13 Nov 2017 – 2:39

Dr. Khalid Al-Shafi, Editor-in-Chief, The Peninsula

His Excellency the Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim, expressed his country’s sorrow over the outbreak of the current crisis among the Gulf countries, stressing that there is no other way to resolve this crisis rather than diplomatic means, but sitting for dialogue to resolve the crisis requires full lifting of the blockade imposed on the State of Qatar. The blockade is inappropriate measure for settling political differences.

He stressed that his country is linked to the State of Qatar with friendly and cooperative relations, which resulted in the signing of 30 agreements, half of which are related to economic cooperation, while the remaining ones cover various fields of political, cultural, scientific, security and military cooperation. He made it clear during the interview that the Turkish base in Qatar is not directed against anyone and its presence there contributes to the security and stability of the Gulf region.

qatar airways

Binali Yildirim is the 27th Turkish Prime Minister. He served before his election as leader of Justice and Development Party in various positions and executed a number of giant development projects specially when serving as the Minister of Transport, Marine and Communication. As well, he served as Senior Advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and member of the parliament.

Despite his continuous engagements, he devoted part of his time to talk to Qatari dailies for second time with his interview with Dr. Khalid Mubarak Al-Shafi, Editor in-Chief of The Peninsula Newspaper.

The interview covered many areas, starting with the bilateral relations of Qatar and Turkey; regional and international issues; Turkey’s relations with Russia, the European Union, the United States; the Syrian crisis and bilateral relations with Iraq.

His reception to us during the interview reflected the depth of the relationship between the brotherly countries of Turkey and Qatar and the friendly feelings of the Prime Minister to Qatar as leadership and people. So welcome to the full interview.

On Qatar-Turkey brotherly relations and on preparations taking place for holding the third meeting of the Supreme Strategic Committee at the level of the leadership of the two countries, the Prime Minister said the Supreme Strategic Committee which was established between Turkey and Qatar and held under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani serves as an important mechanism to improve the bilateral relations in every area.

Through these meetings, the question on the best means to strengthen our relations in different areas is addressed on both technical and political level. This will result in a qualitatively improved cooperation between two countries. Hence, the bilateral cooperation projects which have been initiated in a variety of areas is deepened over time in such a way that it can include new areas.

When asked whether he was seeing any obstacles or difficulties preventing further cooperation between the two countries, he said: “The relations between Qatar and our country have reached an excellent level thanks to the recent connection between our people and also the common political will which is put forward by our leaders. There is no obstacle or challenge against the deepening of our cooperation, and we have a precise determination and will necessary to overcome the future problems.”

On bilateral investments and increase in bilateral trade in future, the Prime Minister said: “First of all, I would like to express our appreciation for the steps taken for the improvement of the economic and commercial relations between two countries. Between 2011 and 2016, Qatar investments into our country were at a level of $1.29bn. We believe that the interest of Qatari investors into our country will continue to increase. The main reasons for this can be summarised as the excellent political relations between two countries and the positive differentiation of the Turkish economy of itself through many parameters on global and regional level in the last 15 years.”

As a reminder, it can be noted that Turkey is the 13th biggest economy of the world and the 5th biggest economy of Europe in terms of the purchasing power parity. It has a strong public finance and banking system. During the first two quarters of this year, it has a growth rate of 5% and 5.1%, respectively, and in the third quarter the growth rate will hopefully reach double digits. Within the next 3 years, an annual growth rate of 5.5 % is expected. Another feature of Turkey which makes it unique in terms of foreign investments is that it is the door opening to Europe, Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Thanks to a four-hour flight from Istanbul, it will be possible to reach an extensive market with a population of 1.5 billion people which constitutes one forth of the world economy. We call our Qatari brothers to benefit from the economic opportunities offered by Turkey.

To a question about the implementation of signed bilateral agreements, he said: “Recently, there has been a remarkable increase in the bilateral agreements signed thanks to our strengthened cooperation. However, implementation of the agreements is as important as their signing. We are making huge efforts to complete as soon as possible the legal processes necessary for the signed agreements to be immediately put into practice. I believe this has led us to have successful results.”

