Visit to Turkey
THE MINISTER – Thank you, Minister.
I’m very pleased to be in Ankara today and I was very pleased to be in Istanbul yesterday evening and this afternoon. Turkey is a country I’ve loved for a long time. We have an excellent personal relationship and I’m always very happy to talk to you. Finally, as Foreign Minister but also as a French politician, I attach the utmost importance to the quality of relations between France and Turkey.
Turkey is a great country, a country whose economic power is asserting itself more every day. It’s also a country that plays an absolutely strategic role, not only in the region but also on the world stage.
From this viewpoint, I’d like to remind you that at the G20 meeting in Cannes, in which Turkey took part, it was decided that the G20 presidency would be held by Turkey in 2015. President Sarkozy worked particularly hard on this, and it will enable Turkey to assert her leadership at international level.
In our discussions we noted many points of agreement and a number of points of disagreement. I’ve discussed all those issues since I arrived. Yesterday evening in Istanbul, at an excellent meeting I had with Prime Minister Erdogan, we started work. This morning I appeared before the Grand National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee. And in a few moments’ time I’ll have the privilege of meeting the President.
All these meetings were extremely warm and frank, as it’s customary to say in diplomatic language.
What’s going well between us?
First of all, at bilateral level, many things. Our economic relations are good. We’re very likely to achieve the target of €15 billion in trade that we set ourselves. We’re not far off it for this year: we’ve been given the figure of €13 billion. Many French companies are investing in Turkey, and we want Turkish companies to be able to invest in France.
There are also fields where our cooperation can develop: I’m thinking in particular of civilian nuclear energy.
Our cultural links are very close, for both historic and contemporary reasons that you’re aware of. The Saison de la Turquie [nationwide festival] in France was a great success. We want to develop the activity of our cultural centres, and I proposed to Mr Ahmet Davutoglu a draft agreement on our cultural centres’ status that would enable us to resolve a number of difficulties related to the past.
As you know, for a few years I’ve also chaired the Galatasaray Haut Comité de Parrainage [sponsorship committee]. It’s an exemplary achievement, because Galatasaray University – a Turkish university where the teaching is in French – is one of the country’s best universities. This afternoon, in Istanbul, I’ll be setting up a business club, because a group of French companies has agreed to play an active role to support Galatasaray’s development effort.
Another subject where our bilateral cooperation is excellent, and which I’d like to mention quickly, is the fight against terrorism. France is directly concerned by the terrorist threat. I’d like to remind you that it’s sadly the European country which has had the most hostages taken recently. Some have just been released in Yemen and others are still prisoners of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the Sahel or al-Shabaab in Somalia.
So we’re in full solidarity with Turkey’s action in fighting terrorism, and we support those efforts. The visit a few days ago by Claude Guéant, our Interior Minister, was very positive: a domestic security cooperation agreement was concluded, and we’re doing everything possible to fight PKK terrorism.
I was recalling that more than 100 terrorists or suspected terrorists have been arrested in France since 2010. So we’re utterly determined.
That’s what is going well at bilateral level.
True, there are things that are going less well; we must tackle them head-on.
On the issue of Turkey’s entry to the European Union, I won’t go back over France’s position, which you’re aware of and which consists in saying that the conditions don’t seem to exist today.
The European Union is at an absolutely strategic moment in its history. We’re facing not merely financial but also organizational difficulties. And I think it’s time for Europe to consider what internal reforms are necessary in order, as it were, to radically reform the European enterprise. So we must do this work together among the Twenty-seven before moving ahead on European Union enlargement.
Having said that, steps can be taken. I think that on the issue of the readmission agreement, of visa facilitation then liberalization, there are opportunities for progress. We’ve made proposals. I’m aware of Turkey’s current position, but let’s talk about it; I think it’s possible to move forward.
On the negotiation chapters, I’d also like to remind you that it was under the French presidency that we opened two new chapters, and this hasn’t happened again since. We’re not opposed to, we’re even in favour of three new chapters being opened. And as for the ones that are blocked, it’s not always because of France: in that respect, the issue of Cyprus is extremely sensitive for us and we must find a solution in the framework of the plan proposed by the United Nations.
