President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan answered reporters’ questions during his flight en route to Turkey from Germany.
Commenting on the Libya Summit in Berlin, Erdoğan noted the following:
“As part of our efforts for a political solution in Libya, we attended the Libya Summit in Berlin. We endorsed the summit declaration which consisted of 55 articles. There is a road map under the roof of the United Nations. Compliance of the parties with the ceasefire that we called for together with Mr. Putin will facilitate the political process. As per the conclusions of the summit, the military committee consisting of 5 representatives of Sarraj and 5 representatives of Haftar will meet in a few days’ time. The key point here is that Haftar should end his aggressive stance. Since April, Haftar supporters have violated all agreements and attacked the legitimate government. I made it clear at the meeting, and nobody objected to it.
The truth is that steps taken by Turkey on the issue of Libya have helped to stabilize the process and laid the foundation for a ceasefire. We will continue to support the political process by maintaining our strong position both in the field and around the table. Turkey’s presence in Libya has fuelled hopes for peace. We can see the games being played in Libya under the cover of combating terrorism. We will continue to stand by the legitimate government.
A mechanism will be established and monthly meetings will be held to particularly follow up on the decisions taken today. These UN-led meetings will address the political, military and economic issues of Libya. Our colleagues will also attend these meetings.
In addition to Libya, I had the opportunity to raise the issue of Idlib both in our meeting with Mr. Putin and at the summit. I had a meeting with Sarraj. I also talked to Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune over the phone. In our meeting with Mr. Putin, I shared with him the necessary messages. We had a chance to clearly evaluate all of these both in Moscow and in its aftermath. His approach to this process enabled him to acknowledge some facts.
It is yet meaningful that Haftar still has not signed the documents so far, until we have left. It has all been spoken and I reminded them with a proverb that “spoken words fly away, written words remain”. We told them documents should be signed to certify the agreement. Despite that, they still have not put their signatures. Everything has been discussed and determined in front of all the participants. I hope that it will deliver a good result.”
US Vice President came here, and you had a long discussion. Then you went to Russia and had a long discussion there. There were also serious negotiations at the White House, and the outcome has been positive. This took shorter than other meetings and negotiations with multiple parties. Therefore, do you think there is a possibility that it could fail?
We have done our part in this process. We had a chance to discuss the point that we have reached as of yet and told them what needs to be told. We will see, however, the extent to which they will comply with it along the way. In the event that they fail to comply, we will do what needs to be done. For now, they cannot ask us “Why did you do this or that?” The most they can ask is “Will you send military troops here?” And we have given them the following answer: “We are not sending military troops at the moment. We have only sent a group of trainers. They have provided training there. Wagner, on the other hand, has 2,500 security forces there. Why are not you discussing that?” When we say this, they have no answer to give us. And it is not just Wagner. There are around 5,000 soldiers from Sudan, for instance. There are also soldiers from Chad and Niger. There are military troops like this in Egypt as well. Apart from these, however, there is another issue that should be discussed. Regarding the defense systems, air forces and all, particularly Russians and the Abu Dhabi administration have provided support. We told them that we expect them to act with sensitivity on these matters. They could not say “No” and they accepted this, including Merkel.
You have provided us with a summary of the day. If, however, a ceasefire has been established, what does Turkey expect for the aftermath? We see Haftar leaving the table and fleeing. If the ceasefire fails, could this lead to a revision in Turkey’s policy? Referring to European leaders in the article you penned for the Western media, you said: “they should talk a little less and focus on taking concrete steps”. Have we seen a light in that direction today?
If the commitments made to us were fulfilled, we would not force Sarraj to do anything, including the ceasefire issue, but we consider Sarraj as follows. Sarraj is a leader accepted by the United Nations Security Council. Haftar does not have such quality. In particular, Merkel has not made any other statements against that. As this is the case, the head of a legitimate government has invited us there, and the other one is illegitimate. Are the ones who accept the invitation of an illegitimate person or the ones who accept the invitation of a legitimate government important to us? Since we carry out what is legitimate, the steps that need to be taken can be easily taken whenever possible and our path is clear on this matter. Besides, we took another important step here. What's that? Turkish Grand National Assembly has made the necessary legal arrangements about that, and thus it has been passed. I ask Mr. Putin about that, and they have no such thing. We have carried out the legal process of that in the most ideal manner and taken our steps accordingly. As a result, we will see the results of these steps in Libya. The peace of the Libyan people is very important to us.
