‘Royal partner’: Erdogan’s rival seeks softer foreign touch – Digital Journal

Turkey’s ties with the West deteriorated in the second half of President Erdogan’s rule – Copyright POOL/AFP Mast IRHAM


If it comes to power in Sunday’s elections, the Turkish opposition led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu vows to restore trust with Washington and Europe while mending ties with Syria.

A regional power of 85 million people and a NATO bridgehead in the Middle East, Turkey gradually separated from Western allies during the 21-year rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ahmet Unal Cevikoz, a former ambassador and special adviser to Erdogan’s main rival, believes that a diplomatic change and a transition to a more democratic government go hand in hand.

“Most of our problems with the European Union stem from the lack of democracy in Turkey,” Cevikoz told AFP ahead of tight parliamentary and presidential elections.

The return to the rule of law, which Western states accuse of eroding Erdogan during his second decade in power, will change Turkey’s image abroad, Cevikoz said.

“It will become a very real partner,” he promised.

Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union have been frozen, less than a decade after it applied to join in 1999.

European powers such as France had reservations about admitting the majority Muslim nation, and Erdogan began to feel resentment as the talks dragged on.

Cevikoz said that it was vital to reactivate the process because “it helps the democratization of the country.”

Cevikoz, a member of Kilicdaroglu’s secular CHP party, also backs the extension of the 2016 migrant deal with the EU.

Brussels sent billions of euros to Ankara in exchange for Turkey hosting some five million people fleeing war-torn countries, particularly neighboring Syria.

Cevikoz said the opposition wants to “reinvigorate and revise (the agreement) to make it more effective.”

The CHP also plans to launch the “voluntary and dignified” return of Syrians, which Cevikoz sees as part of a broader reassessment of Turkey’s and the EU’s migration stances.

“The problem (of migration) worries both Europe and Turkey,” he said. “But the EU does not have a migration policy.”

– Erdogan’s ‘mistake’ –

Turkey has become one of the most rebellious members of NATO in the last years of Erdogan’s rule.

Cevikoz stressed the importance of Turkey’s membership in the US-led military alliance, which has been rocked by Erdogan’s decision to buy advanced missiles from Russia.

Washington expelled Turkey from its F-35 stealth fighter program in retaliation.

Analysts felt that Moscow had successfully driven a wedge into Ankara’s relations with the West.

“Turkey’s national defense is greatly enhanced by its NATO membership,” Cevikoz said.

He called the Russian purchase “a mistake” that “cost us a lot.”

Turkey’s position in NATO has been further complicated by its refusal to allow Sweden to join the bloc following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ankara wants Stockholm to extradite suspects it links to a Kurdish insurgency and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Sweden has been tightening its anti-terror laws in response to pressure from Turkey, and plans to introduce new legislation to parliament on June 1.

Cevikoz acknowledged Stockholm’s “progress” and said this “will certainly smooth the way for Swedish membership”.

– ‘Balance’ with Russia –

At the same time, Cevikoz did not signal a significant break with Erdogan’s rapprochement with Moscow.

Wartime trade with Russia has soared despite Turkey’s decision to supply arms to kyiv.

Erdogan benefited from a pre-election discount on Russian energy and used his ties to the Kremlin to set up truce talks in the early months of the Ukraine war, increasing his stature in the country.

“Turkey has always followed a very balanced approach during the Cold War,” Cevikoz said.

“Why not continue with the same kind of balanced approach?”

“After the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict, the future architecture of European security must be considered,” he said.

Such logic, similar to that espoused by French President Emmanuel Macron, worries Washington.

The same goes for the region’s reconciliation with Syria, which Cevikoz wholeheartedly supports.

Ankara’s ties with Damascus were severed when Erdogan began backing rebel efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

But Syria was readmitted to the Arab League this week, and Erdogan is now seeking a summit with Assad, which Damascus refuses until Turkey withdraws all its troops from Syria.

“We want to resume an unconditional dialogue” with Syria, Cevikoz said.

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