Ankara, Asharq Al-Awsat—Turkish deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, emphasized that the visit paid by Saudi crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz to Turkey “will contribute greatly in developing relations between the two countries.”
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat against the backdrop of the official Saudi delegation’s visit to Ankara, Bozdağ spoke about Saudi-Turkish ties, the deteriorating situation in Syria, and Gulf security.
The following interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: How do you evaluate Saudi crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s visit to Turkey?
Bekir Bozdağ: This visit is very important to us because it will contribute, to a large extent, to the development of relations between the two countries. What makes this visit even more important is that it is the crown prince’s first official visit to Turkey. The talks between crown prince Salman and president Abdullah Gül were excellent and the relations between the two countries are also important to the Islamic world as a whole.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a large, important, and independent country—as is Turkey. Both countries are members of the G20, and the economies of both countries are developing strongly. The relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia is very important to the Islamic world and regional stability.
Q: What have been the most important topics of discussion during the visit?
We have discussed bilateral concerns and regional issues of mutual interest. As for the meeting with President Gül, this was a closed meeting, and only those involved can discuss its details.
Q: What is your view of the cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia regarding the Syrian conflict?
More than 100,000 people have been killed at the hands of President Bashar Al-Assad. He killed them by all means; fighter jets, the navy, tanks, and machine guns. He has used everything to defeat his people. Millions have been displaced from their homes and we have 200,000 of them in Turkey. Turkey and Saudi Arabia cannot stand idly by regarding what is happening and are doing everything they can to help the Syrian people. When women and children are killed, it is wrong from a Muslim and humanitarian point of view, to remain silent. The international community has failed to shoulder its responsibilities regarding Syria. When people are being killed, it is wrong to ask questions about their ideologies. When people are being killed, it is not right to remain silent. We must save them from this fate, and then following this you can look at their ideologies. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are doing everything they can to end the conflict.
Q: Can you tell us about Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s most recent visit to the US. Did this secure any development in terms of the Syrian conflict?
I do not have much information on this visit as Erdoğan has only just returned, but in general, Turkey and the US agree that the Syrian regime is no longer legitimate and the killings must end. We also held discussions with the Americans about the possibility of opening the way for Assad to leave.
Q: Some observers believe that the West intended to intervene in Syria from the start, and that they even informed Ankara of this. However it seems that Turkey has been left to deal with this crisis alone, so what are its options to deal with the conflict in Syria?
The international community has failed to shoulder its responsibilities so far. it is wrong to make political calculations while thousands of Syrians are being killed. Turkey, which shares a 910 km border with Syria, has been affected most by the conflict. It cannot remain silent and will pursue the issue with the international community until it is resolved.
Q: Saudi Arabia and Turkey are set to sign a cooperation agreement on industrial defense. How do you view this development in the bilateral relations between the two countries?
It is not sufficient for Turkey and Saudi Arabia to be economically strong, they must also be militarily strong, for their own security, as well as that of the region. Turkey had no choice but to develop its military industry when it was subject to an arms embargo during the Cyprus crisis in the 1970s. As a result of this, Turkey developed its military industry, and this is something that Saudi Arabia can also benefit from. As for its arms production, Turkey produces armored vehicles, tanks, and surveillance aircraft, as well as communication systems. We can cooperate with Saudi Arabia in this field and increase cooperation between the two countries.
Q: What’s your view of Gulf security, particularly in the shadow of the Iranian nuclear program?
We are against nuclear weapon production anywhere in the world. We do not agree with the international stance in looking at each country separately. The international community must be objective and take a stand against the producers of nuclear weapons, whether it is Iran or anyone else.
Q: Are you pleased with the extent of the trade between Saudi Arabia and Turkey?
Our trade with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia amounts to around USD 7 billion and we will be pleased to see this figure increase even further. Both countries have the resources to achieve that. The development of this relationship can also benefit Saudi and Turkish businessman to make joint investments, not just in both countries, but elsewhere.
Q: How can we remove obstacles standing in the way of stronger bilateral trade?
Both countries must cooperate to serve their joint interests.Both countries have taken the correct steps, so far. Our relations are based on mutual interests. When I look at the possibilities based on the relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, I am of the view that USD 7 billion is insufficient, and there are many resources that both countries can still exploit.