For example, both Salame and Pompeo exactly presented our opinion on oil ports. They brought up the issue of oil ports as well. This is evidence of how important the place where we stand is. What’s more, the fact that Salame advocates this makes our work much easier, because I talked about oil ports in my statement and now the most important problem there is the oil ports. In other words, Haftar is trying to build a barrier, a dam there. Firstly, they destroy everywhere with regard to immigration within Libya. For example, it is even on Salame’s agenda. They also brought up this issue. Now we have to explain all of them to the entire world public and insist on them.
You said that "Turkey is key to peace." It turned into a campaign on social media, namely, "Turkey for Peace…" In fact, Turkey assumes this role in international crises. This is a very important task. Turkey is becoming more important at the table regarding international crises. These diplomacy moves actually show the determining role of our country. I think it is important when criticisms are made such as "Turkey has been isolated in its foreign policy." Will your diplomacy moves on such global problems continue?
If currently, we are a strong state, there are many expectations from us as a strong state. It is not possible to stand idle with hands tied in the face of such expectations, but we should always implement them within the framework of international law. Considering such things, we cannot keep away from such demands. We talk about Wagner. There are people from Sudan. And these people are rich. Where is the source of this money? Abu Dhabi. Money is plentiful, but when it comes to action, they say, "I am not in this.” We also see these facts. Therefore, if there is an oppressed person, if there is a victim, we will be working hard to help them here.
For example, we did not only deal with Libya today, we also touched upon Idlib. I dealt with the issue of Idlib both in my statement about Libya and also during my conversation with Mr. Putin in a comprehensive manner. We told him about the situation. He said, “Our related friends from the foreign affairs, defense and also intelligence should maintain these relations in a quick manner.” They now consider the persons whom they say are “hurting them” and whom we regard “moderate opponents” as terrorists. I said to him, “You call them terrorists, but Assad is implementing state terror. The man killed hundreds of thousands of people and he is bombarding Idlib heavily right now.” Of course, he cannot accept it.
The other day on TV, I saw 6 children along with their mothers, whose father was killed 2 months ago. The mother and her kids aged 2, 4 and 5 were standing in the rain and mud and living in a tent. We are now launching a new campaign. They approached us approximately 30 kilometers. Now we say that let's make a hut of 20-25 square meters from briquettes and cover them with tarpaulins so that at least their living conditions become a little more comfortable. We said let's settle them here. Now we will quickly mobilize the Turkish Red Crescent and AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) regarding the issue and we will start doing them in that region. We will do these and construct the infrastructure accordingly as much as we can and hopefully settle them there. I am saying this one more time; Turkey is key to peace.
The Idlib issue is very important. I do not know if there is any other country other than Turkey which has exerted as much effort in order to bring peace to Libya and Syria. But we look at Idlib and see that the world stands as an onlooker in the face of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib. Would there be some sourness or disappointment with Russia in this process? Let me ask this first. Would it damage our agreement with Russia regarding Idlib? Moreover, would Hakan Fidan's contact with his Syrian counterpart spread across other areas?
The current ties that connect us with Russia are somewhat different. We may call these “strategic” and these strategic ties connect us a little differently, not in a classic sense. Now, these strategic ties carry the relations between us to a much stronger level. I do not believe in the possibility that we will experience any problems here.
More importantly, on the intelligence issue, Mr. Hakan’s relationship with both the Russian, Syrian and the Iranian side and the interlocutors there have continued successfully until now. Now a new intelligence officer has taken office in Iran. I do not think Mr. Hakan has met him yet, but he would soon improve his relations with him as well. Thus, Mr. Hakan successfully continues this process regarding the relations with the neighbouring countries. Even the relations with distant countries, such as America, continue as well. After all it is known that the intelligence of a country is its most important cornerstone. The more successful this process continues, the stronger the country moves forward.
I will ask about foreign policy in two contexts. Foreign sources have also given credit for the latest developments. Recognitions in the Forbes magazine which paves the way for Turkish diplomacy and peace, the perspectives that appreciate the success of Turkey... Recently we have seen that Italy, in particular, has declared that Eastmed, the natural gas project of Greece, will not be an option... How are all these met domestically?
First of all, Italy’s expectations regarding natural gas are very important in terms of showing that our TurkStream project is a strategic investment. This strategic investment connects us very differently. This agreement is currently with Libya, and we are going to work with Libya, of course, but we can also add third, fourth countries as partners. We may have a fifth country as a partner here. In this regard, we actually have a consensus with Sarraj. When we add them, of course, it will develop very differently. Besides Barbaros and Yavuz, currently, we are working on getting a third drilling vessel. We also have two seismic exploration vessels.
