The United Kingdom’s ambassador to Ankara, Dominick Chilcott, said that Britain has a deep appreciation of Turkey’s strategic importance and stressed that cooperation with Turkey is highly needed in order to address ongoing problems in the region and beyond.
In an interview with Daily Sabah, the British ambassador evaluated the relations between Turkey and the U.K. stressing that the current state of the ties are “excellent.” He also commented over various issues that draw international attention, including the quartet summit on Syria in Istanbul, the Cyprus issue, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the TF-X Project.
“Turkey exists in a complicated and unstable part of the world. Turkey’s stability matters very much to us and to other countries. We need Turkey’s cooperation on issues that result from that instability such as management of migration, the threats from organized crime and terrorism,” Chilcott said.
He added that “Turkey is a major player in the Middle East. We want to work closely with Turkey on the foreign policy questions about how to meet the challenges of the Middle East. We acknowledge the important role that Turkey has played through the Astana process in Syria for example.”
As neighbor to the war-torn country, Turkey has been highly affected by the ongoing crisis in Syria. With an aim of alleviating human suffering, Turkey has welcomed the largest number of refugees. Ankara has also exerted significant efforts to help end the conflict and pave way for a political resolution with initiatives like the Astana process.
In the latest step, Turkey hosted a quartet summit on Syria in Istanbul with the participation of Russian, German and French leaders on Saturday where preserving the territorial integrity of Syria was underlined. Speaking in a press conference after the summit, President Erdoğan stated that their aim is to end the bloodshed in Syria.
While two countries from the EU attended the summit, the U.K. was absent. In relation to the issue, the British envoy said, “The UK is not there because the origins of this idea came out of a discussion between – as I understand it – President Erdoğan and Chancellor Merkel. The president thought it would be a good idea for the two of them to meet President Putin in particular to talk about Idlib,” and added that “Germany and France tend to work together internationally wherever they can. I think the idea was that there were probably enough people, otherwise it might look like a lot of Western countries ganging up against Russia. So, I think we understand why this is a small group of four.”
Chilcott underlined that it was also thought that the group could bridge the gap between the Astana process and the so-called “small group” of countries of which the U.K. is a member.
The British envoy, who visited Turkey in the 1980s, also pointed out that in the last 30 years Turkey has changed and developed significantly.
“Having been here in the 1980s and coming back now is one of an admiration,” Chilcott said. “I see how much more prosperous Turkey looks; how much more developed the infrastructure is; how much more sophisticated the cities are,” the ambassador said stressing the development in the country.
“Turkey is also an emerging market with rising population, high standard of living – which has risen hugely in the last 15 years. It is an important market for British goods, and Britain is an important market for Turkish goods,” the ambassador underscored adding that economic ties with Turkey in the post-Brexit era will become even more important for Britain.
‘FETÖ IS AN ORGANIZATION OF RUTHLESSNESS’
Touching on the July 15 coup attempt orchestrated by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) in 2016, the British envoy stated: “We saw the coup attempt as a major threat to overturn Turkish democracy and we condemned it as such from the outset. As you know Sir Alan Duncan came here three days after the coup as an expression of solidarity.”
The ambassador stated that the U.K. is not in any serious doubt that the coup was carried out by FETÖ and highlighted that the coup was part of a long term plan to infiltrate the state, particularly the judiciary, armed forces and civil service.
“This is an organization of ruthlessness that I think many people outside Turkey find it hard to understand because it is so different from their own experiences… But the British government knows it happened and absolutely condemns it,” Chilcott said.
In relation to the ongoing extradition case of senior FETÖ fugitive Akın İpek in U.K., the ambassador said “the seriousness of the coup is not in doubt and the people who did it need to be brought to justice. This is not prejudice whether he [Akın İpek] is innocent or guilty but he is somebody who is clearly quite high up on the list of people the Turkish government wishes to extradite. They have provided a certain amount of evidence to our court on him.”
Commenting on the possible outcome of the case, the ambassador stated that “if the court thinks the evidence is not sufficient to justify extradition, it will be disappointing in the sense that a senior person would have failed to be extradited because of a lack of sufficient evidence in our court.”
“The whole thing will be disappointing because it will show how difficult it is to be able to achieve what we want to achieve which is to support the Turkish government’s efforts to bring people to justice,” he added.
The Westminster Magistrates Court, which will decide whether former Koza Holding director Akın İpek and two other defendants – Talip Büyük, the alleged Iraq “imam” of the FETÖ terror group, and Bank Asya director Ali Çelik – are to be extradited to Turkey, will hold the judgment hearing on Nov. 28.
İpek was detained in May after Turkey’s request for his extradition over charges related to the aforementioned defeated coup.
NO DOUBT PKK LINKED TO YPG
Answering a question about the U.K.’s stance toward another terror group, the PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG), Chilcott said, “when we had to act against Daesh, I know this is disputed by the Turkish government, our people felt the best prospect of defeating Daesh without putting our own armed forces into Syria was to use local people and what became known as [the] Syrian Democratic Forces, largely YPG forces. They became our main instrument in the fight against Daesh.”
The ambassador added: “We are looking at the future of Syria where no organization in Syria is a threat to its neighbors. There are obviously close links between PKK and YPG, we do not deny these.”
