Can Dizdar, Turkey's ambassador to the UAE, discusses his country's stance in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt's dispute with Qatar
'Going back to normality would serve the interests of everybody'
Can Dizdar, Turkish ambassador to the UAE, spoke to The National ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visits to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait from Sunday. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Do you think Turkey can succeed where the US secretary of state, the European foreign ministers have so far not been able to find a breakthrough? What role can Turkey play diplomatically? Does it have some advantages that these other countries don’t have?
Look, our approach and position is rather different than the other countries. As you know, President Erdogan was in the region in the first half of this year, visited these three countries before the start of this thing. Our relations and contacts with these countries are very close. When the crisis broke out we were surprised and said ‘look, this was unnecessary. We could have solved these issues through dialogue, and escalation serves the interest of nobody.’ And this is still where we stand. And this has been the message given to everybody.
The current situation serves the interests of nobody, and I believe the president will convey this message again to all the parties: that everybody can benefit from dialogue and not from escalation. And if there are issues, of course we need to address them head on, but collectively and in a sober way.
Are you hopeful about the role Saudi Arabia can play in finding a solution?
I think everybody knows that Saudi Arabia is the major power in the region. And of course the weight of Saudi's position on this is important, and that’s why president Erdogan expressed that we are looking to the Saudi leadership and their wisdom and experience in bringing this issue to normalcy.
Do you think the president has a particular message that he’ll be taking to King Salman and the Saudi crown prince?
Again, going back to normalcy will serve the interests of everybody. This region used to be known by its predictability and stability, and that’s why business circles were very much interested in the region, attracted by the countries here, and there is no need to make them nervous, particularly at a time when we need economic growth and to diversify the economies here.
Ankara has continued to send small numbers of forces and materiel to the new permanent base in Qatar. Officials here and in Saudi are not happy about that. They view it as a military intervention of sorts. What is your response to that?
Our military presence in Qatar is not even a topic for discussion. It is a bilateral agreement between two sovereign countries. Look, Turkey has the second-largest armed forces in Nato. There are countries who have their bases here and there - Nato countries, even some non-Nato countries, have their military bases in the region. So actually we are perplexed by these kind of words and this reaction because we don’t understand the motive. Our presence does not constitute any threat to any country. The Qataris invited us, we did not impose anything on any country, and it is not the only military base we have in the world.
But was the timing meant to send a message?
The timing is 2014. That’s when we had this agreement. And since 2014 we were negotiating the implementation of this agreement. It happens to be coinciding with these two events. It wasn’t planned. It had to be passed from the parliament before the summer session, and it was June, and that was on the agenda of the parliament anyway. It did not change anything from the 2014 agreement, and it will not change anything.
If the dispute is not resolved quickly, is there a danger of Qatar and Turkey and Iran growing closer, either tactically over the short term or over the longer term?
I see such speculations here and there. But nobody should give credit to those thoughts. Because we are a country of the region, we are a member of Nato, Turkey is a global country and we are not known by being a part of certain axes, an axis of three countries, four countries, no. We have been working with Saudi Arabia, UAE and other countries on several files together and we have very close co-operation and it will continue. Whereas Iran happens to be a centuries-long neighbour with Turkey and we have a kind of modus vivendi with them. It’s no secret that we don’t agree on everything, but you need to have a kind of good neighbourly relations with Iran.
It seems likely that this crisis in the Gulf will continue to simmer, maybe without further escalation, for a longer term. If that happens how does Turkey safeguard its interests, especially on the economic side, which we talked about as being the backbone of strengthening the Turkey-Saudi-UAE relationship?
As I said, Turkey is a global country, with a GDP close to one trillion dollars, 16th-largest economy in the world. And if you look at the Istanbul stock exchange index, it increased by 40 per cent since January … and Turkey’s economy grew by five percent in the first quarter and is predicted to grow by 6, 7 per cent by the end of this year. So we have plenty of interests around the world and the Gulf countries could benefit actually from better economic relations with Turkey because economic opportunities are abundant in Turkey.
Have you seen economic fallout here in the UAE over the course of this crisis?
Our trade volume is over 10 billion dollars and our investment in the UAE is as big as the UAE investment in Turkey. There are 300,000 Turkish tourists yearly visiting the UAE. However if we had a better political climate these numbers could double immediately because there is a huge interest in tourism, in investment. Turkish entrepreneurs are exploring opportunities but they are expecting better working conditions for them, and they are discouraged by certain practices here against Turkish citizens, Turkish companies. If they are offered the same kind of a practice as expatriates at foreign companies I think you can see a big increase in Turkish capital coming into the UAE, huge increase in Turkish investments in the UAE, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
What are the kinds of impediments?
Trade licence issues, working permits … these things are discouraging potential Turkish investors.
I was reading an article by a Turkish journalist who framed Turkey’s choice in the Gulf crisis as ‘win Qatar, lose the Gulf’. Is that the case?
Look, it is not a zero-sum game. It doesn’t mean that winning Qatar means losing the Gulf. We don’t have such a policy or expect such an outcome. Again, that would be detrimental also for the countries in the Gulf, be it Qatar, be it UAE or Saudi Arabia. We are not in a position to pick a side. Our relations with Qatar are very well known and it is very close but it does not mean we have closed the door to UAE and other countries. We extend our hand to everybody, and that’s our objective to improve our relations with UAE and Saudi Arabia.
In terms of what is the best way for Doha to engage with these demands by the other Gulf countries, do you encourage negotiations on certain points in particular? Do you feel like any of the demands are something that Doha should consider negotiating on?
That’s the decision to be made by Doha. We are not in a position to say ‘look do this, do that’. However, if there are issues to be addressed, these issues must be addressed. But this issue of financing terrorism is not an issue peculiar to Qatar. Even if it’s not the governments, there are certain persons and institutes indicated here and there, the United States issued a report about that [last week], so there is a common ground for all the countries to improve things on that front. And of course we are ready to contribute because of course terrorism is one big scourge that Turkey has been dealing with more than any country.
At the broadest level, people have said that the underlying issue that has led consistently to tensions between Qatar and these three neighbours in the GCC are two competing visions for the future of the Arab region. What is Turkey’s perspective?
We are interested in the stability of the region — stability and predictability. I think that’s where everybody puts their emphasis. And this issue is something that’s up to the countries of the region, and I believe these countries should meet a certain middle point. Because I don’t think one side will be accepting the other side’s view. If there is a conflicting view you negotiate and reach a compromise. That’s what needs to be done.
Is there any last point you’d like to make?
I want to finish this on a positive note. I think things are on track for de-escalation. I think that’s to the benefit of every country. The sooner we have this over the better for everybody, for political terms, for economic terms and that’s where Turkey’s interest is.