The SETA Foundation Washington, DC and Princeton University Present
“Building Global Peace: Turkish Regional Foreign Policy Priorities”
An Address by Prime Minister Erdoğan
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Prime Minister Erdogan must have been deafened by applause as he took the stage September 23rd to address an auditorium at Princeton University, prepared to deliver a speech covering the broad and important topic of Turkish Foreign Policy. The venue was filled with 700 students, businessmen, and statesmen, along with representation from the Prime Minister’s office in Ankara. Among those traveling with PM Erdogan were Turkish State Minister and Deputy Premier, Ali Babacan, Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, Egeman Bagis, Turkey’s Ambassador to the US, Nabi Sensoy, and some twenty other distinguished members of the Turkish delegation.
In his speech Prime Minister Erdogan touched on some of the most pressing issues in the Turkish international agenda, including Turkey’s bid for EU membership and the relationship between Turkey and Armenia. He spoke of Turkey warmly and highlighted its importance in the region and in global politics, calling its strategic location between the Middle East and Europe an “important balancing factor in the region.” This echoed Princeton President Shirley Tilghman’s shining introductory remarks as she described Turkey as “both a key American ally and an increasingly influential regional power.”
In his speech, Prime Minister Erdogan spoke of the importance of increasing international cooperation and communication. He spoke of Turkish foreign policy as being an example of effectively establishing positive relationships internationally, saying, “A policy of zero problems with our neighbors is the basis of our foreign policy… in fact, when we first came to power, we had many problems with countries surrounding us. We had problems with almost all of our neighbors, so much that the situation was at times threatening.” Turkey has established good relations with countries with whom alliances have historically been tenuous, such as Greece, Georgia, Syria, and others. On this, Erdogan noted, “If one can remove prejudice and preconceptions, it is not so difficult at the end of the day to make friends.”
However, this positive tone shifted when speaking about potential EU accession. Erdogan expressed frustration at the process, saying “We have, in that process, something quite peculiar… 1959 was when we started our discussions with Europe. We are in 2009. Fifty years have passed and there is no other country that has had to wait for that long.” He also stated that at this point, only 25% of Turks believe that Turkey will be accepted. Erdogan made the point that until he receives a clear rejection from the European Union, Turkey will remain determined to complete the required steps for membership.
Erdogan ended the gathering by answering questions from curious Princeton students, speaking on the Kurdish question, policies towards water, and his own leadership style. He responded graciously to all three, giving very specific, detailed answers. The conversations in the reception afterwards confirmed that this was a successful event that portrayed both Turkey and its Prime Minister in a confident light, eager to embrace the future and the role of emerging regional power.