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 US gave Turkey four Predator drones: Turkey’s Consul-General in Iraqi Kurdistan

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US gave Turkey four Predator drones: Turkey’s Consul-General in Iraqi Kurdistan  10.1.2012  



































Turkish Consul General in Erbil Aydin Selcen. Photo: Rudaw
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Diplomat Confirms Turkey Hosting US Drones

January 10, 2012


ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Turkey’s Consul-General in Erbil, Aydin Selcen, confirmed reports that the US deployed drones to Turkey’s Incirlik air base following its troop withdrawal from Iraq. In a wide-ranging interview with Rudaw.net, Selcen addressed Turkey’s policies regarding Syria, the US and Israel, and its efforts to strengthen democracy on its own soil.

Q: The relationship between the US and Turkey seems fragile at times, given the various conflicts and clashes in the past. But government officials have repeatedly stated that Turkey and the US are working closely to plan a strategy for a post-Assad Syria. What is specifically being discussed? Is it military mobilization, setting up a buffer zone to prevent an influx of refugees into Iraq, or financial or humanitarian aid?

Aydin Selcen: Well honestly speaking, I am the Turkish Consul-General here in Erbil, and my responsibilities consist of Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimani… Of course, I can share with you my own personal opinions, but that wouldn’t mean much to you because I’m not the right person to respond to this question. I’m not in charge of either Syria or Turkish-US relations, and I also don’t oversee Turkish-Iraqi relations because I am here in Iraqi Kurdistan in Erbil as consul-general.

But I can just share with you this – we are in constant touch with the US through our ambassador in Washington, D.C., where I also served for two years just before coming here. He gave a statement at the end of December, I guess to one of the leading US newspapers, I saw it also in the Turkish news; he said that Turkish-US relations have never before seemed so robust as in recent decades -- actually, in a long time. Our dialogue was so open and comprehensive, so that’s the idea, or that’s the statement of our ambassador in D.C. so I have to take the same position as this statement.

Your question concerning post-Assad Syria, when will Assad leave or when will the regime change, I don’t know, but our policy is clear. Our prime minister and our foreign minister made our policy on Syria clear. First we tried to convince Bashar al-Assad to implement reforms quickly and he didn’t, and now we think that by killing his own people, he’s lost his legitimacy. That’s why we are now definitely convinced that this regime must change – Bashar al-Assad must go. So that’s where we stand but we are talking with many,www.ekurd.net including our partners here in Erbil. We are also in constant touch with our allies, like the US, and France until recently, but also we’re in touch with other regional powers.

Q: Do you think that the Arab Spring brought the US and Turkey even closer to each other? How has it affected the relationship?

Aydin Selcen: Again, this is another question really beyond my (post). Iraq was the first country in the Arab world to jump into the spring in 2003 within Iraq. In Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the region’s spring perhaps started in 1992 when they freed themselves from Saddam’s dictatorship. But we, as Turkey and the US, are members not only of the same alliance – NATO -- but we are also members of the same family of nations and we represent the same universal values like liberty, law, state of law -- I mean the supremacy of law and equality for law, the free market economy and diversity.

Q: Going back to US-Turkish relations, Turkey’s primary goal regarding the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has always been to aggressively eliminate or neutralize them by force if necessary. But the US has viewed the PKK fairly precariously. I know that recently the US government gave Turkey four US Predator drones, for air surveillance and monitoring and intelligence gathering. How else has the US been involved in Turkey’s campaign against the PKK?

Aydin Selcen: You’ll have to allow me to correct a few of your assumptions, in no particular order of priority. Concerning the four Predator drones – they’re at Incirlik (air) base. As they (the US) withdrew their military, as our military ally, the US asked us whether we could host the drones in our base and if they could continue their operations and we said yes. This is one thing. The other thing is that there is ongoing intelligence between the US and Turkey. This also includes the intelligence that might emanate from those drones. These are technical issues. The other thing is that the PKK is seen as an illegal terrorist organization by the US and is classified as such. And PKK leaders are designated as drug smugglers by the (US) Treasury Department… So we have ongoing cooperation with the US, but not only the US – it’s trilateral cooperation, including Iraq, Turkey and the US. And within the Iraq side the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is also represented, so that’s where we are.

Concerning our strategy, the democratization in Turkey – what we call democratization progress – which means the perfection of our democracy, actually, is an ongoing struggle. We don’t only want this for the Kurds, though the Kurds will benefit from democratization. Just recently -- a couple of days ago -- our Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who’s also the spokesperson for the government, said that in the new constitution, the Kurds will get all of the rights that they demand. At the same time, we have a security issue. We have a criminal organization that we’re fighting against, an organization that is targeting civilians. So any democratically elected government’s first duty is of course to ensure the safety and lives of its citizens. We have also security and so we have to adopt this two-lane approach.

Q: Along those lines, I recently had the opportunity to interview Osman Ocalan, (PKK leader) Abdullah Ocalan’s brother in Koya city. He was of the view that this century is the era for politics, diplomacy and democracy, and that it’s time -- but that this applies not only to the PKK but to Turkey as well. What are your thoughts on that, on the military campaigns that Turkey has been engaged in against the PKK?

