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Renewed confidence is on display 22 novembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK) November 22, 2011, p. 2                                Türkçe
Special Report: Investing in Turkey

Interview Ahmet Davutoglu

Daniel Dombey talks diplomacy with the foreign minister

Sitting on a flight from Ankara, Turkey’s capital, to Istanbul, its commercial centre, Ahmet Davutoglu explains why he thinks Turkey’s growth makes such a difference to the world.

The country’s record of economic success is intimately connected to its activism in international affairs, he argues, and both factors have helped to create a “new Turkey”.

Since Mr Davutoglu is foreign minister and one of the most influential figures in the government, his is a viewpoint that leaves its mark.

“If we didn’t have such a strong economy, of course, our [foreign] policy dynamism wouldn’t be supported by economic power,” he says.
“But at the same time, if there wasn’t such an active, dynamic foreign policy, the economy could not be so successful.”

Adding that in the past two years Turkey has opened 21 embassies in Africa, three in Latin America and three in Asia, he asks: “Why do we open embassies? Not just to raise the flag, but to open these countries to our entrepreneurs and Turkish economic power. We don’t have natural gas, we don’t have oil, but what we have is very dynamic manpower.”

Mr Davutoglu says such thinking is a large part of the reason why Turkey has introduced visa-free travel deals with many of its neighbours and near-neighbours, such as Iran, Libya, Syria and Russia, thus allowing Turkish businessmen to roam the region and beyond.

He then sets out his wider theme. He remembers that as the prime minister’s foreign policy adviser in 2003, when the current Turkish government had just attained office, he said that, viewed from abroad, the country looked like “a man with strong muscles, an empty stomach, a small brain and a shaky heart”.

The muscles, Mr Davutoglu says, referred to Turkey’s strong army, the empty stomach to its then faltering economy, the small brain denoted “very weak strategic thinking” and the shaky heart signified an absence of self-confidence.

He adds: “Many people were afraid that Turkey would be divided, there would be a rebellion, that radical Islam would come, that everybody [was] our enemy – Greeks, Russians, Iranians, Arabs. That psychology [was an] absence of self-confidence.”

Now, he says, things have turned round. “The mission has not been completed, but at least now there is a new Turkey, with strong muscles, a full stomach – we don’t need International Monetary Fund credit any more – and new strategic thinking.

“Everybody is asking what the Turkish vision is on this issue or on that.”

As for self-confidence, he says, “ordinary citizens are proud of the rise of Turkey and if you ask them who can threaten Turkey, they will say nobody.”

All the same, criticism has grown of late of Mr Davutoglu’s policy of “zero problems with neighbours” – his efforts to improve Turkey’s relations with nearby states.

This year, Turkey has broken with Damascus, expelled Israel’s ambassador, locked horns with Cyprus over drilling in the eastern Mediterranean and seen an attempt to normalise relations with Armenia fade away.

“We have many other neighbours,” Mr Davutoglu replies when such problems are raised, citing the country’s “excellent relations” with Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Israel, he specifies, is not a direct neighbour. With Cyprus, he says, Ankara has tried to improve relations. As for Armenia, he says an increase in tension is not on the agenda.

The only deteriorating relationship, he says, is with Syria, “and the change with Syria is not because of us; it is because of Syria – it was attacking its own people.”

By contrast, Mr Davutoglu argues that Turkey’s recent history is relevant for much of the Arab world, again because of the interlinked factors of the country’s democracy, economic success and foreign policy approach.

“An ordinary Egyptian, Tunisian, Syrian, Yemeni, Bahraini, all of them want the same thing that Turkey has achieved,” he says of Ankara’s democratic institutions.

He adds: “Many Middle Eastern countries have natural resources; Turkey doesn’t have natural resources, but is a successful economy. How did we achieve it? With a strong middle class. These [lessons] are also things we can offer to the region.”

Finally, Mr Davutoglu suggests Turkey’s new international activism – which has also seen it champion the Palestinian cause while remaining close to the US – affects the Middle East as a whole.

“I said on every occasion, for every event there will be a Turkish vision,” he says, remembering his ambitions in 2003.

“We will never be passive and neutral – we will always have a position.”

If the Arab spring had occurred 20 years ago, he says, “I am sure we would be saying we don’t intervene in domestic affairs”. Now, he suggests, things could not be more different. The principle is: “If we will be affected in the next stage, we will lead the process today.”

The aircraft lands. Mr Davutoglu bounds off to a conference on Afghanistan, ready once again to put his philosophy of diplomatic activism to the test.

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