UK calls on PKK to cease attacks on Turkey
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARATurkey is legitimate in defending itself against attacks from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Britain’s top diplomat has said, calling on the militant group to cease its destructive attacks on Turkey while underlining the importance of stability in Southeast Anatolian for the wider region.
“We are clear the PKK have to cease their destructive attacks on Turkey. The loss of brave Turkish soldiers and police, and others caught up in the violence is tragic for this country. And we believe Turkey has a legitimate right to defend itself against the PKK. We hope, though, that Turkey will soon be able to return to dialogue in order to find a lasting peace. A stable southeast will be important not just for Turkey, but for the wider region,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Jan. 14.
Hammond arrived in Ankara to hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and address Turkish ambassadors gathered for an annual conference.
Here is the full transcript of the interview with the secretary:
Your visit comes soon after the terrible terrorist attack in Istanbul. What is your reaction to this and the Turkish government’s response?
I was shocked by the terrorist attack in Istanbul, the U.K. condemns terrorism in all its forms and stands in solidarity with Turkey. On behalf of the U.K. government, I offer my sympathies to the victims and their families. I know that investigations are ongoing and the British government stands ready to offer Turkey whatever support it needs in response to this terrible event which re-emphasizes the vital importance of a strong U.K.-Turkey relationship in combating terrorism. If as the Turkish prime minister said, it is a Daesh [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL] attack, this underlines how important it is for us to cooperate closely with Turkey and other partners in the counter-Daesh coalition.
Turkey and the U.K. are long-standing allies, and now they are jointly fighting ISIL in Syria and elsewhere. Although the area under ISIL’s control is shrinking, the group is still powerful and anticipated operations in Raqqa and Jarablus in Syria and Mosul in Iraq are constantly postponed. How would you assess the current situation in the Syrian and Iraqi theater and when do you expect operations for the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa-Jarablus to be launched?
Daesh is under pressure and losing territory in both Iraq and Syria. In recent weeks, they have lost control of Ramadi and Sinjar and are being pushed back in other areas of Iraq and from the strategic Tishreen Dam in Syria. A number of senior figures have been killed in coalition airstrikes, striking a blow to Daesh’s leadership. We have always been clear that this won’t be a quick fight, but it is a fight we are winning. But defeating Daesh is not just a military task. There must be a comprehensive solution to reduce its space to operate, including through the development of more effective and inclusive politics. Iraqi Prime Minister [Haider] al-Abadi is working to build a more inclusive Iraq to stand against Daesh, including in the provinces. In Syria, there needs to be a durable peace settlement which sees [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s transition from power. Turkey is a critical partner in our efforts to provide support to communities inside Syria, including via support to the moderate opposition.
UK considers greater use of Turkish bases
The British government has now authorized strikes against ISIL positions in Syria. Does your government have a request from the Turkish government to use Turkish military bases? What would be the scope of envisaged cooperation between Turkey and the U.K. for facilitating your government’s military actions into Syria?
We already use Turkish military bases as part of our ongoing operations against Daesh in both Syria and Iraq. We have a long-standing and very close defense relationship with Turkey and in the NATO context, as a bilateral partner and as partners within the wider international counter-Daesh coalition. Though we do not currently have combat aircraft permanently based in Turkey, we enjoy excellent cooperation from Turkey on the use of Turkish airspace and the occasional use of bases and facilities. As the U.K.’s military operations in Syria and Iraq continue to develop, we will keep the Turkish government’s constructive offer of greater use of their airbases under active consideration.
In line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, the implementation of a peace process in Syria will soon begin. However, there are important developments that could hinder the process. The first one is the tension between Turkey and Russia over the downing of a Russian warplane and the second is the recent row between Iran and Saudi Arabia. What effect do you think these two sources of tension will have on the process? On the Turkey-Russia front, what would be your government’s position in efforts to defuse the tension?
The Vienna process launched last autumn gives us the best chance in nearly four years of achieving peace in Syria. For the first time, regional states and the permanent members of the Security Council are engaged in a substantive and inclusive process – the International Syria Support Group – to support Syrians to secure a peace deal. Turkey, our NATO ally, is at the heart of these efforts, and I value Turkey’s role in this process. While significant challenges remain, all ISSG participants have pledged to continue to work together for peace in Syria. Russia can, if it chooses, play a supportive role in Syria if it starts concentrating on hitting Daesh. But it must respect the territorial integrity of other countries such as Turkey.
Turkey contributing significant humanitarian efforts
NATO has already announced its commitment to boosting the Turkish air defense system in a bid to counter Russia’s recent military deployment into Syria. What is the British contribution to this plan?
