Return to Transcripts main page
Interview with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired March 31, 2016 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: my exclusive interview with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who slams Europe
for not heeding his terror warning, says that he thinks President Obama may now accept a no-fly zone in Syria. And I ask him why he's at war with the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): I am not at war with press. We have to define what war against press stands for
in your point of view or in my point of view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.
President Obama today hosts a special two-day nuclear security summit as global fears of nuclear terrorism rise especially since ramped-up ISIS
attacks across Europe and even Turkey and the emergence of a so-called super cell in Europe.
Along with 50 other world leaders, such as China's Xi Jinping, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also taking part. Turkey, of course, is
an ally and a NATO member; Erdogan is key to helping end the war in Syria, stopping the influx of refugees into Europe and fighting terror.
Turkey itself has been struck multiple times in the past year, including another bombing just today.
But at the same time, relations between Turkey and the West are very strained. As Erdogan pursues his increasingly autocratic rule, cracking
down on the press and any domestic criticism, even a German TV satire that poked fun at him.
I put all of this to the president during an exclusive interview in Washington just before his meeting with President Obama. And I started by
asking him about the catastrophic intelligence and security failure that led to the devastating ISIS attacks in Brussels last week.
He says he tipped them off last year about this man, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the airport bombers.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, welcome to the program.
Can I first ask you about the issue of Ibrahim Bakraoui, who you say you alerted the West to and in fact deported? Can you tell me exactly what
you did and how you knew him?
ERDOGAN (through translator): On June 11, 2015, El Bakraoui entered the Republic of Turkey through the city of Antalya and on July 14, 2015, he
was recovered in the city of Gaziantep and he was detained.
And on 14 July, 2015, he was suspected of being affiliated with daish and he was deported back to the Netherlands, which appears to be his actual
location and residence.
Deportation verdict has been submitted and communicated to Netherlands and Belgium. In the aftermath of this development, Belgium demanded
additional intelligence. On June 6, 2016, it was obvious that he was affiliated and involved in the conflict zones and he was wounded. That is
the reason why he was deported.
And this is the information that was communicated to Belgium. He was born in 1986 and we can call them a young person and Belgium,
unfortunately, attached no significance to this piece of information and these incidents happened.
AMANPOUR: Why do you think they did not pick up your intelligence and particularly, the Dutch say that your government did not alert them to the
fact that he had jihadi tendencies?
ERDOGAN (through translator): You have to identify whether these are foreign fighters or jihadists. The Netherlands nor the Belgium seem to
have understood what jihadist stands for. We have been calling the nations for a common stand against terrorism and many of the European member states
failed to attach the significance that this call for action deserves.
AMANPOUR: You met with Jewish groups here in Washington today. They must have asked you about this threat against Jews in Turkey.
What did you tell them?
How will you keep them safe?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Very clearly, I must say that, as you so rightfully put, we had a meeting with the representatives of the Jewish
organizations this morning in D.C. We have a very significant number of Jewish citizens and they have always been safe and secure where they are in
Turkey. They have their own synagogues and schools and media outlets which have always been in security and safety.
ERDOGAN (through translator): And from time to time, I get to go there with the rabbis, with the religious leaders, the leaders of the
congregations and I talk to them.
And whenever a need arises, we try everything we can to meet those expectations and meet those needs. A couple of weeks ago, we were together
with the Jewish community representatives and we talked about everything.
I am one of the first political leaders officially declaring that anti-Semitism is a crime and I expect an official declaration that
Islamophobia is a crime against humanity as well. And Islamophobia emerged from the western countries and this is a challenge that we all together
need to surmount.
We have French fighters within daish. We have German fighters in daish. We have Australian fighters in daish and 22 countries out of the 98
countries feeding fighters into daish are E.U. member states. This is very meaningful. That's why we have to forge a very strong alliance with E.U.
AMANPOUR: You came here three years ago and there was a very warm meeting, Rose Garden ceremony between you and President Obama and there was
a sense that Turkey, under your leadership, was committed to the fight in Syria, committed to democracy, committed to all these issues that are
important to the west and to the E.U. obviously.
This time, there seems to be a cooler reception, slightly more tension. You're not going to have a bilateral separate meeting with
Are you concerned about that and about the way relations seem to be deteriorating between yourself, your government and the United States?
