Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been generating international attention recently with sharp criticism of three countries that have had close relations with his country: Israel, Syria and the United States.
In an interview with Morning Edition's David Greene, Erdogan said the Syrians have a right to determine their future. Instead of bringing about reforms, President Bashar Assad has been "turning guns toward his own people."
The Turkish leader has also been a repeated critic of Israel. Relations between the two states have been spiraling downward since last year, when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turkish citizens. Earlier this month, Turkey downgraded relations, and Erdogan says ties will not improve until Israel apologizes and meets other demands.
In addition, Erdogan has been a strong supporter of the Palestinians. He is currently so popular in the Palestinian territories that his photo is prominently displayed in many public places.
He sees the U.S. as standing in the way of the Palestinian people and their attempt to achieve statehood at the U.N. He says he has "no doubt" that the U.S. image in the region has been harmed by the Obama administration's opposition to the Palestinian's U.N. bid.
Highlights of the interview
On relations with Syria, where President Bashar Assad has cracked down on pro-democracy protesters
"Of course, the current developments between Syria and Turkey are not very promising right now. We needed certain reforms to be carried out, but unfortunately, under these circumstances, instead of carrying out the necessary steps forward to improve the situation, Assad wanted to keep his position and he became increasingly aggressive and violent.
"And unfortunately, until now, no steps have been taken forward to improve the situation, and he became a leader turning guns toward his own people. But, of course, the current situation in Syria, and Assad's conduct, is in full contradiction with our principles with which we approach people and humanity. That's where friendship ends."
On what it will take to mend his country's relations with Israel
"Three things: One, an apology; compensation must be paid; and the embargo upon Palestine and the Gaza Strip should be eliminated once and for all."
On whether he regrets calling Israel a "spoiled child," and its actions "state terrorism"
"Never forget that as a prime minister, as a leader of my country, I'm carrying a responsibility. I'm not only speaking about the 74 million inhabitants who are living in Turkey, who are my citizens ... but also the entire population of the Arab world that expects our reaction and our response on this issue. They will always observe whether I'm taking ownership of my citizens who have been killed on board a ship navigating in international territorial waters or not. This is a duty for me. This is an obligation for me."
On U.S. opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations
"I've said whatever I was supposed to say on this matter when I spoke personally with Mr. Obama a couple of days ago. And I reminded my dear brother, my dear friend, of the speech he has delivered only last year at the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations. I read the speech text to him. I told him that last year you had announced everybody in the audience that you were going to see Palestine emerging as a recognized state out of the General Assembly hall."
On whether the U.S. image has been damaged in the Middle East by its opposition to Palestinian statehood at the U.N.
DAVID GREENE, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Sometimes your friends can be your toughest critics. And that may be one lesson for the United States during this Arab Spring. Turkey has been a friend to the U.S. and perhaps a model for how a Muslim country can embrace democracy.
GREENE: But Turkey's leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is focusing on what he sees as a major contradiction in President Obama's policy. Erdogan stands with the U.S. on Syria. He says Syrians have a right to determine their future.
INSKEEP: But Erdogan sees the United States as standing in the way of the Palestinian people. And he remains furious at Israel over last year's Gaza flotilla incident when an Israeli raid killed nine Turkish activists trying to break a blockade to deliver aid to Palestinians.
GREENE: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for spending some time with us today. We really appreciate it.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) I would like to, in return, thank you for such an opportunity.
GREENE: I wanted, if I could, to first ask you about Syria. I understand that you have been very close to President Bashar al-Assad. You vacation together. Things don't seem so friendly at the moment. I know you've spoken in New York about perhaps imposing sanctions on Syria. Tell us what we should expect.
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) That's where friendship ends.
GREENE: Are sanctions definitely coming? And what kind of sanctions will they be?
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) Right now, it appears that there'll be sanctions coming. I don't know how he is going to take another step forward as of this moment on.
GREENE: Let me turn to Israel, if I may. What does Israel need to do to get its ambassador back to Ankara, back to your country?
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) Three things: an apology, a compensation must be paid, and the embargo upon Palestine and the Gaza Strip should be eliminated once and for all.
GREENE: If you are making those kinds of demands, isn't it more helpful as a diplomat to have an ambassador in your capital to be able to carry out a dialogue? Wouldn't it be more constructive to allow the ambassador to be in Ankara to have those sorts of diplomatic discussions?
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) On the contrary, his continuous presence in Ankara would have been problematic. And similarly, had our ambassador remained in Israel, it would have been problematic for him, too. In international diplomacy, such measures taken are of crucial importance.
GREENE: I wanted to ask you about a few of the comments you've made about Israel. You recently called them a spoiled child. A year ago, you said that they carried out state terrorism. And I'm wondering, with all due respect, if someone is seeking peace, if you still believe those statements were constructive and helpful.
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) And because of the existence of that very tension between the two countries sparked by Israel, the relations are as they are right now. We've got no problems whatsoever against the Israeli people. We have problems with the Israeli administration.
GREENE: When it comes to some of the comments that I just mentioned, I guess I'm wondering if you might regret comments like that and rethink using language that might be inflammatory as you move forward and try to play this constructive role.
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) They will always observe whether I am taking ownership of my citizens who have been killed onboard a ship navigating in international territory waters or not. This is a duty for me. This is an obligation for me.
GREENE: The United States' opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood certainly seems to run the risk of damaging the reputation of the United States in the Arab world. Are you prepared to help the United States regain its credibility in the region?
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) I've said whatever I was supposed to say on this matter when I spoke personally with Mr. Obama a couple of days ago. And I reminded my dear brother and my dear friend of the speech he has delivered only last year at the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations. I read the speech text to him. I told him that last year, you had announced to everybody in the audience that you were going to see Palestine emerging as a recognized state, out of the General Assembly Hall.
GREENE: Has the image of the United States been damaged by its opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood here in New York?
TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through Translator) No doubt.
GREENE: That's Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey speaking to us through an interpreter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.