On March 21, THO hosted H.E. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The Foreign Minister was in Washington for the Ministerial Plenary of the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS, in what represents his first official visit to the U.S. capital since President Trump’s inauguration.
Following opening remarks by THO President Ali Cinar and an introduction by Dr. Brenda Shaffer (Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Visiting Professor at Georgetown University), the Foreign Minister spoke on the current state of U.S.-Turkey relations and touched on several foreign policy items high on Turkey’s agenda. The address was followed by an off-the-record Q&A moderated by Dr. Shaffer.
Cavusoglu began his remarks by highlighting the positive aspects and lengthy history of the Turkey-U.S. alliance, although he conceded that tensions had surfaced between the two countries over the past few years.
Yet Cavusoglu was careful to differentiate between President Obama’s administration and that of President Trump, adding that “we are determined to work with the new administration” and that “we believe we can re-energize Turkish-American relations and cooperation.”
“Enterprising and Humanitarian”
In the face of the myriad international crises faced by Turkey today, the Foreign Minister described his country’s implementation of “a foreign policy that is enterprising and humanitarian.” Cavusoglu extolled the need for global interconnectedness and highlighted Turkey’s role in prominent international organizations, forums, and initiatives such as the UN Mediation for Peace Initiative, the Economic Cooperation Organization, the G20, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
On NATO—“the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security,” per Cavusoglu—the Foreign Minister expressed Turkey’s desire to help the U.S. “revitalize the organization.” In an allusion to President Trump’s view on the subject, Cavusoglu claimed that Turkey takes “the new U.S. administration’s call for a better and fairer burden-sharing seriously,” noting that “Turkey currently ranks seventh in the alliance among defense spending, and we are working towards reaching the 2% target.”
As to relations with Russia, Cavusoglu defended Turkey’s rapprochement with that country, portraying Turkey once again as a collaborative bridge-builder in an increasingly polarized world. He noted, however, that the relationship remains one in which differences are plainly expressed. “We continue to voice our disagreements with Russia very clearly,” he said, adding, “We continue to support the territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine, including Crimea.”
Cavusoglu also highlighted Turkey’s substantial humanitarian efforts, as they concern both Syrian refugees and the wider world. He reminded the audience that Turkey is host to more than three million Syrian and Iraqi refugees and is “the most generous humanitarian actor in terms of GDP allocated for humanitarian assistance in the world.”
“Two issues overshadow[ed] [U.S.-Turkey] relations in the last months of the previous administration; these are the FETO issue and the American support to [the] YPG/PYD,” said Cavusoglu, emphasizing that these “highly sensitive matters must be resolved.” Of this latter concern, the minister spoke for some time as to the risks inherent in such a partnership and to Turkish frustrations in convincing their American counterparts of the danger posed by the YPG/PYD. “I must also underline that in our fight against Daesh, we do not rely on other terrorist organizations,” said Cavusoglu. “Why? Because there are no good terrorists…. yet some Washingtonians do not seem to care about this.” The minister intimated that the issue was prominent in his discussions with some of new administration’s top officials, including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Attorney General Sessions.
Overall, however, Cavusoglu’s prognosis of the state of US-Turkey relations was undeniably bright. “We are strong allies, we have distinct comparative advantages, and when we work together effectively, we bring about positive change,” he told the audience. Despite any current tensions, he emphasized that “collaboration and cooperation between [the] two allies—[the] United States and Turkey—is inevitable.”