ANKARA (Hurriyet)—Turkish President Abdullah Gul has become the latest top official to emphasize that Turkey is not changing its foreign policy direction from West to East, when he said Wednesday that such arguments stem from ignorance.
The debate began with a column by Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who is also a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. It was followed by several commentaries published by Western media questioning the course Turkey has recently taken. Later, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country has not changed its orientation from West to East.
“It is true that we go beyond the ordinary, but this does not mean that the direction or the axis have changed,” Erdoğan told his fellow ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, members in Parliament this week.
Gul echoed the prime minister by denying a change in direction contrary to what’s being said or written, mostly in the Western media.
“Some are questioning where Turkey is heading to, which suggests Turkey is confused and drifting with the waves in the middle of the sea. This is not the case. Turkey knows what it has been doing,” said the president in a foreign policy briefing at the new premises of the International Strategic Research Organization, an Ankara-based think tank.
“Turkey is going in every direction, from north to south and from east to west,” he said.
The president said some of what has been written about Turkey’s direction had good intent and showed the truth to those who do not understand Turkey’s value. He said, however, some also stemmed from jealousy and some from lack of knowledge and ignorance.
“What’s important is in which direction Turkey’s values [including democracy, rule of law] are developing. There are of course shortcomings. The pace of the trend could be discussed but debating the direction is a result of ignorance,” said Gül.
While explaining Turkey’s foreign policy, the president said it was not based on interests but on expressing what the country believes is correct.
He emphasized that Turkey could criticize even its allies with the colloquial saying “Friends talk tough,” implicitly referring to Israel. The government launched criticism at its regional ally Israel over the Gaza war, with the prime minister accusing the Israeli president at a world forum of knowing how to kill civilians. The tension escalated when Turkey excluded Israel from an international military exercise for political reasons and allowed a TV series to air that was criticized by Israel for disseminating anti-Semitic feelings.
Gul said Turkey was acting as a friend who talks tough “but while doing this we place importance on not harming bilateral relations.”
The president has adopted a rather moderate approach toward Israel, which was evident when Israeli President Shimon Peres preferred to contact him on Turkey’s Republic Day on Oct. 29. In a message of congratulations, the Israeli leader invited Gul to make his delayed trip to Israel, press reports revealed.
In his address, Gul said Turkey wanted to maintain peace in its region and said clearance of the Middle East from nuclear armament was one of the top priorities. “All countries in the Middle East should be cleared of nuclear arms,” he said.
On Turkey’s bid to join the EU, he said it is a state project, and made it clear that Turkey was not taking other proposals for alternatives to full membership seriously. “Turkey will not digress from its path,” he said, adding that putting forth other proposals was only rhetoric and not having faith in the future of Europe.
“Turkey will fulfill its responsibilities, while Europe will monitor this. Some say Europe is tired. It is not Europe that will make the reforms but Turkey. Europe will watch what we’ll be doing and say if we complied with the criteria or not,” said the president.