Turkish FM: With Cairo, we will lead new regional axis

Israel decided to ‘isolate itself,’ Ahmet Davutoglu tells ‘New York Times.’

By OREN KESSLER
September 20, 2011 05:17
3 minute read.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Davutoglu 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Turkey and Egypt could lead a new regional axis in the face of apparently diminishing American influence, the Turkish foreign minister said Sunday, and Israel is solely responsible for the deteriorating ties with its erstwhile Mediterranean ally.

“This will not be an axis against any other country — not Israel, not Iran, not any other country, but this will be an axis of democracy, real democracy,” Ahmet Davutoglu told The New York Times.

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“That will be an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region, from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley in Sudan,” he said, before departing for the United Nations to throw his country's support behind the Palestinian statehood bid.

“For the regional balance of power, we want to have a strong, very strong Egypt,” said Davutoglu, who has visited the Egyptian capital five times since Mubarak's overthrow in February. “Some people may think Egypt and Turkey are competing. No. This is our strategic decision. We want a strong Egypt now.”

“Nobody can blame Turkey or any other country in the region for its isolation,” Davutoglu said of Israel. “It was Israel and the government’s decision to isolate themselves.

And they will be isolated even more if they continue this policy of rejecting any proposal," he said, referring to Jerusalem’s refusal to apologize for the May raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine people.

Last week Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was given a hero's welcome on his visit to North Africa, enjoying a particularly hearty reception in the Egyptian capital. Crowds thronged Erdogan’s car as it traveled to the Egyptian parliament and Arab League headquarters, and the city’s highways were dotted with billboard- sized portraits of the Turkish premier.

But it is Davutoglu whom many analysts say has been behind Turkey’s transformation from a staunch American and Israeli partner to a self-appointed leader of the Muslim world.

Its new-found status is due in large part to the ruling AK Party's confrontational foreign policy toward Israel, as well as its domestic agenda of reinserted Islamic values into traditionally secular Turkish politics.

Turkey, Davutoglu said, shares a “psychological affinity” with the Arab world, which as the Ottoman Empire it ruled for four centuries from Istanbul.

He said Egypt would become the focus of his government’s efforts, as an older US-backed order consisting of Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Hosni Mubarak-era Egypt begins to unravel.

Davutoglu projected his country's $1.5 billion investment in Egypt to rise to $5 billion within two years, and total trade to jump from $3.5 billion to $10 billion by 2015. Some 280 businessmen accompanied the Turkish delegation to Cairo, and Davutoglu told the Times they had signed about $1 billion in contracts in a single day.

Turkey’s top diplomat reserved some of his harshest words for its neighbor and former ally Syria, whom he accused of lying and reneging on promises to reform.

After meeting Bashar Assad last month, Davutoglu said the Syrian president had agreed on a road map, including setting parliamentary elections, allowing multi-party rule and drafting a new constitution. Despite Assad's assurances, he said, the Syrian leader did not follow through.

“For us, that was the last chance,” he said, accusing Assad of “not fulfilling promises and not telling the truth.”


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