ERDOGAN (through translator): We shouldn't be speaking about a prospective deterioration between the U.S. and Turkey. And I'm a leader
who wholeheartedly believes that the U.S. will never allow that to happen. And through you, I must let all the audiences know, never respect such
AMANPOUR: Do you feel that there's a tension?
Do you feel disappointed with the U.S. reaction to the war in Syria?
Is the U.S. doing everything that you hoped it would do to end this war?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, let me put it this way. About the developments in Syria and in Iraq, the U.S. is always in the lead. And
I believe a better accomplishment could have been cultivated not only in Iraq but also in Syria. It still is possible.
Therefore, we have to be a part of this coalition force and we have to work together and jointly for the protection of the territorial integrity
of Syria and for the establishment of the long lasting peace.
I am not in a position to allow the handing over of some parts of Syria to a terrorist organization. I will never be forgiving of such a
mistake if that mistake shall ever be made.
AMANPOUR: Which particular terrorist organization do you mean, daish or who?
ERDOGAN (through translator): YPG, PYD and if daish has an intention of that sort, but they do have an intention of that sort, they will never
be allowed either. We don't discriminate between a good terrorist organization and an evil terrorist organization.
A terrorist organization is evil in nature and none of them shall be allowed.
AMANPOUR: You obviously have incredibly tense relations with Russia now. The blowing the plane out of the skies and the retaliation that
Russia has done against Turkey. But can you tell me, what is your assessment of how much Russia has helped Bashar Assad?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Russia has provided the foundation that a tyrant such as Bashar needed, who has been exercising state funded
terrorism. Putin used to have different thoughts about the position of Assad in Syria.
However, right now, it seems like Mr. Putin has been going through a dilemma. We're talking about a tyrant Assad who's caused the death of
500,000 people and I believe siding with a person like that will never be forgiven in the eyes of history.
History will remember you with the deeds that you have engaged in. If you were a good-doer, you will be commemorated fondly. But if you took
sides with the evil tyrants, you will be remembered not so fondly.
AMANPOUR: Tell me how Turkey is going to enforce this deal that it's made with the E.U. regarding preventing more refugees coming into Europe,
coming into Greece?
ERDOGAN (through translator): I must mention that Turkey is surrounded by a vast shoreline and this shoreline is taken under
surveillance within the utmost capabilities that we have with the coast guard and the trespassing is not as frequent as it used to be.
We have taken the necessary measures, similar to the measures taken by Greece, around the islands in the Aegean. With the timely sharing of the
intelligence, with a joint cooperation with Greece, we can see a significant drop in the amount of refugees trying to cross over to the
But I must underline one fact as I have the opportunity. We're talking about the --
ERDOGAN (through translator): -- 3 million refugees accommodated in Turkey, 2.8 million of which are coming from Syria. These people are
fleeing bombs and we had an open door policy vis-a-vis these people.
We still can't shut these doors. If they will still need to come to Turkey, we will let them come to Turkey because we are not going to pave
the way to their demise.
We have spent so far $10 billion out of our own budget, but unfortunately we have only received $455 million from the international
But I would like to announce something to the rest of the world and the U.S. There's a step that we need to take forward. On the northern part
of Syria, we have to establish a secure zone liberated from terrorism entirely. We can build up homes for the refugees.
And in this secure zone, Syrian citizens will be housed. Schools will be built for them. Offices will be built for them. They will be settled
there and they will no longer need to flee the Syrian territory. And we have that opportunity and the refugees who are currently in Turkey will go
back to Syria. The relevant infrastructure will be built in a year, a year and a half and I'm very much determined and I'm very ambitious.
AMANPOUR: You've been saying this for a long time, Mr. President, ever since this war started, you've called for a safe zone in the north of
Syria. Nobody has wanted to help you do that and you haven't done it yourself.
How are you going to do that?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, this is something that I've communicated to my dear friend President Obama. On the northern part of
Syria, we have identified a place, a location. Our American friends know about that and we know about that and we can take these steps forward and
these constructions can be completed in no time.
And if we should do that, our Syrian friends will accept going back and settling there and I'm receiving the results of my deliberations with
my counterparts around the world.
