As has already been reported, Deputy Prime Minister Babacan could not make it because of plane trouble, but I was able to speak with him earlier today, and he extends his warmest greetings to all of you. And I will be seeing him when I’m in Istanbul on Wednesday.
Before I begin, I want to say, on behalf of President Obama and the American people, that our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones and their homes in the recent earthquake, also with the rescuers and with the people of Turkey, because of the scenes of heart-wrenching suffering, but also exhilaration, bravery, and compassion that lift the spirit: the tiny baby girl who was pulled alive after being trapped for 48 hours, then her mother and her grandmother being saved, and then a 13-year-old boy. These great testaments to the resilience of the human spirit were very touching to all of us.
Now, sadly, the recent earthquake is not the only time we have grieved together. Less than two weeks ago, two dozen Turkish soldiers were killed in a vicious terrorist attack by the PKK. The United States stands with Turkey in the fight against violent extremism. And I was proud to join with Foreign Minister Davutoglu just last month to co-chair the new Global Counterterrorism Forum. That is just one example of the breadth and increasing sophistication of our partnership. I think President Obama set the tone when he addressed the Turkish parliament during his first foreign trip as President and underscored the importance of this relationship to both of our countries.
Now, I have to confess that some Americans, including quite a few on Capitol Hill, have questions about the future of this vital partnership. And they wonder about its durability and they wonder about the future role that Turkey will play in the region. And from what I have read, I know that there are many Turks who also have questions about our partnership. I think it’s the responsibility of the leadership of both of our countries to answer those questions. So I want to emphasize that the United States welcomes Turkey’s growing role in the region and on the world stage. Now, we do not always see eye-to-eye. In fact, no two nations – or two friends or even two members of the same family – ever do. But we are confident that as Turkey assumes the responsibilities that come with increased influence, our partnership will become even more productive in the years ahead.
Tonight, I want to focus on an aspect of our relationship that sometimes receives less attention but is increasingly central to our future together; that is, U.S.-Turkish economic ties and Turkey’s growing economic leadership in the region. As I explained in a speech earlier this month in New York, the Obama Administration is elevating economic statecraft as a pillar of American foreign policy so we can continue to lead in a world where power is often exercised in boardrooms and on trading floors as much as in battle space.
The context for this discussion is the remarkable growth that Turkey has experienced in recent years. The Turkish economy tripled in size over the past decade. More people found jobs, started businesses, bought homes. And when I talk with Turks, from students to entrepreneurs to government officials, I see a confidence and optimism – and it is for a good reason. Turkey can be proud that it has become the 17th largest economy in the world, with ambitions to reach the top 10 in the coming years.
This story – sometimes called the Turkish Miracle – is well known. But its strategic implications are perhaps less well understood. So I would like to make four points: first, that a strong U.S.-Turkey relationship has contributed to Turkish prosperity; that, in turn, Turkey’s economic growth should further strengthen our partnership; that for Turkey to take full advantage of its new opportunities, it will have to consolidate democratic progress at home and peace and stability in its neighborhood; and finally, that Turkey’s economic leadership can be a powerful force for progress across the region.
First, the role of our alliance in supporting Turkey’s prosperity. There is no doubt that the lion’s share of the credit rests with this generation and preceding generations of Turkish people whose talent, ingenuity, and hard work made it possible. Over the last decade, successive Turkish governments made important economic reforms that paid off. They opened the economy to foreign investment, curbed inflation, sought closer economic integration with Europe, and extended development beyond the major cities. These steps were crucial. But I would argue that a strong partnership with the United States also played a role.
This starts with security, which, after all, is the foundation of stability and prosperity. Our work together in NATO has helped keep the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean open and safe. We faced down aggression in the Middle East. We helped bring stability and prosperity to the Balkans and Central Europe, allowing Turkey to establish profitable new trade and investment relationships.
Our expanding cooperation on counterterrorism, our work together on 21st century threats through the new NATO Strategic Concept, and the new missile defense radar that NATO will deploy are reminders of the continuing contributions that the alliance makes to Turkey’s security and that Turkey makes to the security of the alliance.
