By Ercan Canbolat and Tugrul Cam
Turkey’s foreign minister on Wednesday said Israel and the U.S. are the only countries supporting ongoing protests in Iran.
Speaking to reporters in the capital Ankara, Mevlut Cavusoglu pointed to two people openly supporting the unrest in Iran: “One of them is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the other is the U.S. President Donald Trump.”
He said Turkey has always opposed such external interventions and added that all countries except Israel and the U.S. took a “cautious” approach to the protests.
He called the demonstrations an “internal” matter of Turkey’s neighbor.
“This situation is Iran’s internal affair. But stability [in Iran] is also important for its neighbors.
"It is significant for all of us.
“We want these conflicts in Iran to come to an end and stability to be recovered immediately.”
Last Thursday, Iranians took to the streets in the northeastern cities of Mashhad and Kashmar to protest rising inflation and perceived government mismanagement.
These demonstrations were followed on Saturday and Wednesday by large pro-government protests.
End to ‘double standards’
Since the demonstrations began six days back, at least 23 people have been killed -- including a police officer -- while hundreds more have reportedly been detained.
Cavusoglu said Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif told him that the situation in Iran was “not so bad”.
He said Zarif told him that Tehran was taking a careful stance towards these protesters but “there are some groups with weapons, blades and Molotov cocktails in their hands which caused the killing of some civilians and security personnel.”
Cavusoglu highlighted that Iran does not oppose any peaceful solution or a dialogue process.
“They say Iran is not using the iron fist of the state.”
He also said any change in Iran should come through elections. “So if there were to be a change in government, the Iranian people could make it happen in the next elections.”
Cavusoglu criticized the double standards of certain countries towards the protests, citing how some countries gave their full support to the military coup in Egypt.
“There is praise for them [Egypt] in other countries, but there is criticism towards Iran and the regime there, as well as external intervention,” he said.
“Our wish is that this process comes to an end immediately. We find Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s statements positive.”
About U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s call on Wednesday for a Security Council meeting on the protests, Cavusoglu said the U.S. proposed this because “they are strongly opposed to the Iranian administration."
And on Wednesday, Trump sent out a since-deleted tweet in which he said "The United States will be with you at the appropriate time", referring to the protesters he said are fighting "to take back their corrupt and poorly run country".
In a follow-on post after the original tweet was deleted, Trump took a softer stance on the country and demonstrations, saying he has "Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government".
"You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" he said.
World opposes US’ Jerusalem move
Turkey’s top diplomat also highlighted its leading role in denouncing the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
"Turkey has been the country taking the clearest stance against the decision. The support of the Vatican, the Western countries, as well as the entire world was gained with the efforts of our president,” Cavusoglu said.
He said the U.S. threatened the entire world after UN General Assembly members recently voted to reject the U.S. decision.
"In fact, some countries, even great countries said, 'We’re resisting but the U.S. is putting so much pressure and we don’t know how long we can resist'," Cavusoglu added.
On the Syrian conflict, he said revitalizing the Astana, Sochi, and Geneva processes is needed to achieve a political solution.
"I believe that we will reach an important phase in 2018," Cavusoglu said.
But he added that the Astana and Sochi talks are not enough to bring stability to Syria, adding: “In terms of legitimacy, they need to be integrated with the Geneva process within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and to come up with a solution from there.”
He said Turkey began its discussions with the international community -- primarily with the EU states -- to rebuild Syria.
He also highlighted Turkey’s geopolitical significance for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, saying: “Without Turkey, the KRG is nothing… Turkey is a gateway to the world for [the KRG]. They can’t continue without Turkey’s say-so.”
“Turkey will give all kinds of support for Iraq’s stability,” Cavusoglu said, adding that his country will also continue supporting Iraq’s Turkmens.
He said Turkey would help resolve the Qatar crisis in 2018.
He said Turkey’s bilateral ties with Russia have been completely restored but some steps in trade and visa matters still need to be taken.
On Turkey’s purchase of an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, he said: “There were criticisms from some countries. We did want to purchase this defense system from our allies as well but it was evident from the negotiations we held that it wasn’t possible when they put up hurdles to even buy simple weapons.”
Terrorist PKK/PYD attempts to join Sochi meeting
On the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, set to be held on Jan. 29-30 with the participation of about 1,700 people, Cavusoglu said: “Together with Iran, we objected to the [terrorist] PKK/PYD attending.”
During a meeting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Antalya last November, Cavusoglu said they made a draft list of attendees for Sochi.
“There are some confusing statements coming from the PKK/PYD saying they had been promised [to attend Sochi] but the three countries will decide this,” he said, adding that “no solution can be found at a table where terror groups are present”.
