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Contrary position

March 10, 2011

Turkey is swimming against the tide on Libya, arguing strongly against international intervention such as the proposed no-fly zone. For an EU applicant and NATO member, this stance could prove problematic.

Reccep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan says the international community should wait and watchImage: AP

The Turkish government remains opposed to no-fly zones or other military intervention in Libya, putting the regime at odds with many of its NATO allies. Despite the increasing numbers of casualties, Turkish leaders say intervention would prove counterproductive, and have accused western countries of eying Libya's oil reserves.

The foreign ministry says that outside intervention would be unwise because it's not yet clear what the people in Libya really want.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week that Turkey would enforce all UN sanctions, but not measures imposed by the EU or US.

Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan has described the notion of intervention in Libya as "nonsense," implying that the country's oil reserves are the real motivation for western countries.

As western leaders increasingly advocate some form of intervention in Libya, with an EU summit on the matter scheduled for Friday, Turkey's stance is becoming increasingly problematic for a country which is a member of NATO and a European Union aspirant.

"They seem to be rowing against the current," diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz said. "Erdogan was among the first to support the demonstrators in Egypt, to call for democracy, and demand that [former Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak step down. But we do not see the same kind of approach in relation to Libya."

Economic interests

The opposition has been trying to capitalize on the government's stance, accusing the Turkish leadership of putting business ties with Gadhafi's Libya above humanitarian concerns.

Muammar Gadhafi
The opposition in Turkey say their government is too close to GadhafiImage: dapd

"We do a fair amount of construction and contracting, worth between 10 and 15 billion dollars," the chief economist at the Turkish branch of the Global Securities trading house, Emre Yigit, said. "Turkish construction companies, and their workers, are exposed, and there could be a knock-on effect for the rest of the economy."

Selim Yenel, deputy undersecretary for bilateral affairs and diplomacy in the foreign ministry, conceded that economic interests play some role in almost all policy decisions, but still says that the government's stance is the right one.

"Who are we to decide what is right or wrong? Can we be that arrogant to decide that one side is definitely in the right? Right now, we have to take a different approach to Libya, not least because fighting there could cause more casualties. Taking sides or pushing for certain things could actually make things worse," Yenel said.

Turkey's path towards EU membership has been a rocky one. There are several unresolved issues: the country's diplomatic tensions with Greece and Cyprus, the hesitant improvement of the country's human rights and democratic credentials, and Turkey's sheer size all speak against speedy entry into the bloc. The European Parliament on Wednesday published a far from glowing report on Turkey's "slow progress" in implementing reform, saying the country was not "a true pluralist democracy."

With Ankara also at odds with the EU and US over the issue of possible sanctions against Iran, this controversial stance on Libya could serve as another indication that Turkey is not an entirely reliable ally for the West.

Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul (msh)
Editor: Michael Lawton