AMANPOUR: We'd be very interested to know the results, because up until now, the American administration has said no to a no-fly zone and no
to a safe zone. Are you telling me that could change?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, I'm keeping my hopes, I still cross my fingers. I'm not in despair yet. And I have communicated these
messages to Chancellor Merkel and she has openly declared that she has a positive approach towards this idea and Obama wasn't negative towards this
AMANPOUR: And that would indeed be a major development.
Coming up, what President Erdogan won't want to hear from President Obama. I challenge the Turkish president on his increasingly autocratic
rule and harsh crackdown on the press -- after a break.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
The trial of two top Turkish journalists in Istanbul has created an international uproar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Can Dundar and Erdem Gul from "Cumhuriyet" newspaper face multiple life sentences if convicted on charges of spying
and aiding terrorists by exposing weapons transfers to Syria.
They maintain their innocence. It is only the latest assault on press freedom. It's condemned by the United States and Europe. And I dive
straight in with part two of my exclusive interview with the Turkish president, starting with an issue that's only gotten more attention because
of his reaction.
AMANPOUR: So you mentioned President Obama, you mentioned Chancellor Merkel and I said to you that they're both quite angry at the authoritarian
tone that you and your government has increasingly taken.
Right now, you have a situation where you have called in the German ambassador because of a satire that was on the internet in Germany mocking
you and criticizing you.
Why do you care?
Why is it so important for you to make a big deal about this?
And doesn't it show that you have a very thin skin and that actually, by making a big deal about this, people know about it, whereas people may
not have known about it if you hadn't bothered with it at all?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, I must put it in very frank terms. We shouldn't confuse criticism with insult and defamation. I am
and my people are, open to criticism. I am an open politician and I am an open leader.
With a participation of 85 percent and with the 52 percent of all the votes, I was elected the President for the first time in Turkey. Why?
Because as a prime minister, I used to work a lot in order to help flourish democracy, help establish a better and a more prosperous infrastructure
along with superstructure and where Turkey stands in economic terms is quite obvious and appreciated by the Turkish people.
So long as you're sincere when you're talking to the people, so long as you love the people sincerely and deeply, people will love you. And
this is something that I've observed in the aftermath of the presidential elections in Turkey.
AMANPOUR: So why do you care about this satire?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Satire? Whether it be satire or not, everything has to have boundaries. While you are coming up with some sort
of a satire, a simple caricature, a simple sketch, that's fine; there's nothing wrong with that. But if you draw up a caricature and put the
subject into a shape that they're not supposed to be in and if you associate that subject with the things you're not supposed to, then, of
course, you can't expect that to be acceptable.
We have laws in place and laws allow you to have freedom to the extent defined by law and of course it's my natural right to seek out for my own
rights. Through my lawyers and through my solicitors I can do this.
Let me give you an example. If, through satire, daish would be supported, would you accept this?
AMANPOUR: Yes, but those are two different things.
ERDOGAN (through translator): You say they are two different things, but satire, with the president of a country in its core results in
defamation and insult to something totally different.
You cannot claim Erdogan (ph) to be a terrorist and if somebody's going to claim a democratic president of any country a terrorist, I will
seek out for my rights through legal means. This is what I did. If I don't do that, I will have acted disrespectfully to the 52 percent of the
votes of my people that I have received.
AMANPOUR: So that's one instance of a bigger picture, because Europe is also and your own people, your own free press, are very, very concerned
about what's happening under your government. So many people are being fired from their jobs, put into jail and are on trial. And you know there
are two key people on trial right now from the newspaper that is under threat from the government and from the legal process and Europeans are
going to the trial to observe the trial. That is kind of normal. The E.U. does that all over the world. And you're really angry about it.
Again, I'm a member of the press. I'm also a UNESCO ambassador for freedom of expression and I don't understand why somebody who's as secure
as you are and who has such a record, when you were prime minister, of democratizing Turkey, why you have gone to war with the press in your
country. What's the point of it?
ERDOGAN (through translator): I'm not at war with press. We have to define what war against press stands for in your point of view and in my
point of view.
AMANPOUR: Well getting -- having them fired. Going to jail. Putting them on trial. Closing down newspapers, for instance.
ERDOGAN (through translator): Espionage, do you think it is a freedom of expression or a freedom of press?
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, every time we have this conversation, they get turned into spies and terrorists.
ERDOGAN (through translator): Please answer this to me.
AMANPOUR: Nobody else says that.
