Turkey’s relations with Israel have been strained as the row over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean has escalated.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has been speaking to euronews after the internationally recognised Cypriot government started drilling for gas on a site south of Cyprus.
Turkey has begun exploration work and is reported to have sent naval escorts. Israel has also been drilling in nearby waters.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, with a Turkish region in the north recognised as a separate state only by Turkey.
euronews, Gülsüm Alan:
“Mr. Bülent Arınç you are the deputy prime minister and spokesman of a country which for nearly half a century has been hoping and working to join the EU. Do you think the government which is exploring the eastern Mediterranean for natural resources is developing a common policy with Israel?”
Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç:
The search for oil in the eastern Mediterranean is not just the concern of Israel or South Cyprus. It also applies to countries that have rights under international law and one of them is Turkey.
We disagree with these most recent developments and the two countries uniting to search for oil have hit the sensitivities of Turkey while the developments have political significance.
Turkey can not just sit back and observe what is happening. We also have economic interests. We will use our right to search for oil in these waters.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that warships were to be sent to the Mediterranean. What is happening now and what are your expectations of the EU?
We have not sent our warships to fight as the aggressors. They are to defend themselves. We do not need to, or have no intention of going to war with anyone. We only hope that the other party will not put us in a position where we have to use force.
As for the EU, it must quickly correct its mistake. The error in question is the fact that the EU allowed the Greek Cypriot side to join the EU as if it were the whole of the island of Cyprus. It is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in the history of the EU.
What is important now is to define equal status and conditions for both communities to unite. We have always been in favour of a united Cyprus. And we believe that diplomatic negotiations should continue.
The reality is this: the Greek Cypriot side does not represent the island in its entirety. Yet when they say the oil exploration is on behalf of the whole island the EU should intervene and say “stop, you have no right to do that.
And when Turkey wants to exercise its rights, the EU should agree or provide support to Turkey. The EU has accepted Cyprus so it has to live with the consequences. I am not talking about a battle or conflict of interest but to step in and offer suggestions, criticisms and how to unite the island.
Turkey has announced that when the Greek Cypriot side will take the rotating presidency of the EU it will freeze negotiations. How will you do that and what effect will it have on relations?
We will continue in any negotiations. So far, the objections of France, the objections of the Greek Cypriot side have prevented some progress in certain areas. Very few areas have been opened and then closed temporarily.
At a time when we do not recognise the Greek Cypriot side it is controversial if it takes control of the presidency. We know their objections and obstacles. We say ‘first try to reach an agreement and unite the entire island, then we would like we sit around a table with you.’
We have stated this quite clearly. For all these reasons, on the negotiations, we have encouraged Cyprus’ president Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu to reach an agreement before the end of this year. But the Greek Cypriot side, so incomprehensible at times, is doing everything not to agree on negotiations.
There has been considerable interest from the public during the visit of the Turkish prime minister to countries involved in the Arab spring. To what do you attribute this?
We know very well the effects of the economic crisis in Greece on Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, France.
Today Greece cannot pay its wages. Turkey has now a high growth rate and the country has become economically stronger and stronger. Exports and production capacity have increased as has the national income. Turkey is currently an actor on the world stage. The fact that Turkey is concerned with the oppressed in the world, gives us credibility and confidence.
In Brussels recently it was claimed that Turkey would always go back to its roots in the Ottoman Empire and to solve its problems would rely on the use of force. Do not you think that Turkey’s ambitions are too great?
Turkey is changing and building on the foundations of the Republic: democracy and freedom without denying its past, linked to the Ottoman Empire. We do not dream of the Ottoman Empire and we do not exist for the continuation of the Ottoman Empire.
The Nato missile shield which Turkey agreed to host – is it there as a defence against the interests of Israel?
Nato has installed a long time ago a radar system in the town of Kürecik in Malatya. It’s been there 25 or 30 years. It is currently used as radar. The objective is not known, it may be Israel or Iran but it is a defence system.
Radar can prevent missile attacks. The radar will send a signal and defence mechanisms will be deployed. We can not say that it is for Israel to Iran or another country. In the protocol we signed it is not mentioned that this was done for or against certain countries. No country’s name was mentioned.
What are the areas behind the strained relations between Israel and Turkey?
Turkey has already spoken on the issue. We are not in conflict with the Jewish people. Since Turkey is among the first countries that recognized the state of Israel; it is why today no one can claim that we are the enemy of Israel.
But we are faced with a government that is divided, which is an oppressive government and which shot nine Turkish citizens who were on board a boat on its way to take humanitarian aid to Gaza. So we have concerns with the Israeli government but not with the Jewish people.