From the economic perspective, it can be seen that since its foundation, the Committee Meetings of Turkey-Qatar High Strategic Committee has undertaken an important duty as a catalyser in improving our economic relations. Within this framework, 15 of 30 signed agreements have regulated our economic relations.

Areas such as banking, small and medium-sized enterprises, prevention of double taxation, health, information and communication technologies, customs and standardisation which can serve to move forward our economic and commercial relations are included. We, as statesmen, are working fast to complete the legal infrastructure in order for our business circles to improve our economic and commercial relations. Taking into consideration the opportunities and facilities offered by the economies of Turkey and Qatar, it seems obvious that we will have a much deeper network of economic and commercial relations in midterm.

To another important question regarding Turkish base in Qatar and future military cooperation between two countries, the Prime Minister said: “Our political will to improve our relations in every area inherently includes relations in military, defence industry and security areas as well. Within this framework, the desire of both parties is to improve our cooperation in these areas in the future. Today, when we struggle against serious security threats in our region and around the world, we attribute a special importance to this issue.”

“The activities we have been carrying out to deploy the Turkish Armed Forces in Qatar are actually a result of a period which has continued since 2014. Therefore, it won’t be right to associate this with the latest crisis faced in Gulf Region. The establishment of said military base has resulted from a joint decision given by two countries on the basis of their power of ruling. Moreover, Turkey is not the only country who has a military base in the region. Likewise, several countries are present in Qatar and in other Gulf countries on military level. The military base we are currently establishing in Qatar is not targeting any country. On the contrary, it will contribute to the security and stability of the whole Gulf Region.”

On scientific and cultural cooperation between the two countries, he said: “We would like to develop our cultural, educational and scientific relations with Qatar in parallel with the process of our political and economic relations which is satisfactory.”

“Within this framework, I am pleased that bilateral agreements in cultural and scientific areas were signed thanks to the First and Second Meetings of ‘Turkey-Qatar High Strategic Committee’ held under the co-leadership of our Honourable President and Emir of Qatar H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and thus, the legal infrastructure is strengthened.”

“I believe that our relations will improve and diversify as a result of the increase of interaction between not only our institutions but also our people through the steps taken to implement the agreements signed in scientific area between TUBITAK in our country and its Qatar equivalent, Qatar Foundation in the scientific area and between concerning ministries in the cultural area.”

On blockade of Qatar, he said: “Turkey felt sorry for the breaking out of this crisis between the Gulf countries and contributed immediately the provisions needed urgently because of the economic blockade being faced by the people of Qatar. Since the beginning of the mentioned crisis, we stated on every occasion that we do not find appropriate the sanctions adversely affecting the lives of people of Qatar. We quoted to our addressees in diplomatic efforts which we carried out in the leadership of our President that the primary step for the solution of the crisis is to lift these sanctions.

We also support the valuable mediatory efforts of Kuwait within the framework of reaching an amicable settlement. We, in the capacity of term president of OIC, shared our recommendations with the parties in order to immediately resolve this crisis breaking out among the Muslim countries. We wish this issue will be immediately and amicably solved. In this regard, we continue to exert effort and offer suggestions.”

Commenting on recent speech of the Emir of the State of Kuwait H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah in which he called for calm and maintain the unity of the “Gulf House”, the Prime Minister of Turkey said: “Since the beginning of the crisis, we stated during the communications we made on every occasion that the issue should be solved via dialogue and diplomacy. We think that no other means than dialogue will be useful for any issue. This may only cause the crisis encountered in the Gulf to get deepened. We, as Turkey, will continue to underline that the issue should be resolved within the fundamental principles of the international law by taking joint action with the international community. We hope that this dispute among the brother countries will be settled amicably by means of dialogue”.