ERDOGAN (through translator): Is espionage part of freedom of expression and freedom of press?
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean of course not. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about press, independent press, in your
I guess the way I can say it is this. The E.U. has said freedom of expression is a non-negotiable condition for joining the E.U., as you want
to do and you're in all these talks with the E.U. Are you going to allow your press to be free?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, my country has laws in place. If a member of the press or an executive of a newspaper engaging in espionage,
disclosing a country's secrets to the rest of the world and if this conduct becomes a part of a litigation, the litigation will result in a verdict.
Wherever you go around the world, this will be the case.
Engaging in actions which are not allowed by law should have certain prices to pay. And that price will not be paid by the president of any
given country. And regardless of where you're at around the world, there are very similar laws in place. There are many similar litigations going
on. That's why, in Turkey, not myself nor my government, we have never done anything to stop freedom of expression or freedom of press. On the
contrary, the press in Turkey had been very critical of me and my government, attacking me very seriously and regardless of those attacks, we
had been very patient in the way we responded to those attacks.
This used to be the case when I was the prime minister and this is still the case as a president.
AMANPOUR: I guess finally, are you not concerned that your European partners, your American partners, your journalists in Turkey, are very
concerned that these are politically motivated accusations and charges, politically motivated?
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, I think you need to step outside the U.S. If you're looking from the point of view of the United States,
you're looking from the United States on to whatever is going on in the rest of the world, you will be mistaken.
If there are problems about this issue, we always invite the parties to come to Turkey and talk about these issues with the Minister of Justice
and with my people and we can always show you how many people have been incarcerated in Turkey because of their identities as media members.
AMANPOUR: You say you invite people to see for themselves. So you won't mind if E.U. representatives come to the trial, because they've been
criticized. I mean, people are calling it the crusader invasion into the court process.
ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, it's OK for the journalists to come as observers to the trials. It's different to have the counsel
generals attending tribunals collectively. Support of people who are allegedly engaged in espionage will never be tolerated. Having snapshots
with those people will not be accepted by the judiciary nor by the people.
As this was not accepted, the vast majority of the Turkish people and the vast majority of the political movements in Turkey, whether it be the
party in power, whether it be the opposition, we saw reactions when it comes to this direct intervention in judiciary by the counsel generals and
the ambassadors' attendance. I just wanted you to know that.
AMANPOUR: So much that you have in common with Europe and so many issues like the refugees and terrorism that you have to fight together and
so many things that still keep you apart. We will continue to monitor Turkey and we thank you very much indeed, Mr. President, for joining us.
ERDOGAN (through translator): And I would like to thank you.
But about the E.U., I must say that we still haven't received what we were expecting. The year 1963 and now it's the year 2016.
Ever since 53 years passed by and in a period of 53 years, although we are one of the first applicants to the E.U. membership, we're still
lingering at the doorstep. The latecomers have already been a part of the E.U. as member states.
We are still being kept busy with irrelevant obstacles. But we are very patient. We are very determined and I hope and pray that the outcome
will be very positive.
And I would like to thank you for this opportunity and for this broadcast and I would like to extend my best regards to the people of the
United States on your behalf or through your channel. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So a good deal of tension between the president and his international allies over present policies.
But coming up, a sneak peek at my interview with living legend Billie Jean King. Imagine a world without this revolutionary game-changer.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where the battle of the sexes lasts a lifetime. Billie Jean King once stepped onto the court
to defeat the sexism of Bobby Riggs back in 1973. And the sports icon would soon found the Women's Tennis Association that same year.
Now as sexism rears its ugly head, both on the court and in this American election, I spoke to Billie Jean about her continuing fight for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILLIE JEAN KING, TENNIS SUPERSTAR: I know Donald Trump. He comes to tennis, to the U.S. Open. I've met -- every time he's very respectful, we
always talk, he loves tennis, he talks tennis, he talks all about women's tennis.
So it's interesting that he can be so derogatory and act as if he doesn't understand that. But that happens all the time in a daily way, it
happens -- I watch commercials. I watch people speak. And I hear it, I see it constantly. It's so divisive, people don't even notice it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And you can see my full interview with Billie Jean King on tomorrow's program.
That is it for our program tonight. And remember you can listen to our podcast, see us online at amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook and
Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York this week.