The U.K. remains fully committed to Turkey’s air security and NATO’s principles of collective defense. We stand ready to provide a contribution to a NATO air policing mission for Turkey, subject to an agreement on and the implementation of a small remaining number of operational details.
Another top issue is ongoing talks between Turkey and the EU over the refugee problem. How do you regard the Turkish government’s recently adopted measures in addressing the massive refugee flow while there are still a number of EU countries who refuse to assume a meaningful share of the burden with Turkey? How many Syrian refugees is your government planning to accept?
In September last year, the prime minister announced an expansion to the Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme and that the U.K. would resettle 20,000 Syrians in need of protection by 2020. This commitment should be seen in the context of the U.K.’s overall [and comprehensive] response to the current migration crisis. The U.K. is the second largest bilateral aid donor to the Syrian crisis, which puts the U.K. at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the Syrian conflict. We are focused on helping those in the region with over 1 billion pounds in aid committed already. Our focus is on helping the most vulnerable, and Britain will take refugees from the region [Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon] rather than those already in Europe. This will provide refugees with a more direct and safe route to the U.K., rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe which has cost so many lives.
Turkey is a critical part of the international stabilization effort for Syria and has significantly contributed to the wider humanitarian effort during the past four years, hosting over 2.5 million refugees. I recognize what a huge undertaking this is and value the support Turkey provides for our and others’ humanitarian efforts in Syria.
UK welcomes Turkey-EU deal on refugees
A joint statement issued on Nov. 29, 2015, obviously started a new era in the relationship between Turkey and the EU. However, re-energizing Turkey’s accession talks depend highly on the fate of the ongoing Cypriot negotiations. What would be your government’s position on further endorsing Turkey’s accession talks through the opening of five chapters under a Greek Cypriot veto in the event of a failure of the reunification process in the island?
The U.K. very much welcomes the agreement between the EU and Turkey to re-energize the accession process. The U.K. has been among the strongest supporters of Turkey’s accession process, including opening negotiations on new chapters. Turkey and the EU are facing a number of serious common challenges, not least migration; the fight against terrorism and Daesh; and strengthening regional security – including by supporting a settlement in Cyprus. On Cyprus, let’s focus on doing what we can to support the sides to realize the historic opportunity to secure a settlement. I have visited both sides in Cyprus, and Britain, as a guarantor power, will do what it can to assist in achieving a durable solution.
As a guarantor power, how does the U.K. envisage ongoing talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots to bring about a solution to the decades-old problem? What is the concrete contribution of the U.K. to the talks, such as on dealing with the property issue? In one of your statements, you said Britain was completely flexible on guarantor status. Does it mean that the U.K. is ready to give up of its status although the Turkish side is not endorsing such an idea?
The two leaders are working hard to seize this historic opportunity to reunite Cyprus. The U.K. is working closely with key partners like Turkey to support the efforts of the leaders. In very concrete terms, we have said we are prepared to cede nearly half the territory of the Sovereign Base Areas in the event of a settlement. On the guarantor power question, the U.K. is not seeking a special post-settlement role for itself. We are ready to consider whatever measures the sides themselves can agree that enable both communities to feel secure.
UK condemns PKK terror
The British ambassador to Turkey was summoned to the Foreign Ministry over the freeze of bank accounts of a number of Turkish diplomats serving at the Turkish Embassy in London on the grounds that the move was in violation of the Vienna Convention. What is your explanation to the Turkish government about the freezing of the Turkish diplomats’ accounts?
I am aware of the case although this is not an action by the British government. My officials have been in close contact with the Turkish government, both in Ankara and through its embassy in London. Officials are also in contact with the court about this specific case. It would be inappropriate to comment further as the case is ongoing.
Turkey has recently launched a massive operation against the PKK in the Southeast Anatolian region. How do you regard this military campaign that has also resulted in curfews in some provinces? What is the level of bilateral cooperation in the fight against the PKK?
First of all, let me emphasize that we condemn PKK terrorism absolutely. But we don’t just make statements – we are also actively clamping down on PKK financing in the U.K., and doing our utmost to disrupt their international network and operations. For example, a woman in the U.K. was recently convicted of preparation for joining a proscribed group with the intention of committing acts of terrorism, and was sent to prison. The police investigation showed that she was intending to join the PKK. British authorities have also seized cash believed to be heading overseas to support the PKK and prevented events supporting the PKK from taking place in the first instance. We are clear the PKK have to cease their destructive attacks on Turkey. The loss of brave Turkish soldiers and police, and others caught up in the violence is tragic for this country. And we believe Turkey has a legitimate right to defend itself against the PKK. We hope, though, that Turkey will soon be able to return to dialogue in order to find a lasting peace. A stable southeast will be important not just for Turkey, but for the wider region.