Cablegate: Akp Vice Chair Discusses Turkish Foreign Policy

DE RUEHIT #0558/01 3090855
P 040855Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/27/2018

Classified By: Consul Sharon A. Wiener for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (SBU) Summary. In a recent discussion with diplomats and
media representatives, Egemen Bagis, who is Turkish ruling AK
Party (AKP) Vice Chairman in charge of Foreign Affairs, MP
for Istanbul, and a confidant to Prime Minister Erdogan,
praised the AKP's redirection of Turkey's foreign policies,
offered insights into the ongoing Kurdish problem, and
(predictably) predicted enhanced success for the AKP in next
Spring's municipal elections. End summary.


2. (U) On October 25, the Journalists and Writers Foundation
(of which controversial Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen is
"honorary president") sponsored a discussion titled "The
Caucasus, Central Asia and Turkish Foreign Policy." The
speaker was Egemen Bagis, who is AKP Vice Chairman in Charge
of Foreign Affairs, MP for Istanbul, and confidant to Prime
Minister Erdogan. Approximately ten persons attended, mostly
foreign diplomats and representatives of international media
organizations. The main points made by Bagis in a
discussion that strayed far beyond the nominal subject of the
talk are set forth below.

--------------------------------------------- -
The Success of the AKP's Policy of Strategic Depth
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (U) Bagis claimed the AKP's policy of "strategic depth"
was inspired by President Clinton's speech to Parliament in
1999, in which Clinton said the choices to be made by Turkey
in the near future would influence events for 100 years.
Bagis further claimed Turkey's foreign policy is the natural
outcome of its ongoing democratization process: As Turkey
becomes more democratic, its government no longer needs to
portray its neighbors as enemies and now needs them as
friends and trading partners. He said Turkey's outreach to
the East would not compromise its relations with the West,
and Turkey's added value in the world of diplomacy was its
"multi-geographnicity" ) since Turkey is a "bridge" between
East and West, it is natural Turkish diplomacy emphasizes
that aspect of the country.

4. (SBU) Bagis summarized the AKP's foreign policy successes
with its neighbors as follows:

- Greece: According to Bagis, prior to the AKP coming
to power, Greece and Turkey were "on the brink of war."
(NOTE: A neat historical sleight-of-hand, but untrue: Greece
FM Papandreou and Turkish FM Cen were well-embarked on their
"seismic diplomacy" in 2000; the AKP came to power in 2002.
END NOTE.) Since that time, Turkey has signed two important
agreements with Greece, has substantially increased Greek
FDI, has built a pipeline through Greece and has expanded air
corridors. However, to Bagis the most significant symbol of
the improved relations between the two countries is the fact
that Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis attended the wedding of
Erdogan's daughter. Bagis characterized Cyprus as the main
remaining problem and said what is now needed is more
dialogue and trust, which he is confident will eventually
come about.

- Russia: Prior to the AKP coming to power, no leader
of Russia had ever visited Turkey. Since that time, Putin
has visited twice, and trade between the two countries now
exceeds USD 15 billion.

- Syria: Prior to the AKP coming to power, Turkey had
to stage 300,000 troops on the Syrian border and threaten war
to get Syria to expel Ocalan. Since that time, Syria has
been cooperating with Turkey against PKK terrorism.

- Iraq: Prior to the AKP coming to power, Turkey had
almost no trade with Iraq. Since that time, it is doing USD
2 billion in trade. Bagis also claimed Turkey has suffered
the second highest number of casualties in Iraq (all
civilian). Bagis said Turkey is determined to "put out the
fire" in Iraq and establish a regular relationship with that

- Bulgaria: Bagis noted there are now four ethnic Turks
in the Bulgarian Parliament, and "hundreds" of buses take
people from Turkey to vote in Bulgarian elections.

- Armenia: Bagis said that after the AKP came to power
it made a number of approaches to Armenia -- including
allowing flights from Yerevan to Istanbul, permitting the
renovation of an Armenian church in Akdamar, and suggesting
the establishment of a committee of experts to look into the
events of 1915. These initiatives were met, said Bagis, with
silence for two years, followed by a provocation shortly
after Armenian elections (COMMENT: held in February 2008),
when a Turkish flag was burned (COMMENT: in Yerevan, April
2008). Nonetheless, Gul "courageously" accepted the
invitation of Armenian president Sargsyan to attend a soccer
match. Bagis is hopeful further acts of rapprochement will

- Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform: Bagis
said all parties involved have responded "positively" and
while the Platform would begin as a talking shop, how it
transforms itself would depend on the desires of the member

EU Accession

5. (SBU) Bagis predicted Turkey will complete negotiations,
but it will take more than four years to do so. Afterwards,
Turkey and Europe will both be "very different." There were
three possible outcomes of the negotiations: First, the
Bulgarian/Romanian model, in which Turkey joins despite
"shortcomings"; second, the British model, in which Turkey
joins only after being vetoed several times (as the UK had
been, by France); and third, the Norwegian model, in which
Turkey decides in favor of a "special relationship" rather
than full membership. Bagis called the accession reforms an
"exercise and diet program," in which the process is more
important than the end product. He also noted Turkey is
"unique" among EU aspirants, in that it is already a full
member of the Customs Union, and it is also a member of the
Organization of the Islamic Conference.

