9 Sep 2011

Turkish President Abdullah Gul: Turkish-Russian political relations are at excellent level

Turkish President Abdullah Gul tells Interfax about Turkish-Russian cooperation and about causes of tensions in the Turkish-Israeli relationship

The Turkish president expressed his sincere condolences to the residents of Yaroslavl and all Russian people on the death of the members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice-hockey team in the September 7 plane crash.
"These young people played at the same arena where the forum was being held today. We laid flowers in their memory. This is a great tragedy and a great catastrophe," he said.
Touching on his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the Global Policy Forum 2011 in Yaroslavl, Gul said: "A guest of honor is invited to this forum every year. I was invited this year. It is a great honor to me to be invited and have the chance to express my opinion on various issues."
"We had a chance to hold a bilateral meeting with Dmitry Medvedev during the forum, at which we discussed bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia. Apart fr om this, we addressed various international issues," he said.
"First of all, I would like to point out that political relations between Turkey and Russia are at an excellent level. The current level of these relations is consistent with historical friendship between the two countries. Russia is a global player on the international political arena and an important country of the region, and therefore our contacts with Russia are of special significance," he said.
"Our countries are pursuing the goal of increasing trade turnover to $100 billion, and we discussed details of work in the energy and tourism fields to achieve this ambitious goal," Gul said.
"Our trade turnover reached $40 billion a couple of years ago. But then there was some regress because of the global economic crisis. The greatest prospects lie in the energy area, as energy imports account for a significant share of Russian-Turkish trade turnover. We would like also to set up a logistics center in Russia to provide better conditions for exporting Turkish goods. We also want to develop relations in the work of contractor companies. In addition, we favor the development of mutual investments," he said.
Gul also said that gas-price negotiations between Russia and Turkey had not concluded, and Turkey is hoping for a compromise.
"Talks on this subject continue, and we are hoping for a positive outcome," Gul said, in response to a question as to whether Ankara would be able to get Russia to compromise on the price for Russian gas.
As to the prospects for laying the South Stream gas pipeline through Turkey‘s exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea, Gul did not specify when Ankara might give permission, but did say that the precise coordinates for wh ere the pipeline would run need to be determined.
"We continue our talks on this subject. First of all in this matter, the coordinates for the gas pipeline route need to be established, and in association with this there needs to be work done on the technical and economic feasibility," Gul said.
At the same time, Gul maintained that Ankara will insist on the construction of the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
"We insist upon the realization of the other important oil pipeline Samsun-Ceyhan, which for us is of strategic import, because, in our view, it will be a large plus in reducing the burden on the Turkish gulf, particularly the Bosporus," Gul said.
The economic aspect of building the pipeline is secondary, Gul said, the important thing is ensuring the Bosporus‘s environmental safety.
"There is intensive movement of tankers carrying dangerous cargo there. Fifteen million people live in Istanbul, and any accidental catastrophe could have very serious consequences. It could simply shut down movement for a lengthy time, which would produce serious economic consequences," the Turkish president said.
"There was such an event in 1979, when a Romanian tanker caught on fire right at the entrance to the Bosporus. There were human casualties, and the fire on the tanker burned for an entire month," Gul said.
Since that accident, movement through the Bosporus has only increased in intensity, he pointed out.
"We also discussed bilateral investments. This visit was arranged at the right time, because we needed to discuss the situation in Syria and in eastern Mediterranean and relations with NATO," he said.
As for military-technological cooperation between Russia and Turkey, Gul said, "There is great potential in this field. Details of this potential are technical issues, which I cannot disclose."
Touching on recent complications in Turkish-Israeli relations, the Turkish president said Ankara will ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule Israel‘s blockade of the Gaza Strip illegal.
"First of all, we will address the international court in the Hague because this embargo is illegitimate," he said.
Commenting on complications in Turkish-Israeli relations, Gul said that Tel Aviv was at fault for such a situation.
"The present situation is the result of steps taken by Israel itself. An operation was conducted in international waters, as a result of which citizens of Turkey were killed. In order to sort out this situation, Israel ought to offer an apology and pay compensation to those affected. Turkey cannot turn a blind eye to these events," he said.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have grown complicated following the publication of the UN‘s report addressing an incident with a Turkish-led aid flotilla, which tried to reach the Gaza Strip coast despite the Israeli blockade of the region. Israel‘s raid on the flotilla claimed the lives of eight Turkish citizens and a U.S. citizen of Turkish origin. Ankara demanded Israel‘s apology for the incident, but Tel Aviv refused to apologize. Turkey responded by downgrading the level of its diplomatic relations with Israel and by freezing military cooperation with this country.
Gul said also that Turkey intends to have military presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
"The eastern Mediterranean is not Israel‘s and Turkey will have military presence in that area," Gul said.
At the same time, Gul reiterated that Turkey will strictly follow the norms of international law in that issue.