Gul: No Solution on Syria By Sidelining Iran

Speaking to reporters on the way to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that a solution on Syria cannot be reached without including Iran.

al-monitor United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets Abdullah Gul, president of Turkey, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Sept. 23, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Brendan McDermid.

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Sep 24, 2013

En route to New York, Turkish President Abdullah Gul explained, "The UN General Assembly is like a county fair for politicians. Everyone talks to each other easily without the hassle of protocols. It's a great opportunity.”

He is right. The General Assembly, which I have attended so many times, is like a global county fair. Friends and foes all sit together and discuss bilateral issues. Turkey always comes with a crisis agenda.

Gul told the journalists flying with him to New York this year that he will be focusing on Syria. But what got my attention about his New York schedule is a series of interviews with The New York Times and CNN (probably to repair Turkey's badly tarnished image after the Gezi Park protests) and a meeting with the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

With his tweets, the letter he wrote to US President Barack Obama and the moderate signals he has been emitting, Rouhani is already the star of this General Assembly. The entire world is after him, and the Americans are excited about the prospect of an opening with Iran.

Gul's praise of Rouhani during our flight was notable. We have been having a bad spell in relations with Iran because of Syria. Gul interprets Rouhani’s election as a sure sign of a new era in Iran and believes that from now on, Iran will be more amenable to dialogue. In a way, our president sent a message of "welcome to the world" to our next-door neighbor, which has been pushed outside the international system for so many years. This is what Gul said on the plane:

A new era in Iran

"A new era has definitely begun in Iran with Rouhani’s election. Not only his biography and speeches, but his appointments to key positions show this. The most important among them is the new foreign minister, Jawad Zarif. I know him well. We are also following his other appointments. I see it as all positive. We are seeing people we can talk to."

Don't be misled by their frocks

"Iran has deeply rooted state and diplomacy traditions. When you see them attired in their frocks, with their turbans and beards, sometimes you can misread it. Don’t. Iran has highly qualified, capable diplomats. They are capable people."

Iran must not be sidelined

"Iran is an important country. Turkey is as much interested in Iran as it is in Syria. We speak a lot to each other but could not until now come up with a common vision. You can’t do it by sidelining Iran. Then you will have no Geneva, no [Syria] solution. Iran must be included. Russia and Iran must be engaged."

Security is our top priority

"For us, Syria is the most important foreign policy and national security issue. This will be the focus of my New York meetings. What happens in Syria concerns us, with [the use of] chemical weapons, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of half of the population and the destruction of cities. These are the most visible aspects of the crisis. But there is also the second dimension, which will affect us in the long run. People must understand why Turkey is so active about Syria. It is because we are so close. Events there affect radicalism, trade and immigration [to Turkey]. It is our No. 1 agenda item."

Proxy wars have begun

Asked if the United Nations had been powerless on Syria, Gul said, “No doubt. But the UN is still an important actor. It was created to prevent massacres in the world. Sadly, there is a return to a cold war mentality. In the Middle East, we have proxy wars. The UN’s position in world public opinion and conscience has been battered. Its credibility has suffered. The founders of the UN were dreaming of a different world, not like today. We were one of the founders of the UN. The five permanent members of the Security Council have a major responsibility for the UN’s current status."

The need for a political strategy

"From the beginning, I have been saying that unless there is a political strategy, military intervention won’t work in Syria. The absence of a common vision and a common stance is the worst flaw of the world community. There is no exit strategy. This is why we are at this point."

We support the accord

"There is no doubt that a Syria totally rid of chemical weapons is something we wish to see. But it is important that it is real, authentic and verifiable. It should not be an act of appeasement. Don’t forget, Syria has not come to this point because of chemical weapons. Nobody should create the impression that chemical weapons are being destroyed, therefore, other events can be tolerated. I want everyone to know that we fully support the accord on chemical weapons and appreciate the work of those who arranged it, but we have to see if this confiscation will remain on paper and whether there is still some risk."

The United States and Russia have vouched for it

"It is very important to verify the total elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. It is not easy to get rid of those weapons. We had a similar experience when we were trying to clear the mines from the Syria border. What a bill we had to pay. The US and Russia are countries that know every dimension and all the costs of such a process. Tomorrow they won’t say, 'We couldn’t do it because it was too costly.' They vouched for it."

We won't allow al-Qaeda on our border

"When I was explaining Turkey’s concern with Syria, I also mentioned the hardships faced by Turkish citizens. I said the effects of the Syrian events are of concern to us. One of them is radicalism, which can extend to terrorism. These are top issues for Turkey that we discuss with our military and security officials. We can’t tolerate it. We will not allow a structure that will threaten Turkey and the entire region from beyond our borders."

You can't blame everyone in Egypt

"True, there is an impasse in Egypt. But you can’t simply blame everyone. There are diplomatic ways of handling it. All we want is a quick end to the events in Egypt and a resumption of democracy. We don’t want to see a major and important country enfeebling itself because of domestic problems. For us, Egypt is an important, brotherly country. We don’t want to see Egypt waste its energy as we had to do in the past."

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