Abdullah Gül interview: Turkey’s president on Bashar al-Assad, Syria, and Israel.

Why Assad Must Go—No Matter What Obama and Putin Say

Why Assad Must Go—No Matter What Obama and Putin Say

Global politics, economics, and ideas.
Sept. 23 2013 10:26 PM

Why Assad Still Must Go

Turkish President Abdullah Gül explains why Syria’s president must be toppled, no matter what the United States and Russia say.

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L.W.: One argument that was made throughout the congressional hearings was that the Saudis and Qataris are aiding the radicals groups in Syria and that Turkey was allowing aid and radicals to pass through its borders.

A.G.: These extremists don't come to Turkey. But the moderates—the ones who are working for democracy—meet in Turkey. We have exposed ourselves so much in helping the moderates. So if this is not appreciated for what it is and, on the contrary, we are blamed for doing something exactly opposite of what we're doing, I see this as a pretext for people who are trying to move away from the Syrian situation.

L.W.: I think the [Obama] administration is disappointed that after Israel apologized [for the 2010 flotilla incident], the relationship never progressed. Do you see any hope for progress in the Turkish-Israeli relationship?


A.G.: As per that agreement, there are delegations going back and forth. They have a certain calendar of meetings. ... It's not to say we have no relations other than the apology. They are now coming to our celebrations, national days when we hold receptions. The meetings are also going on very positively.

L.W.: So you think the relationship might one day resume?

A.G.: Things are getting on track.

L.W.: You have made some positive statements about the E.U.

A.G.: The E.U. is very important for Turkey—it is a strategic matter for Turkey. The negotiations for membership are going on but very slowly. E.U. membership for Turkey is a strategic goal.

L.W.: How do you see the prospects of a U.S.-Iranian deal on the nuclear issue? Do you look on it favorably?

A.G.: It is clear that the newly elected president has embarked on a new era in Iran. I would not be surprised if there was progress in U.S.-Iranian relations.

L.W.: Going back to Assad, do you trust him to live up to his word to give up Syria's chemical weapons?

A.G.: If there is a firm U.N. resolution which can in no way be misinterpreted under Chapter 7, then we can be more hopeful about him complying with this deal.

L.W.: But the Russians have said they won't go along with such a resolution.

A.G.: If that's the case, then nobody should deceive themselves about what the outcome will be. The language of the resolution has to be very clear-cut.

L.W.: So President Assad has to go?

A.G.: How could one contemplate him staying against the backdrop of such a bloodbath?

L.W.: But you have to persuade the world?

A.G.: That's why I focus on the P5 plus the neighbors. If they can get together and work hard ... a political way [could be] found out of this crisis.

L.W.: A political way with Russia or without?

A.G.:  I've always made the point that Russia and Iran ought to be a part of these discussions. I've seen from the outset how committed both Russia and Iran have been in terms of their position [on Syria], more so than others.

L.W.: They look like the winners.

A.G.: I don't think anyone is winning. I think everyone is losing. The United States is powerful. It just needs to exercise it. Those who are powerful manifest their power as a last resort.

L.W.: Do you think it's important for Egypt and Turkey to keep a strong relationship?

A.G.: It is very important because Turkey and Egypt are two important countries in the Mediterranean. The Turkish people and the Egyptian people have a deep love and respect for each other, irrespective of topical issues. We had a good relationship with the people of Egypt before the revolution.

L.W.: Are you going to run for president again?

A.G.: There is time yet. There is exactly a year. When the right time arrives, there will be statements made at that point.

L.W.: Turkey has a real problem with the refugee crisis if Assad stays.

A.G.: The refugee issue has become very serious. So far, we have 500,000 [refugees] in Turkey; 200,000 of them are in camps. Turkey is providing everything to them and so far it has cost over half a billion dollars. ... Definitely this is our honor. So we will continue with this. There is no meaningful contribution from outside. If a long time passes, it will become a real problem for the host country and for ... the refugees. We need a settlement so they can go to their homes and keep their sense of identity. It is important that the fighting stops in Syria and people find it safe enough to go back. It is important that we work together so that a solution can be found.

L.W.: And you think one can be found?

A.G.: I certainly believe that there would be a solution found if everyone is engaged in this and is determined.

L.W.: People say the secular opposition doesn't have a chance because al-Qaida is so much stronger. Do you believe the secular opposition has a chance?

A.G.: As I said, if there had been meaningful and determined support from the beginning, then we would not be confronted with the kind of structures that we are so worried about. I think that if there is no firm position taken with respect to the situation in Syria now, then the future will be even more bleak.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.