At the moment, we have an offer from Somalia, for example. They say, “We have oil in our seas. You are doing this work in Libya, but you can do it here as well.” These are also very important for us. Therefore, we will take steps there along with our actions here. This has provided something for us. We never used to pay money. We would make an agreement with ExxonMobile, they would come and carry out exploration in the Black Sea for 1 or 2 months. Exploration costs are 200 million dollars… They couldn’t find anything… They would leave after not finding anything. We would have an agreement so that we would not pay a dime. This was how we did it, but we did not have a drill, or a seismic exploration vessel then. They would come to us with a 50/50 offer because there was oil in the Black Sea... If we were to find the oil they would get 50 percent and give 50 percent to us, but they could not find it. If only they had found it, we would have started this process from there, but what happened, now we have become a host country. We now have two drill vessels and two seismic exploration vessels. All the countries in the world are constantly asking to rent these vessels from us.
Italy has recently held meetings with us. Within the framework of our agreement with Libya, we will be able to conduct drilling works. However, all of the products that come from the area around Cyprus belong to the north and south. They all have the opportunity to share this right equally. But so far Southern Cyprus has not complied with this. They never agreed to sit down and discuss this together with the north. Such an opportunity has arisen now that our coast sees the Libyan coast and this is what drives Greece crazy… We also have the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean. This provides us with another opportunity. They talk about the continental shelf around the Crete island. There is no such thing as a continental shelf around the islands. This is only about territorial waters. Unfortunately, some of our people string them along as well.
We finalized this during the Gaddafi period. Of course, Gaddafi could not live long enough to seal it. We have discussed this with Gaddafi, we were going to sign an agreement on broader maritime exploration between Turkey and Libya, but he could not live long enough to finalize it. If we were able to put down these signatures at that time, we would not be having these disputes now. We have now taken this step, one way or another, with Sarraj even though it is later than planned.
Why did Mitsotakis invite Haftar to Greece? He just invited him to provoke us. " One leader whom I will not give his name said tonight: “Mitsotakis wants to make up with you again". “What sort of thing is this? He wants to make peace with me, on the other hand, he is going to invite Haftar to Greece. This is nonsense.” I said. "Tell him, first of all, that this is wrong and he should correct it, it would then be easy for us to meet," I added. Unfortunately, we are having such problems.
Can we call those happening in Moscow and Berlin "mediation"? Are you mediating between Haftar and the legitimate Libyan government?
I have already told Mr. Putin that we cannot accept to be here as a mediator. Mr. Putin said: “I will handle the Haftar side. If you handle Sarraj, let's get this work resolved.” This is an approach between Putin and me. Otherwise, at this point, I would never sit at a table with a terrorist in my understanding of politics, nor would I allow anyone else to do so. For example, Mr. Trump, unfortunately, went as far as to tell me to "accept this" about YPG and terrorist Abdi Şahin. I said: "Mr. President, I will never sit around the same table with a terrorist." I added: “We are going to say that we will fight against terrorism, we will suffer serious losses in the fight against international terrorism, and then we will accept that terrorist. I would never do that.” Putin does the same thing. Of course, this is something related to the view of a person, a politician or a character of his own.
You said: "We will go further in Syria." Should we think about it in Idlib or regarding all of our borders?
Idlib is currently the first level. You know, we have observation posts in Idlib. There have been some attacks at the observation posts from Aleppo recently. The necessary responses are also given as required. Moreover, we know that Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn are under our control. It is not possible for us to quit there. We want to make the place between this Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad such a location that if no support is extended from the world to us, we will receive the necessary assistance and will activate our own plans and projects there. If we can do this, it would become a much different place. These places would then become the Cities of Peace.
Macron wants to send warships to the Eastern Mediterranean and talks smack against Turkey. Even in the photo shoot, he reveals his discomfort with his attitude. How do you evaluate this attitude in general? Is France a single voice? Is there a split in it according to you?
I think we don't have to take France on us in this regard and give France a specific place. In other words, both the Haftar side and the Sarraj side do not have a very attitude towards France at the moment. If this was the case, this agreement would be made with France. As of now, France has an interest in the region, especially in the North African countries, but we will have the opportunity to see over time what it means for France to send this aircraft carrier to the region. We did not have the opportunity to have a conversation with him tonight. I can say that he did not say anything very serious about Libya in the domestic negotiations. Therefore, regarding its future steps, the only important advantage for the process ahead is that it is a member of the UN Security Council. And he may be using the advantages that this membership gives him. This is the most important aspect. I said something this evening: "This text will go to the UN Security Council, and if the Council approves the text, it will be implemented, but if they do not, the text will not be implemented." This is the situation. Therefore, France has an important position here. During the bilateral talks, we have stood up against the approach that the EU should be involved in this process as a coordinator; by saying: “It is not right for the EU to be involved in the process as a coordinator when the UN is present.”