6. (SBU) Bagis was asked how the AKP could achieve all of
the reforms sought, when certain reforms (e.g., repeal of the
infamous section 301 which criminalizes speech considered
"insulting" to the Turkish state and related Turkish icons)
are considered red-lines by powerful groups within the
country (such as the military and the Constitutional Court).
Bagis said he expects opposition talk to be more extreme than
opposition action, and the AKP would proceed "at a measured
pace." Turkey needs a new constitution; the AKP will work
with the other parties in parliament to achieve consensus;
and after the March 29 local elections this will become an
important issue. (COMMENT: Bagis is out of step with his AKP
colleagues in Parliament, who tell us that a new constitution
appears well out of reach any time soon. END COMMENT.)

Cyprus and the UN

7. (C) Bagis characterized Turkey's election to the Security
Council as ironic, in that 30 years ago Turkey had been
accused by the Security Council of "invading" Cyprus.
Turkey's admission to the Security Council was the world's
way of "apologizing" to Turkey for the Greek Cypriots not
accepting the Annan Plan. (COMMENT: Bagis seems to overlook
Ankara's five-year estimated USD 50 million campaign to woo
African and Asian and Latin American states, many of whom
might have difficulty finding Cyprus on a map. END COMMENT.)
Bagis noted when Turkey gave SG Annan the power to "fill in
the blanks" of the settlement plan, this was the first time
it had ever trusted a third party to be a fair broker. He
characterized that decision as "almost as important" as the
decision to join NATO.

8. (SBU) Bagis is "hopeful" a solution will be found for the
Cyprus problem, and says the two sides' leaders are both
acting like "statesmen." He said Turkey will support any
solution within the framework of the Annan plan that is based
on the political equality of the two communities. He also
noted, however, both "carrots and sticks" will be needed to
bring the two sides to agreement.

The International Financial Crisis

9. (C) Bagis said as a result of lessons learned from the
2001 financial crisis, Turkish banks have largely escaped the
subprime crisis. However, since 70 percent of Turkish
exports are to the EU, Turkey's economy will necessarily be
affected by the current global crisis. The Turkish business
sector is very adaptable and quick on its feet, and is
looking to expand into other markets. As examples, Bagis
listed Libya and the Gulf States as places where Turkish
companies are looking to do more business. He pointed to the
recent tender on construction of a nuclear plant, in which
the only bidder was a Russian-Turkish joint venture, as an
example of a shift in markets.


10. (SBU) Bagis stated Turkey believes everyone has the
right to produce nuclear energy, but no one has the right to
possess nuclear weapons. As evidence of Turkey's intense
interest in this issue, he noted if Iran obtains nuclear
weapons they will be more likely to reach Ankara or Tel Aviv
than D.C. Iranians invented the game of chess and the
concept of bargaining, and Turkey's main contribution to
resolving this issue will be to create more opportunities for

11. (U) Bagis described the Nabucco gas pipeline proposal as
"not just a dream" but as a "requirement" that will
eventually come about, assuming that Iran makes peace with
the Western world.

The Kurdish Issue

12. (C) Bagis said Turkey respects the Iraqi Constitution
and its provisions concerning regional governments. However,
he described the PKK as a "bleeding wound" that has to be
treated immediately. He said the November 5, 2007
declaration by President Bush was a "turning point," and
changed the attitude both of the Turkish public and of its
government institutions. He said the Iraqi central and
regional governments were now both much more cooperative,
which made Turkey much more at ease in initiating
relationships with Iraqi players. The PKK problem required
both economic and cultural solutions as well as military
solutions. He noted when Turkish General Staff Chair Basbug
went to the southeast he met with some NGOs that support the
PKK, and called this a "really big shift." He thinks the AKP
has the right approach to solving the Kurdish problem,
noting, for instance, 60 percent of all classrooms in the
southeast were built in the last six years. Bagis pointed to
the fact that between 2002 and 2007 the AKP increased its
share of the total vote in the Southeast from 25 percent to
60 percent. (COMMENT: Few political observers, even within
the AKP, believe their support in the southeast is close to
this level now. END COMMENT.)

13. (C) Bagis said DTP is working very hard to ensure the
Constitutional Court closes it down, in order to get sympathy
in the upcoming local elections. He said DTP members do not
need the party to win elections; "the person running is what
counts." Bagis attributed the recent increase in PKK violence
to the upcoming local elections, stating DTP is worried it
will lose support in the upcoming elections. (Comment:
Bagis' claim that DTP and PKK are working together was echoed
by Prime Minister Erdogan, who was quoted in the October 27
edition of Sabah newspaper, as saying, "The terror
organization (PKK) and the affiliated political party (DTP) .
. . manipulate terror to win public support.")

Local Elections

14. (U) When asked about upcoming municipal elections, Bagis
said he did not want to give a numeric prediction, but
anticipated the AKP would increase the number of mayorships
it held, while maintaining the same level of overall support.
Bagis emphasized the AKP took local elections very
seriously, saying the "foundation of the AKP is with the
local governments."

15. (C) COMMENT: The silver-tongued Bagis is in every
Western diplomat's Rolodex, and is a favorite of most
European Ambassadors. He is unfailingly accessible and, as a
former State Department interpreter, has flawless English.
He does not, however, always have a strong grip on Turkish
foreign policy and we have learned to take his blithe
pronouncements with a sizeable grain of salt. He does not
seem to be in Erdogan's inner circle on policy, but instead
serves as a public relations advocate for the AKP: presenting
a face of the party that they have decided foreigners would
find pleasant and palatable. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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