But it’s not just security. It’s also access to a global economic system that is open, free, transparent, and fair – one that the United States pioneered and continues to protect. Turkey has thrived in this system as a member of the G-20, which the Obama Administration has helped to elevate as the premier forum for international economic cooperation and for greater involvement in the global marketplace as well. In the long run, we believe that Turkey would enjoy even greater prosperity if it one day joins the European Union – a step that the United States has consistently supported.
My second point is that just as our alliance has contributed to Turkey’s prosperity, that prosperity can in turn strengthen our alliance. For too long, our economic relationship has lagged behind our security partnership. But there is reason to hope that is starting to change. In the first eight months of this year alone, our bilateral trade grew by nearly 50 percent. Members of the American-Turkish Council, such as Boeing, Sikorsky, Raytheon, are doing more and more business in Turkey. That has benefited workers and consumers in both countries. But I believe we can do even better. With the help of those of you in this room, we can take this relationship to the next level and build a partnership for prosperity as durable and dynamic as our security alliance.
That is why, under the leadership of President Obama and President Gul, we have intensified our diplomatic engagement, including through our joint Economic Partnership Commission, which brings together experts from across both governments to discuss everything from protecting intellectual property rights to boosting energy trade along the southern corridor, to positioning Istanbul as an international financial center. And I would applaud the recent signing by Prime Minister Erdogan and President Aliyev of Azerbaijan of a very important energy agreement. We are exploring the ways the United States can help Turkey take advantage of advanced bond and capital markets in a way that would have been impossible only five years ago.
The Obama Administration also puts a premium on reaching beyond traditional diplomacy to engage directly with the private sector, civil society, and diaspora communities. We believe that these partnerships can help us leverage new energy, innovation, and resources. President Obama hosted the first Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington last year, and we are pleased that Prime Minister Erdogan will be hosting the second summit in Istanbul this December. And in fact, Vice President Biden will be representing our government there. The Global Entrepreneurship Program we launched last year is already working with the Turkish business community to train and support the next generation of entrepreneurs there.
And we are pleased that, just last month, the new U.S.-Turkey Business Council held its first meeting. And on my last visit, in July, I met with the Istanbul chapter of Partners for a New Beginning, a public-private initiative that the United States helped launch to build new ties between businesses, NGOs, and communities. Under its auspices, the Coca-Cola Company, Cisco, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, and other partners are working with Turkish women entrepreneurs to provide new seed grants, training, and mentoring. Intel is promoting technology entrepreneurship at Turkish universities, and numerous other joint ventures are underway. The more Turkey grows, the more we can trade, build, and prosper together. And for Americans, eager to drive our own economic recovery, that is vitally important.
The third point is that Turkey’s ability to realize its full potential depends upon its resolve to strengthen democracy at home and promote peace and stability in the neighborhood. The ongoing constitutional reform process is a valuable opportunity, and I’ve had very productive conversations with President Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and others about this process, about its inclusivity and transparency that results in a document that deepens respect for human rights for all Turkish citizens, including the right to speak and worship freely. All minority groups need to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. I was particularly impressed by Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement during Ramadan that property would be returned to religious minority groups, and we also hope to see other positive steps, such as reopening of the Halki Seminary.
A vibrant economy depends upon the free exchange of ideas, the free flow of information, and the rule of law. Strengthening due process, cracking down on corruption, helps any country grow more rapidly, and also protecting a free and independent media, which plays a role that is very important. And of course, true prosperity must be shared widely. And for me, that means that all of the strong and accomplished women leaders in government, business, and civil society in Turkey should be given the opportunity to fully participate, and, in turn, they, along with their male counterparts, should further empower all women that will be critical for Turkey’s continued development. This requires, as we know from our own experience, unrelenting effort.
