Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who does not give credit to the long-debated claim that Turkey has been changing the axis of its foreign policy and leaning towards the East, has said Turkey’s choice of having multiple axes in its foreign policy is beneficial for the West.
In an interview in his Beirut office, Siniora, who is currently the head of the Future Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, said that Turkey is not leaving the path of the West.
“Turkey is not doing that. Turkey has multiple axes, in the Arab world moving East and South and toward Russia and also toward the Turkish communities and countries. And it is for the interest of the Western world,” he said, adding that it is very important for Turkey to improve its resources to be able to use its ability to negotiate and be firm. “There is a saying, ‘If you want to be included, you need to stand up’,” he said, emphasizing Turkey’s outspokenness in many foreign policy issues, especially its standing on the plight of the Palestinians.
Siniora indicated that Turkey has played an important role in the Palestinian issue, which deeply affects Arabs, and according to him, Turkey should continue to play a role in the Arab-Israeli conflict despite a cooling down in Turkish relations with Israel after a series of diplomatic crises, the most recent one being the flotilla incident.
He was referring to the pre-dawn Israeli assault on May 31 on a flotilla of aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip which left nine people dead and dozens wounded. The aid ships, dubbed the Freedom Flotilla, were taking badly needed humanitarian supplies to the people of the Gaza Strip, who have for the past three years been living under a harsh economic blockade. The Israeli assault came as the ships were sailing in international waters and drew strong condemnation from Turkish civil society, which denounced the Israeli violence.
“What is the message? You are breaking the barrier of silence on what is happening in Gaza,” he said. “Now, it is important to really convert this catastrophe into an opportunity.”
According to Siniora, the flotilla crisis has led to a “win-win” situation for Turkey and the Arab world in a sense that Turkey has shown its decisiveness on the issue, and the Turkish community’s sensitivity regarding the Palestinians has been understood by the world.
“As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, ‘We don’t want Turkey to destroy its relations with Israel because we need its mediation.’ I completely agree with that view. Turkey should definitely continue to play its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and use its influence on Israel for a solution,” he said, adding that there is no need to send more ships to Gaza because “the message has been understood.”
When it comes to relations with Iran, Siniora said Turkey’s role is critical in restricting Iran’s “aggressive attitude.”
He said Arabs view Turkey’s increasing influence in the region warmly and that this is not about choosing Turkey over Iran.
“We are after building a good relationship with Turkey, as much as you want to build relationships with Iran, but on the basis of mutual respect and working together, expanding economic relations and cooperation,” he said.
He again stressed that the Israel-Arab conflict is an important factor in addressing many problems and challenges in the region and cooperation among neighbors is important in that regard.
Regarding more favorable views of Turkey in the Arab world, he said this is natural. “We belong to the same region, we belong to the same history and same religion. We are both developing nations. Geography really brings us together. We are again facing challenges regarding building a joint future. We believe that Turkey can really play a role, which it is playing now, regarding the most important issue in the Arab world and the Muslim world, and that is the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said.
In regards to US President Barack Obama’s leadership, Siniora said that he is “disappointed.”
“Obama came with a great deal of promises, with good ideas, using different jargon. But he inherited the problems of Afghanistan and Iraq. He inherited something really bad,” he said. Siniora said the US president was saying the right things to solve the problems but he could not achieve results.
In his view, Iraq has always been a tough buffer area, once between the Roman and Persian empires and then between the Iranians and the Ottomans, and former President George W. Bush interfered in its affairs just as he did in Afghanistan. “And this was like presenting a gift to Iran on a ‘golden plate’.”