"Turkey is the most reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East," Egemen Bagis, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's foreign policy adviser and Justice & Development Party (AK Party) deputy reaffirmed on March 29th.
Bagis delivered a keynote speech at a meeting staged by the think-tank organization "Council on Foreign Relations".
"I realized that some people have suspicions about Turkey's loyalty towards its allies and particularly about what it is intending to do in the Middle East. I have realized that there is divergence in looking at the questions from Turkey and from Washington D.C.," Bagis said.
"Turkey and the United States cooperate significantly on Afghanistan. Also we work hard to bring and prevail peace in the Middle East," Bagis indicated, and noted, "I have realized that many people in Washington D.C. failed to perceive the contribution made by Turkey as regards to Iraq. It must be recalled that Turkey was one of the first countries helping the United States during the first Gulf crisis in 1991."
"Nobody knows but Turkey is the second country (after U.S.) that suffered the most in Iraq although it did not have troops in the region. Many Turkish truck drivers, construction workers and engineers lost their lives. It was Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, who convinced the Sunnites to participate in the elections (in Iraq). Turkey also pledged a grant of 50 million USD to Iraq," he noted.
As regards to Turkey's position on Iran, Bagis said, "we are against Iran's developing nuclear weapons. However Turkey thinks that diplomatic ways should be exhausted before taking tougher steps. We urge Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international organizations."
Asked, "What is the actual basis of Turkish-U.S. relations? What are the mutual goals?" Bagis said, "I think that both countries cannot afford the risk of losing each other."
On Hamas Bagis said, "I think people should thank to Turkey (in this matter). Turkey tried to give right messages before others give wrong messages."
Replying to a question about Turkey and the Islamic world, Bagis said, "99 percent of Turkey's population is Muslim; however Turkey is a secular country. Turkey has historical responsibilities vis-a-vis Islamic world. We share a common culture. I don't want to say Turkey is a role model or example, but we are ready to share our 200 year-old democracy experience with them."
Replying to a question about Kurds in Turkey, Bagis said, "Attitude of the Kurds in Turkey does not create uneasiness for us. I think Kurds in Turkey are happy to live in Turkey. People are not discriminated according to their ethnic origin in Turkey."
Asked about commercial relations between Turkey and Armenia, Bagis said, "We are unable to open the border because Armenia does not recognize it. Thus, despite our desires to establish it, direct trade is not possible."
Excerpts: Anadolu Agency, 30/03/2006
For excerpts of this meeting click here.