Turkey won’t wait at Europe’s door forever: President Erdoğan
ANKARA - Reuters
REUTERS photoTurkey will not wait at Europe’s door forever and is ready to walk away from EU accession talks if rising Islamophobia and hostility from some member states persist, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Reuters in a wide-ranging interview on April 25.
Speaking at his presidential palace less than two weeks after scoring a tight victory in an April 16 referendum on constitutional amendments, Erdoğan said a decision by a leading European human rights body to put Turkey back on a watch list was “entirely political” and that Ankara did not recognize the move.
The Strasbourg-based Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said it put Turkey back on review over its wave of arrests since the July 2016 coup attempt, rights violations and concerns about Erdoğan’s increased grip on power.
Turkey’s relations with the European Union soured further ahead of the referendum, when he accused Germany and the Netherlands of “acting like Nazis” by banning rallies by his supporters.
“In Europe, things have become very serious in terms of the extent of Islamophobia. The EU is closing its doors on Turkey and Turkey isn’t closing its doors on anybody,” Erdoğan said, showing photos of vandalized mosques and supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rallying against him in Europe.
“If they’re not acting sincerely we have to find a way out. Why should we wait any longer? We’re talking about 54 years,” he said, referring to the 1963 Ankara Agreement which acknowledged the long-term goal of Turkish membership of a united Europe.
If necessary, he said, Turkey could hold a vote similar to Britain’s on EU membership. He said Brexit had given Britain “peace of mind” and that it was “walking toward a new future.”
It is a critical week for Turkish-EU relations. EU lawmakers will debate ties on April 26, while the bloc’s foreign ministers will discuss the issue on April 28.
Erdoğan said he would be closely watching.
“I’m very curious as to how the EU is going to act,” he said, criticizing EU states that have called for an end to accession talks.
Turkey, he said, was still committed to negotiations.
“There is not a single thing that we are not ready to do, the minute they ask for it. Whatever they wish, we do. But still they are keeping us at the door,” he said.
Erdoğan pointed to the French presidential election, in which far-right leader Marine Le Pen has threatened to take France out of the EU, and said the bloc was “on the verge of dissolution, of breaking up.”
“One or two countries cannot keep the EU alive. You need a country like Turkey, a different country symbolizing a different faith ... But EU member states don’t seem to realize this fact. They are finding it very difficult to absorb a Muslim country like Turkey,” he said.
Europe, Erdoğan said, had failed to appreciate Turkey’s role in stemming the flow of migrants from neighboring Syria and Iraq across it borders, and said the burden had fallen on Turkey and other countries in the region, including Lebanon and Jordan.
He insisted there could be no solution to Syria’s conflict while President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and said Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him he was not personally committed to the Syrian leader.
“Al-Assad is not the address for a prospective solution in Syria,” Erdoğan said, voicing frustration at international failure to compel the Syrian leader to leave. “He has attacked his people with tanks, with cannon, with barrel bombs, with chemical weapons, with fighter jets. Do you think he could be the vehicle for a solution?”
The president hinted at a softening of Russia’s support for the Syrian president. Putin, he said, had told him: ‘Erdoğan, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an advocate for al-Assad, I’m not his lawyer.’”
Syria’s war, pitting rebels mostly from its Sunni majority against a minority rule rooted in al-Assad’s Alawite community, has killed 400,000 people, created millions of refugees, drawn in regional and global powers and allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to seize swathes of territory.
Russia’s dramatic military intervention in 2015, after four years of inconclusive fighting, tilted the balance of power in favor of al-Assad, who is also backed by Turkey’s regional rival Iran.
Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL in Syria and Iraq but its role has been complicated by U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), viewed by Ankara as an extension of the PKK.
Turkish warplanes conducted air strikes in northern Iraq’s Sinjar province and in northeast Syria on April 25, in a widening campaign against groups linked to the PKK.
Turkey will not let Sinjar become a PKK base and will continue military operations there and in northern Syria “until the last terrorist is eliminated,” Erdoğan said.