ISTANBUL -- Turkey will remain active in foreign affairs, particularly in its own region, under its new president, says Ibrahim Kalin, senior foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan became the country's first directly elected president Sunday.
Kalin, formerly the director of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, spoke with The Nikkei recently about what this milestone might mean for Turkey's foreign policy at a time of rising instability in the Middle East.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: What has been the Erdogan government's approach to foreign policy in the last 11 years?
A: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government expanded its vision to all different areas of the world, opening up to Africa and Latin America in addition to traditional Western allies like the United States. We do not see a contradiction between the two and it's not a zero-sum game nor mutually exclusive.
The Foreign Ministry has opened 36 embassies on the African continent, with the pace accelerating significantly in the last 4-5 years. We have also increased political and economic relations with Asia, and developed very good relations with Asean countries. Bilateral relations are excellent with Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia and with other parts of the world. We have shown that a 360-degree perspective in foreign policy is doable and that it benefits our national interests.
Q: How did the Arab Spring affect Turkey?
A: When the Arab Spring started, we supported the legitimate demands of Arab people for democratic change, economic equality, freedom and dignity. In Egypt, we supported the 2011 "revolution," however the initial Egyptian revolution was reversed with the coup d'etat of 2013 and of course we are now concerned about the polarization in Egypt. We very much hope that Egyptians will show great wisdom in terms of deciding their own future and that all Egyptians will be included in the political process with no one excluded.
Q: Turkey doesn't currently have ambassadors in Egypt, Syria or Israel. Is Turkey becoming isolated?
A: I do not agree that Turkey is isolated in the Middle East. We maintain very good relations with all our neighbors in the region and have ambassadors in almost 150 countries in the world. The region is going through a difficult period and there is the birth pain of a different region. It is a new era and it is a big struggle. I think we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of people in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other places who were victims of violence, terrorism, a lack of state institutions, corruption etc.
Since the beginning of the financial crisis, Turkey has been an island of stability in the region. You have all these economic problems in Europe and political problems in the Middle East and Africa, problems in the Caucasus like the Russia-Ukraine crisis etc. During this time Turkey has remained very stable and economically strong and maintained its relevance in the region and people tend to lose sight of this.
Q: What role will the new president have in foreign policy?
A: President Gul is a good president and I am sure Prime Minister Erdogan will also be a good president. The main principles of our foreign policy will remain. We will continue to expand our foreign policy initiatives in different parts of the world and continue to engage and help the least developed countries, remain active on the international scene, especially in regional issues. Hence, all basic principles that have shaped our foreign policy will remain the same. Of course, depending on developments on the ground, certain adjustments will be made and it is only natural for any country to do so due to new realities on the ground as long as you maintain your principles and a certain degree of consistency.
Q: How will Turkey try to shape foreign affairs in the next decade?
A: As an example, what happens in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has repercussions for everywhere, from the United States to Europe and Turkey. National interests cannot be defined in a narrow manner and you need to broaden national interests and try to create a win-win situation for all countries. You should not antagonize your neighbors and align interests. This might sound idealistic but this is the policy line we will try to establish in the next decade.
Q: What do you make of the deepening rifts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region?
A: The problem is rather politically motivated. Both sects have been living together side by side peacefully for centuries and they can certainly recover that tradition again. If community, religious and political leaders can play a constructive role I do not see a reason why Muslims of Shiite and Sunni sects cannot live together. There are economic and political grievances and when you put them together they create a lot of tension.
Q: How do you interpret America's disengagement from the Middle East?
A: All countries can contribute to regional stability and peace through different means. It does not have to be through a military presence. It can be through economic cooperation, using soft power elements such as investments, science, technology, social empowerment and many other ways rich and powerful countries can help different parts of the world. I do not think that the U.S. military's "rebalancing" will bring instability to the region.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Sinan Tavsan