Aydin Selcen: First of all, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, also in very firm terms said that regarding the PKK in Turkey now, the climate and the legal situation and everything -- the political situation allows every view to be debated -- so there is no need for a so-called armed struggle. But terrorism in itself should be rejected. Massoud Barzani himself conducted an armed struggle against Saddam; an armed struggle can be tolerated only when you have a dictatorship. You can’t talk about a dictatorship in Turkey. On the contrary, you have to realize that Turkey’s an open society. In his armed struggle against Saddam, Barzani… nor Talabani the (current) President of Iraq, had to resort to terrorism. There was not one single attack in Mosul or Baghdad or in Tikrit, for example. Were they not capable of doing it? Of course. They had the ability to kill civilians, Arabs or Kurds, but they never used any terrorist tactics…

I have already in my answer to your previous question explained our strategy concerning democratization and safety. Certainly, a terrorist organization should cease to exist. It doesn’t mean elimination. But you can’t say that an army should disarm or that a police force should disarm… for example, in Mexico, they have the fight against drug traffickers, do you think that the solution to the problem is disarming the Mexican police? It’s not.

Q: But what can be the solution then? Because right now what we have is a tit-for-tat situation.

Aydin Selcen: There is no tit-for-tat; there is no such thing… If you visit Turkey -- if you go to Diyarbakir, if you go to Sirnak -- you will witness the climate of freedom that is reigning now. We are also the 16th largest economy in the world. We have a Kurdish nationalist party in our Parliament. We have another Turkish nationalist party. Within the ruling party we have maybe 75 Kurdish members of parliament. In our government, we have four Kurdish ministers. Turkey is not a military state – it is a total democracy. The existing ruling party won 50 percent of the vote in the recent election, and they won the election on a platform of writing a new constitution and continuing the democratization process. But our citizens’ first right is the right to live. Also, allow me to draw to your attention that the PKK, for example, killed four Kurdish women – they were just coming back from dinner. They killed a religious person going to the mosque in the morning. They exploded bombs in the hearts of Istanbul and Ankara. Are these tolerable acts? Are these acts of violence, of terrorism? I leave it up to you and your readers.

Q: Turkey’s relations with Israel haven’t been the best in the past few months. Given Israel’s position as a major US ally, does this affect your relationship with the US?

Aydin Selcen: I guess this question should be answered by the US… how our alliance is seen with the US. We are an important regional power and we are a NATO ally of the US. Israel is not a NATO member, but of course I know of their special connection to the US Congress. And you see the presidential election process and all of that.

We were one of the first countries in the world to recognize Israel in 1948. We are not technically a Muslim country, because we have a secular constitution, but 99.9 percent of our population is Muslim. So by that, we are the first Muslim country to recognize Israel. We have our own Jewish population – 30,000, more or less – so anti-Semitism does not exist in Turkey.

But we are very critical of Israel’s foreign policy, certain foreign policies. And especially when the aid convoy (to Gaza) was attacked and six of our citizens – one of them had dual US citizenship – were killed in an air raid by Israeli commandos. That really created a diplomatic crisis between our two countries. Right now, the communication channels are working, but it’s true that we have difficulty looking this government in Israel in the eye -- Netanyahu’s government. And we especially have difficulty with the foreign minister. But we know each other very well, and we are two democracies in this region.

Recently, (Hamas Prime Minister) Ismail Haniyeh was in Istanbul and Ankara, maybe you saw it on TV. Just one week ago, (Palestinian President) Mahmoud Abbas was in Ankara. So we enjoy good relations with the Palestinians as well. But with Israel, after that incident, we have to – I mean, the government made the decision to end military cooperation and other types of cooperation.

Q: Did cutting military ties with Israel make Turkey more dependent on the US in any way? In terms of military equipment, hardware and intelligence?

Aydin Selcen: That’s a technical question – but we have quite strong military technology on our own. So I don’t think that’s – I don’t know how to respond to that question, but I don’t think it has a very critical impact.

Q: Finally, you’re a diplomat in this relatively small and contained region with so many varying interests -- Turkey and the US each have their own interests regarding each of these countries (Iraq, Kurdistan Region, Syria) with their own differences. How do you balance all of these interests?

Aydin Selcen: Of course it’s a very difficult neighborhood. But we are the open society in this neighborhood. We are the democratic country in this neighborhood. We are the country with ties to the West – like our NATO membership, our OSC membership, our European Council membership – like our history, which makes us a European power, though our history also makes us a Middle Eastern power. We have a more than 900 kilometer-long border with Syria. We have a very long border also with Iraq, around 320 kilometers or something like that. And we have a long shared history with all these people and states. So we know each other well…

There are 4 million Kurds living here. There are three times that number living in Turkey at least. So we have to continue interacting – but with some, it’s easier, with the Iraqi Kurdistan region we especially have a mutual interest and based on this mutual interest, we have a common regional future. We have a very solid political relationship… we are constantly consulting politically.

High-level visits are now become normal. Twice, President Barzani visited Turkey. Our prime minister came here. Many of our ministers visited Erbil, like our foreign minister, economic minister, interior minister, minister of culture, education minister and so on. We have cooperation.

We are a regional power. Even if we’re not a global power, this is our neighborhood and we are going to live with our neighbors. But while of course we are trying to have influence, we are not imposing our system as a model. But for those who want inspiration from our system, our doors are open because as I said, we are an open society.

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, rudaw.net

 


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