“Bashar Is Politically Dead”
An interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
R.E.: The decision of the U.N. Security Council would be important in that case.
L.W.: You don't want to see it created without the support of the U.N. Security Council, even though you know Russia and China would veto a resolution supporting it?
R.E.: You never know. Today that may be the case, but tomorrow things might change.
L.W.: Would you like to see it done through NATO, without the United Nations? Would you be willing to go ahead without the support of the United Nations?
R.E.: We would not accept being part of what would then be a trap, doing something without the U.N. We are a member of the U.N., and its job is to establish peace in the world.
L.W.: Is it possible for Turkey to play a stronger unilateral role in creating a no-fly zone?
R.E.: Former Turkish prime minister Mesut Yilmaz took the armed forces to the border and told the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad to stop hiding Abdullah Ocalan [then leader of the PKK, a Kurdish terror organization] in Damascus or face a Turkish invasion. Assad gave up Ocalan.
There is some misinformation there. Syria sent Ocalan to Greece. He was arrested in Kenya and brought back to Turkey from there.
L.W.: So you would not think of playing a stronger unilateral role?
R.E.: Turkey has a strong army. That's right, no. If there is an attack on our country, then we would do what is required. But this situation has an international dimension and a dimension that concerns the Islamic world. So the U.N. and also the Arab League should be involved with respect to Syria.
L.W.: Would you think of renewing Turkey's relationship with Israel if Israel met your terms?
R.E.: As I have always said, when our conditions are met [an apology for the deaths of Turks aboard an aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip in 2010, compensation for their families and the lifting of the blockade of Gaza], the process of normalization can begin.
L.W.: Israel is a democracy, and you have had your differences with Israel, but can you say anything to give the Israelis hope? If they met your conditions, would you be willing to send your ambassador back?
R.E.: The three conditions should be met simultaneously. What we call normalization would include the embassy and other steps that could be taken.
L.W.: If the three steps are met simultaneously?
R.E.: Yes, there would be normalization as a result of that.
L.W.: Are you concerned about Iran building a nuclear weapon?
R.E.: I don't want to use the term "nuclear weapons" because those people in Iran who have authority say they are not building nuclear weapons. I make an appeal to the countries who do have nuclear weapons. They don't consider them a nuclear threat. But let's say a country that doesn't have nuclear weapons gets involved in building them, then they are told by those that already have nuclear weapons that they oppose [such a development]. Where is the justice in that?
L.W.: The one difference is that none of the countries that have nuclear weapons has threatened to wipe a member state of the United Nations off the face of the Earth, as Iran has threatened to do with Israel.
R.E.: Israel is saying the same for Iran.
L.W.: They are saying they might strike to stop Iran's nuclear program.
R.E.: I will tell you more. There should be no weapons in Palestine. The Israelis hit a place like Gaza for 15 days with phosphorous bombs.
L.W.: Turkey closed its airspace to Iranian overflights headed to Syria to rearm the regime, whereas Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has left Iraqi airspace open for such flights. Why did Maliki not do the same as you?
R.E.: That question you have to ask Maliki. They must share something in common—Iran and Iraq.
L.W.: The United States asked you when the Arab Spring broke out to break your relations with the Syrian regime. But you said no, you wanted to give Assad a chance to reform. You pushed him to reform, but he did not do it.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.