspended accession talks on eight out of 35 chapters in 2006 due to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus.
France, which opposes Turkish accession to the EU, is unilaterally blocking talks on five chapters that it says are directly related to accession. Greek Cyprus, for its part, announced last month that it would veto the opening of talks on five other chapters due to the continued failure of Turkey to open its ports and airports to its ships and planes. Turkey says it will not open its ports and airports unless the EU keeps its 2004 promise to allow trade with Turkish Cypriots.
While addressing a joint meeting of Turkish and Saudi businesspeople in Riyadh on Tuesday, Erdoğan focused on Turkey’s multidimensional foreign policy, saying this policy was based on solidarity.
“When we show interest in Palestine or in Gaza, we are doing this not because we are Muslims, we are doing it because we are human beings, and this is a humanitarian duty for us,” Erdoğan said, in an apparent response to arguments that Turkey has been moving towards the Muslim world and shifting away from its alliance with the West.
“There is a very grave tragedy going on in Haiti,” he said, referring to the devastating earthquake after which Turkey has decided to donate $1 million for humanitarian assistance. “Haiti is 95 percent Christian. Won’t we extend our hand to them in this case? Won’t we send our urgent rescue teams?”
PM plays down visa expectations
Erdoğan, who on Tuesday suggested that Turkey and Saudi Arabia eliminate visa requirements for travel between the two countries, on Wednesday dampened expectations among the Turkish public, which hoped for free travel to Saudi Arabia during the Muslim pilgrimage season.
Turkey and Lebanon signed an agreement to abolish visa requirements for their nationals in a bid to boost trade, tourism and economic cooperation in early January. Syria, Jordan and Libya removed visa requirements for Turkish nationals in deals concluded last year.
In response to a question on the issue, Erdoğan made clear on Wednesday that progress could be maintained concerning diplomats and businesspeople.
The abolishment of visa requirements with Saudi Arabia in a similar way to how it has been done with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Libya is not possible, Erdoğan said, adding that “we hope that this happens, too, in the future.”