Regarding the events of 1915 – what the French parliament has recognized as the genocide against the Armenians – I’m well aware it’s an extremely difficult question. We have no lessons to give, but we think every great nation does itself credit by making an effort of remembrance about its past; France has tried to do so for certain very painful periods in her history. We know it’s a very painful period for Turkey, but also for the Armenians.
So I took good note of Turkey’s readiness to make this effort of remembrance in a commission that would, of course, be opened up to the Armenians. I’ll submit this proposal to the French President. If Paris could host such a meeting in order to begin this dialogue at least, I think it would be an extremely important step forward.
Finally, let me come back to what’s going well between us, by mentioning certain international issues. I was able to note that, on many subjects, we’re on entirely the same wavelength.
I’m thinking of Afghanistan; the conference held in Istanbul last week – which I was unfortunately unable to attend but where France was represented by M. de Raincourt – was very positive. We’re working hand in hand with Turkey to prepare for the post-2014 period in Afghanistan, and we expressed our determination to cooperate with that country.
We also noted our now entirely convergent positions – after an initial period of adjustment – on Libya, as well as total agreement on Syria.
We, France and Turkey, think that the situation is no longer tenable and that despite all the appeals made to the Syrian authorities for the regime to reform itself – and I pay tribute to Turkey’s repeated mediation – they’ve refused to listen. Only this morning, villages in northern Syria were bombarded by the Syrian army. We’re calling on the opposition, of course, to stick to the line it’s taken from the outset, namely of rejecting violence. But I think the time has come to unite our efforts to step up the sanctions. Together we’re backing a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly. France’s absolute wish is to work in close liaison with the Arab League, Turkey and all the countries in the region, and also to work with the Syrian opposition, which is showing a great deal of courage.
What also greatly struck me was how close our views are on the Arab Spring as a whole. I think it’s very important to stress clearly that France and Turkey have the same approach to this historic phenomenon: the aspiration of peoples to freedom, democracy, respect for the rule of law, human rights and women’s rights is an irrepressible aspiration that nobody will stop. Our diplomacy is heavily involved in supporting those movements. I insisted that from this viewpoint, in our consideration of Islam and democracy, Turkey can be a benchmark and an example to which we pay great heed.
That’s what I wanted to say to you. Anyway, I’d been told it would be difficult to come to Turkey; well, I’m finding it very pleasant, very constructive and very positive. (…)
Q. – I’d like to ask a question about Syria: the Syrian regime and the loss of human life, the attacks against the population… The international community is taking a whole series of actions. What proposals does France have? Are you expecting Turkey to intercede with Syria?
THE MINISTER – Since the beginning of this crisis, we have condemned the extremely brutal crackdown by the regime against its people.
We’ve called on President Bashar al-Assad to make reforms, to change his policy. Turkey has also tried to do so. There have been various mediation efforts, but the regime didn’t want anything to do with them and is continuing its crackdown. This is unacceptable and we’ve already taken action in the framework of the European Union, since we’ve adopted nine rounds of sanctions against a number of figures and against Syria’s economic interests. We are ready to toughen these sanctions. Moreover, we adopted measures on Monday in Brussels and tried to ensure that they penalize the population itself as little as possible.
Second action: we welcomed with great interest the initiatives by the Arab League, which also attempted to mediate. The most recent proposals made in Rabat are good, particularly the proposal to send Arab League observers to ensure that the troops return to barracks and that demonstrations can take place freely. The proposal is valid for three days, if I’ve understood correctly. We’ll see what happens but I seriously doubt that, despite everything, the regime will accept. We must therefore continue to exert pressure; I spoke to you about the resolution which is under discussion at the General Assembly. I think that it would also be good if the Security Council spoke out; it’s not right that the Security Council doesn’t speak out on a crisis of this magnitude – 3,500 people dead already, 20,000 people detained in Syrian prisons, often treated in an extremely brutal way and severely tortured, etc. And I hope that those who are blocking any Security Council resolution today will finally become aware of the reality.
Finally, last point, we call on the Syrian opposition to avoid resorting to violence; civil war would obviously be disastrous. We are ready to help them, as I’ve said. Neither are we in favour of a unilateral intervention. Should military intervention be necessary then it could take place only within the framework of a United Nations resolution; that has always been France’s position; it was our position in Libya and it will obviously be our position in Syria./.