New Turkey PM extends hand to Israel, other regional foes
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New Turkey PM extends hand to Israel, other regional foes

Binali Yildirim says normalization with Israel ‘soon,’ wants no permanent tensions with Black Sea, Mediterranean neighbors

Turkey's new Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses onlookers during celebrations marking the 563rd anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, now Istanbul, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, May 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey's new Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses onlookers during celebrations marking the 563rd anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, now Istanbul, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, May 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

ISTANBUL (AFP) — Turkey’s new prime minister on Friday stretched out a cautious hand of reconciliation to Turkey’s regional foes, saying he wanted no permanent tensions with Black Sea and Mediterranean neighbors after serious ruptures with Egypt, Israel, Russia and Syria.

Binali Yildirim, a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took over the premiership in May from Ahmet Davutoglu who had spearheaded a policy of projecting Turkish power in the region.

Some analysts have suggested that Davutoglu made way for Yildirim to allow a more reconciliatory foreign policy that would allow Turkey to mend bridges with its enemies and return to its former dictum of “zero problems” with neighbors.

“Israel, Syria, Russia, Egypt… we cannot have permanent enmity with these countries which border the Black and Mediterranean Seas,” Yildirim said in his first major interview with Turkish reporters, quoted by the Hurriyet daily.

‘See big picture’

Previously tight relations between key NATO member Turkey and Israel took a nosedive over the past decade, with Ankara protesting Israeli military action in Gaza and the 2010 deadly storming by IDF commandos of an aid ship bound for Gaza, which left 10 Turkish activists dead. The Israeli troops were attacked as they boarded to take over the Mavi Marmara vessel, which sought to break Israel’s naval blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, imposed to prevent the terror group importing weapons.

Then-Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon (left) with Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, during a meeting in 2010. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Then-Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon (left) with Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, during a meeting in 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Yildirim said Turkish diplomats were working on a solution for normalization, with the lifting of the Israeli blockade the key condition.

“I don’t think the remaining period will be very long” until a result for normalization is achieved, he said.

Turkish press reports have suggested a breakthrough may come soon, with Ankara keen to wrap up the issue before the Turkish foreign ministry’s powerful pointman on Israel, Feridun Sinirlioglu, takes up a new job in New York as Turkey’s representative to the United Nations.

Relations with Russia tumbled to post-Cold War lows when Turkey on November 24, 2015 shot down a Russian warplane over the Syrian border.

Moscow then blocked the sale of tours to Turkey, wrecking tourism in the south of the country where the industry was hugely dependent on Russian tourists.

“We need to look at the big picture,” said Yildirim. “There is no hostility between our peoples. It’s possible to go back to the old days and take our relations even further.”

His comments come after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter this month to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin congratulating him on Russia’s national day, the first such high level contact since the plane crisis.

Russia has so far responded coolly, but pro-government daily Yeni Safak said Friday that Turkey had prepared a nine step “roadmap” for normalizing political and economic relations by September 1 and full ties by December 15.

‘Turkey wants Egypt ties’

Relations with Egypt suffered a similar downturn after the 2013 ousting of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a close Ankara ally, and Erdogan has denounced President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as an “illegitimate tyrant.”

Yildirim said Ankara would never accept the 2013 “coup” but said “this should not be an obstacle in the commercial relations between our countries.”

“The development of relations is in the interest of the two peoples,” he added.

In this Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 file photo provided by Turkish Prime Minister's Press Service, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and then-Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi salute the members of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey (photo credit: AP/Kayhan Ozer)
In this Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 file photo provided by Turkish Prime Minister’s Press Service, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and then-Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi salute the members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey (AP/Kayhan Ozer)

Reports have suggested that Turkey’s increasingly close ally, fellow Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia, is keen to engineer a reconciliation between Cairo and Ankara.

On the Syria conflict, Turkey has always called for the ousting of President Bashar Assad and opposed attempts by Syrian Kurds to carve out an autonomous region.

“The territorial integrity of Syria is important for us,” Yildirim said.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met Friday with US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ankara, telling him of Turkey’s anxieties over the US support of Kurdish militias in Syria, foreign ministry sources said.

Turkey however has denied suggestions it may be prepared to soften its position that Assad must depart immediately for there to be a solution in Syria.

“Would you [as a refugee] be convinced to return to Syria if Assad is to stay and kill your family again? It’s not feasible,” a senior Turkish official said this week.

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