Looking beyond Turkey’s borders, there are concerns, and we have worked closely with our Turkish counterparts, because we know that Turkey has a unique opportunity in this time of great historic change, with the so-called Arab Awakening, to demonstrate the power of an inclusive democracy and responsible regional leadership. For example, we have worked closely with Turkey on supporting the central institutions of Iraq and helping to integrate Iraq economically into a larger region. Turkey has been vocal in its condemnation of President Asad’s brutal campaign of violence against its own people, and Syrian opposition groups have met and organized in Turkey. And Turkey has opened its arms and hearts to more than 7,000 Syrians who have found refuge across the border. The Turkish Government understands that the longer President Asad stays in power and oppresses his own people, the more the risk rises that Syria descends into chaos and conflict that threatens not only Syrian but those beyond its borders.
The United States is also encouraged by the signs of progress between Turkey and Greece, including last year’s joint cabinet meeting and the establishment of a strategic cooperation council. But we have been concerned by the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel. We believe this relationship has served both countries well over the years, and it is positive that both governments have left the door open to reconciliation, and we continue to urge both countries to look for opportunities to put this important relationship back on track.
We also are focused on Cyprus. All parties agree on the fundamental goal of achieving a lasting settlement on the island that results in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. The United States supports the UN’s mediation on the Cyprus issue, and we believe that public rhetoric on all sides must be kept to a minimum to give the parties space needed to achieve a solution. And while we recognize the right of the Republic of Cyprus to explore for natural resources in its exclusive economic zone, including with the assistance of U.S. companies, we look forward to both sides benefiting from shared resources in the context of an overall agreement.
Similarly, improving relations between Turkey and Armenia would be a positive step, and we hope that the Turkish parliament will ratify the protocols during its current session and normalize ties with Armenia. These festering conflicts hold back progress and development in the region. Reducing tensions with neighbors, increasing stability, is a recipe for expanded growth and influence. Turkey’s leaders understand this, which is why they have been reaching out over the last years. But it does take bold choices and strong political will, not only on the part of Turkey, but on the part of all of the countries.
Now, the final point I want to make – and it is related – is that we believe Turkey’s economic leadership has the potential to support positive change far beyond Turkey’s own borders or own neighborhood. Turkey sends more than a quarter of its exports to nations in the Middle East and North Africa. Its companies are, therefore, investing heavily across the region. Turkish businesses are helping to rebuild Iraq. They are one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Egypt. And Turkish planes have already resumed flights to Libya. Along with political change and reform must come economic reform in this region. To succeed, the Arab political awakening must also be an economic awakening.
President Obama has outlined a comprehensive economic agenda to support the democratic transitions now underway, and Turkey is a valuable partner in this effort. We want to increase access for transitional democracies to U.S., European, and Turkish markets. We want to open the door for those countries that adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a free, open, and integrated trade and investment area. Increasing trade would help diversify economies and create opportunities, particularly for young people.
So for Turkey, with its investments across the region, the benefits of greater integration, economically and politically, are substantial, and its capacity to support this integration is likewise substantial. In fact, Turkey’s growing influence is key to helping integrate and modernize the economies of the Middle East and North Africa. This vision is, we believe, what should be the hallmark of our partnership in the years ahead, because if we look at this important relationship through an economic lens, we see even more promise than we have seen in the past.
In fact, we see Turkey’s growing leadership holding great potential benefits – yes, first and foremost for the people of Turkey, but then far beyond your borders. For the United States, this is reason for optimism. As I leave you here and set out again for Turkey, I am confident about the state of our alliance and the alignment of our interests, proud of what we have accomplished together, and hopeful for what we will achieve in the future together.
I thank all of you for your commitment to this relationship. The banner behind me says 30 years, and 30 years has seen a great deal of change, not only inside both of our countries and between us, but in the world that we are now facing. And I am convinced that the work you are doing to bring our two nations closer together, to deal with the challenges and seize the opportunities before us, is absolutely essential, certainly for my country, for our security, for our future, and I believe also for Turkey.
So thank you for welcoming me tonight, and I look forward to continuing to work with you. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
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