When asked that the countries imposing siege on Qatar have refused to sit on the table to resolve the crisis and instead of dialogue, these countries are pushing for further escalation, so how does Turkey see this crisis in light of the political and security complications of the region, he said that as Turkey, “Since the very beginning we have welcomed the positive response of Qatar to the diplomatic efforts in order to solve the issue via dialogue. Qatar did not leave the efforts paid both by Kuwait and the US unreturned and supported their will to resolve the issues via diplomatic means with her actions. It is pleasing to see that the efforts of Qatar in this regard continue. Eventually, as I mentioned previously, the amicable resolution of the issue is essential.”

To a question about possible change in regional alliances due to Gulf crisis, the Prime Minister said: “It is naturally observed by everybody that the current crisis has an adverse effect on the consistency among the Gulf countries. However, the Gulf countries are a family and as is the case in all families, some issues may appear also in the Gulf family. We think that sooner or later these issues will be overcome. We hope that the consistency in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is ensured by observing the sensitivities both of the members of ICO and brother countries cooperating with GCC like Turkey.

On Turkey-Russia relations, the premier said: “We have close dialogue and positive agenda in our relations with Russia. Energy, tourism, construction sectors are on the rails. There are only some small difficulties in economy and visa exemption and we are trying to overcome these difficulties via negotiation.

Our leaders have a very close dialogue. On September 28, we hosted the President of the Russian Federation Putin in Ankara. This visit has been the fifth face-to-face meeting between Putin and our President in this year. In this visit, the situation in Syria and Iraq was addressed in detail as well as the bilateral issues like economy and energy. Our cooperation in these areas continues.”

“In foreign policy, on some topics we agree with Russia and in some others we do not. Our view is to take the issues we don’t agree into parentheses and cooperate on the issues that we agree. Thus, we clearly see the benefits and concrete outputs of this cooperation both in bilateral sense and in the efforts to overcome the crisis in Syria. We would like to continue in this route.”

To a question on how can Turkey reconcile its membership in Nato, the European Union and with the US on the one hand and the existing cooperation with Russia on the other, he said Turkey has been a part of Europe for centuries. Also, Turkey is a member of Europe-Atlantic and Europe institutions founded following the Second World War.

“Actually, we are among the founders of many of these institutions. Progression in the EU membership process is in the hands of the EU. The mentioned allegiances are still valid. This reality does not create any obstacle to pursue active policies in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Pacific as well as with our neighbours and close geographies. Axis shift discussions are not meaningful to us. All our actions and partnerships are complementary.”

“Russia is an important country of the region. Our relations with Russia including the areas of tourism, energy and student exchange is multidimensional and comprehensive. Naturally, these relations are not and cannot be an alternative to our Nato membership and our relations with Nato allies or our EU membership process. Both our efforts with Russia for the resolution of the crisis in our region and our bilateral relations are focused on increasing peace and prosperity. Thanks to these efforts, for example ceasefire in Syria was achieved and de-conflict zones were established there. Both our partners from the EU and our Nato allies pay importance to the efforts and opinions of our country. Naturally, we continue and will continue to most clearly express our opinions on the issues that we could not agree.”

On future of the Turkish-European dialogue for Turkey’s full membership in the Union, he said that the foundation of Turkey-EU relations is the accession process. This has not changed despite the ups and downs.
“The main reasons for our nation’s loss of confidence are that EU’s double-standard approach to Turkey as well as the fact that the chapters were not opened during our accession process due to the EU’s political blockades and lack of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Moreover, it is very alarming for us that the anti-Islam and xenophobic tendencies are getting stronger in Europe, votes of populist and extreme rightist parties are increasing in the national elections. This situation unfortunately reinforces the negative feelings in some EU member states against Turkey, which is a candidate country for the EU and where the Muslims constitutes most of the population.

However, as the Mr. President expressed, the EU should know this that the remedy of the EU’s problems is Turkey, Turkey’s full membership.

In addition to the accession process, the update of the Customs Union, visa liberalisation dialogue for the Turkish citizens and Financial Assistance for the Refugees which is provided to extend aid to the Syrians are the other important subjects in our agenda with the EU. Positive developments in these areas play important role in overcoming confidence crisis.