He said Syrian Kurds from Turkey, the Syrian National Kurdish Coalition and Syrian Kurds in Europe are to attend the Sochi meeting.
Cavusoglu said the PKK/PYD does not represent Kurds in Syria.
Relations with the US
Cavusoglu said that relations with the U.S. were problematic last year, as Washington failed to extradite Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) leader Fetullah Gulen.
FETO is responsible for the July 2016 coup attempt that martyred 250 people and injured some 2,200.
Cavusoglu said that Turkey had submitted the necessary evidence for launching the investigation and extradition process.
“I think the U.S. knows, as we do, that the people involved in the coup attempt went to the U.S. and got instructions from FETO. Fundamentally, the U.S. shouldn’t need any additional documents,” he said.
He added: “It’s our right to expect the U.S. to act sincerely in this matter in 2018, and it’s also the demand of our nation.”
Gulen has been a resident of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania for decades.
On the recent resumption of full visa services between Turkey and the U.S., Cavusoglu denied the U.S. claim that Ankara had given assurances that local staff would “not be detained or arrested for performing their official duties... and that Turkish authorities will inform the U.S. government.”
“There can be information-sharing. This is not an assurance,” Cavusoglu said.
He added that the first meeting of a working group to resolve the visa crisis will be held on Jan. 23.
Last October, a group of senior U.S. diplomats were in Ankara for a preliminary meeting on the issue.
Last October, U.S. missions in Turkey suspended non-immigrant visas to Turkish nationals following the arrest of a local employee working at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Ankara.
Visa services were restored on both sides last week, starting with the U.S.
Cavusoglu also cited U.S. President Donald Trump’s promise to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Washington would no longer give weapons to the terrorist PKK/PYD.
Cavusoglu said there are 300,000 Syrian Kurds living in Turkey, but they cannot go back because the PYD/YPG controls 25 percent of Syrian territory and they bar Kurds who do not fit their ideology.
“We know that the U.S. will say the same thing tomorrow as they did in Iraq, saying, ‘We didn’t see this [coming],’ but it will be too late,” Cavusoglu said.
He said the U.S. arming terrorist groups in Syria led to a crisis of confidence between the countries, and over 100,000 Syrians returned to their homes after Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield ended last March.
The PKK/PYD and its military wing PKK/YPG are Syrian branches of the PKK terrorist network, which has waged war against Turkey for more than 30 years.
Despite Turkey’s objections, the U.S. has provided the PKK/PYD with arms, calling it an ally in the fight against Daesh, but ignoring its terrorist group status.
Cavusoglu also emphasized that Russia’s stance on this issue is closer to Turkey.
“At least Russia understands our sensitivity. We have failed to explain this sensitivity to our ally the U.S.,” he said.
He added, “The YPG, Daesh or Al-Nusra, it doesn’t matter. A terror group is a terror group. The YPG, which is a threat to us, should be fought if the YPG threatens Syria’s territorial integrity.”
Cavusoglu also commented on an incident last November at a NATO exercise in Norway when a civilian Norwegian official depicted Erdogan as an "enemy collaborator" and Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was also on the "hostile leader" list.
“We think that the Norway incident was individual. Investigations have been done and ongoing. We think that it happened without the knowledge of NATO and Norwegian authorities,” he said.
Relations with the EU
Cavusoglu said Turkey’s relations with the EU have had ups and downs, and that they are working to implement an action plan.
“Our relations will be healthier in 2018 if the EU learns to have a little more respect to Turkey, sees an equal partner, and evaluates within the EU membership criteria. Most importantly, the EU will have to learn to respect Turkey because Turkey and the Turkish nation deserve this. The days of patronizing are over.”
Cavusoglu also said he would meet his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel at Hannover on Jan. 6.
He added that Turkey and Germany might take significant steps on fighting the terrorist PKK in Europe.
“We have no problems with Germany, but it has some with us,” Cavusoglu said, adding that Germany and some other countries should clear up their issues with Turkey.
On FETO, Cavusoglu said Turkey made many international institutions recognize it as a terrorist organization.
He added that Turkey’s efforts to convince the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to recognize FETO as a terrorist group continue.
Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the defeated 2016 coup as Turkish politicians criticized their German counterparts for failing to show strong solidarity with the government against the attempted military takeover.
Ankara also criticized Berlin for turning a blind eye to outlawed groups and terrorist groups like FETO, the PKK, DHKP-C, and MLKP, which continue to use Germany as a platform for their fund-raising, recruitment, and propaganda activities.