He stressed that “the instrumental relation with YPG would continue until the fight against Daesh concludes.”
Turkey has been highly vocal in its criticism over the cooperation with the YPG terror group. Ankara has been repeatedly stressing that arms support to the terrorists cannot be justified with the fight against Daesh. As Daesh has been substantially defeated, Turkey calls for halting support to the terrorists who have apparent agendas of forming autonomous structures in Syria, violating the territorial integrity of the country.
‘BENEFITS OF NATURAL RESOURCES AROUND CYPRUS SHOULD BE SHARED EQUALLY’
As the Cyprus issue remains unsolved and awaits resolution, the British ambassador stated that the “U.K. wants to see a settlement and we think the continuation of the dispute can be a factor in generating tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Stressing that a settlement is in everybody’s interest, Chilcott said that previously the U.K. worked very hard for the Annan Plan as it was expected that the plan’s fair-balanced outcome would have delivered a settlement for the good of the both communities in Cyprus.
“So, we were hugely disappointed when the Greek Cypriot side voted against the Annan Plan,” Chilcott added.
Cyprus was divided into a Turkish Cypriot state in the north and a Greek Cypriot administration in the south after the 1974 military coup was followed by violence against the island’s Turkish people, and Turkey’s intervention as a guarantor power. Negotiations over Cyprus resumed after the 2004 U.N.-backed Annan Plan to reunify the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.
“As for the exploitation of the hydrocarbons and drilling, our hope is that the natural resources around the island of Cyprus should be used for the benefit of all the peoples on the island, for both communities. We would feel uncomfortable if that was not the case,” the British envoy underscored and added that “We also want this issue to be a catalyst for a settlement.”
‘TURKEY HANDLED KHASHOGGI CASE VERY WELL SO FAR’
Turkey has been recently focused on finding evidences to shed light into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who went missing on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
After weeks of denying any knowledge of the crime, Saudi officials last week said the journalist was killed during a brawl in the building.
Turkish police have been investigating the case and Erdoğan said he wants the 18 suspects extradited to Turkey from Saudi Arabia to stand trial.
“Obviously, what happened is very shocking. The Saudi government submitted that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and the Turkish government is increasingly being proved right in its original statements about what happened to Khashoggi. I think they’ve handled this very well so far,” the British envoy highlighted.
“As the British foreign secretary said in the House of Commons in the last few days that the Saudi government’s explanation that he was killed as a result of some sort of fight or struggle by accident does not look very credible,” he added.
In relation to the impact of the incident on Saudi Arabia’s relations with other countries, Chilcott stated that the “British government has a very important relationship with Saudi Arabia. They are a big strategic ally in the Middle East but there will be a reaction.”
The ambassador stressed that the U.K. was going to send its senior minister, the secretary of state for international trade to the investment conference in Saudi Arabia but he canceled, as did many other countries.
‘BELT AND ROAD’ TO BENEFIT ECONOMIES, COUNTRIES CONCERNED
Initiated in 2013 by China, the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative looks to connect Asia, Africa and Europe, with billions of dollars worth of infrastructural investment projects involving roads, railways, ports and energy transmission lines.
The initiative intends to build transportation, telecommunication, energy and other infrastructure networks in these regions, integrate them with each other, provide financing for new projects and revitalize trade and investment partnerships together with inter-regional customs and tax coordination.
Commenting on the initiative, the British envoy stressed, “It is a very good initiative clearly the infrastructure could be improved and that would enable more trade to flow, and that would benefit the economies and the countries concerned.”
He underlined, “we are hoping to engage constructively and obviously we hope that there will be benefits for the British business out of this initiative and we hope that the countries along the routes chosen will be able to share the success of the project.”
‘WE HOPE TF-X PROJECT BECOMES AN EXAMPLE OF PARTNERSHIP BRINGING COUNTRIES CLOSER’
In relation to the joint TF-X Project between Turkey and the U.K., the ambassador said, “The concept behind the project has always been that when the F-16s sort of run out of time and they no longer fit for the purpose there should be an aircraft ready to replace them. No one in the world is producing an aircraft yet to replace the F-16s and TF-X could be that aircraft.”
“I think the combination of British Aerospace and their Turkish Partner, TAI, on paper looks very good. In practice, talking to the people concerned, they got off to an excellent start. So, I think this is very real. It is of great strategic importance because these kind of big contracts require a lot of trust not just between the companies but also between the governments,” he added.
The British government and Turkish government have frequently expressed their common commitment to the project.
Chilcott highlighted that the British government, has also given assurances that everything that is on the list of specifications for TF-X is covered by a single export market. Furthermore, under the global export license for TF-X, there is no further separate export license in procedure which means “companies can be confident that everything required can be purchased from the U.K.”
The ambassador underscored that “Secondly, we have given assurance that there will be no British government control over where, when it is produced, [and who] it will be sold to, so there will be no secondary export control. So, it is very different from some other countries, and the engagement on in the defense industries. We think this is quite a big statement of support for the project.”
“We hope also, and it becomes an example of partnership which not only brings the companies together more closely but our two countries particularly on big projects of national importance like future fighter aircraft. So, we are serious about it,” Chilcott stated and added that the negotiations with Rolls-Royce are continuing about its engagement in the project.