This afternoon a press conference was held in the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office between Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.
The two men seemed to get along quite well and voiced their mutual respect for one another. In their opening statements the focus was on a new era of bilateral cooperation between Turkey and the United Kingdom, whereas in the question and answer session that followed the focus was primarily on the issue of Israel, its recent attack on the Freedom Flotilla, Turkey's reaction to the assault, and the ongoing siege on Gaza.
William Hague began by saying that the fact that the UK coalition government has been in office for less than two months and has already had meetings with the Turkish Foreign Minister lasting several hours and were on their way to have several more hours of meetings this afternoon shows just how serious they are about their commitment to work closely with the Turkish government.
Hague said, "Turkey is one of the countries with whom we believe elevated ties are highly desirable." He stated that their long discussion this morning was "extremely positive, detailed and wide ranging, covering our economic relations as well as global issues. We have established an excellent basis, I think, for working closely together as Foreign Ministers. I have great respect for the Minister as someone who has made a huge personal contribution to thinking about Turkey's foreign policy."
He further added "there is huge scope for intensified dialogue and cooperation between the United Kingdom and Turkey and I'm delighted to say that we have agreed that our countries will conclude a new strategic partnership in the near future. It will reflect the importance we attach to our relationship and set the stage for closer cooperation in foreign affairs, security, defence and trade. Turkey is a vital NATO ally, a strategic partner for the UK, and Europe's largest emerging economy and we value Turkey's unique character as a place where East and West meet together.
On related matters, Mr Hague said, "We value Turkey's advice and opinions on issues such as Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East Peace Process and the Western Balkans... Our talks this afternoon will focus on Turkey's path to EU membership which the United Kingdom strongly supports. This government is clear that for the European Union to turn its back on Turkey would be an immense strategic error and we will encourage Turkey's EU aspirations…."
He mentioned that Prime Minster, David Cameron hopes to make an "early visit to Turkey which will be another milestone in building closer ties between our countries."
On his part, Turkey's Foreign Minister Davutoglu began his talk by commenting on the historic relations between Turkey and Britain and mentioned that the first ever Turkish ambassador outside Turkey was sent to London in 1793.
He said that there had been approximately 13 billion dollars in foreign trade between Turkey and Britain in 2008, which dropped somewhat in 2009, but that they now hoped to increase it again, "not just to 13 billion dollars but to 20 billion dollars in the coming years!" He also announced their joint plans to work together to establish a Turkish – British University in Turkey.
Davutoglu said they had also discussed the "recent attacks by Israel against the civilian flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean. I explained to my colleague our perspective that that attack occurred in international waters, and there were civilian casualties and there should be accountability for this from the perspective of law. It is not only a political case; it is a legal case for us."
In the question and answer session Davutoglu was asked if reports that Turkey would sever ties with Israel unless they apologised over the Gaza flotilla was accurate. He responded by saying the following: "As I have said this is a legal case. The fact is eight Turks and one American citizen was killed in international waters. So there is a crime. Now there are some simple questions. Who killed these nine civilians in international waters? It was not in the territory of Israel. It was not [in] Israeli waters. They did not violate Israeli territory. They did not harm any Israeli citizens. Now the question is who killed them? Everybody knows who. Then the second question: on what basis were they killed? Who has the right to kill civilians in international waters? All of us, all civilised societies, we are accountable and we are responsible. We are accountable to our societies because we are democracies and we are accountable to the international community because we are members of the UN system and we are all obliged to respect international law. Now if somebody, Israel or any other country, did not respect these [conventions] then the next [issue] is that there should be accountability. Accountability means if somebody says, 'OK it was a mistake', then they should apologise and we can talk about our future relations, compensation and other things. If they think that they did not make any mistake, then we have another alternative, accept an international investigation. An international investigation by the UN will decide who killed these civilians, on what basis and what are the consequences. These are the two options. An [internal] investigation is not acceptable to Turkey because the accused party cannot be prosecutor and judge at the same time. Now we expect Israel to either apologise and accept its crime or to accept an international investigation. I think that this is a just and fair request from Turkey. If they do not follow these two alternatives then of course Turkey, as a respected nation and state, has full rights to take any measure to protect the rights of its civilians, of citizens. There is one American citizen, so of course it is an America decision what to do for him, but for us it is the dignity of the state to protect the rights of our citizens. Whatever is needed for this we will take action.... If Israel wants to improve relations with us then they should accept accountability and do all the necessary actions to prevent the deterioration of our relations. Two years ago in 2008 we were running the negotiations between Israel and Syria and we had a very good co-operation… so this was not the decision of Turkey. The deterioration of Turkish Israeli relations was because of the decisions and violations of the Israeli government against International law."