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Interview with President Erdogan. 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:02:11] BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: I'm in Ankara in Turkey where the winds of change are evident. This is a country in the throws of a political transformation. And at the center of that change, one man, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I'm here at the presidential

palace to interview the president in what is an exclusive conversation.


ANDERSON: President Trump has called you to congratulate you on the outcome of the referendum. Can you elaborate on what was said?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): First of all, it was a telephone call to congratulate me on an Easter Day. And it was very pleasant for him to call me on Easter. And because of the results of the referendum, while he was congratulating me, he stated that our mutual relations will only get stronger in the future. And he shared his opinions and his thoughts with me, his thoughts on Syria.

And he's had the opportunity, and I've had the opportunity, to discuss all these issues at every length. And I have specifically mentioned one thing: without any further adieu, after the referendum, we have to move on from making phone calls to one another and instead get together face-to-face whereby we can further strengthen the relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

ANDERSON: Did he extend you an invitation to go to Washington?

ERDOGAN (through translator): He has stated that he's going to convey his instructions to the relevant echelons within the administration. And I will duly convey my instruction to my protocol.

ANDERSON: We'll talk about the results of the referendum, the future for Turkey in a moment. I just want to press you on one further point, did you, with President Trump, discuss further cooperation on Syria? And does that support, include you supporting Syrian Kurdish troops on the ground in the imminent fight against Raqqa?

ERDOGAN (through translator): In order to hit a terrorist organization such as Daesh using another terrorist organization such as YPG or PYD, is not right. It is a terror organization, and the other one is a terrorist organization as well. And instead, we stated the fact that we need to be together as the members of the coalition forces. We need to forge a stronger alliance and a solidarity. And as Turkey we will be ready to rise up to occasion and do what is necessary.

Trump previously sent his foreign secretary and the director of CIA were here. And we have stated these facts to them as well. We repeated these facts to them.

The United States coalition forces and Turkey would be sufficient and would be strong enough to fight Daesh once and for all.

[11:05:12] ANDERSON: Let's talk about the result of the referendum. This was a simple yes or no vote. A win was a win for sure, but it was a win with the slimmest of margins at 51.4 percent to 48.6.

Is that, do you believe, really the sort of mandate for sweeping political change that this country is about to experience?

ERDOGAN (through translator): Let me try to give you a few examples in order to shed a light on that. I'm coming from football, and I am a person who has played football many years. And I know for sure whether you win 1-0 or 3-0, the points you will get at the end will be the same. What matters most another the end of the day is to score and win the game.

ANDERSON: Perhaps the point is, though, as the international observers here have reported, that critics say one-sided media coverage and the use of state of emergency powers to restrict the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly created an unlevel playing field, they say, and yet you still only won by the slimmest of margins. What's your response?

ERDOGAN (through translator): This week there will be elections held in France. And in France you have the state of emergency, and we are reviewing the state of emergency every three months, but their state of emergency has been expanded to last for an entire year, but nobody is discussing this, are they?

And everything is quite clear. The western world has certain games upon Turkey, but those games failed. And this is something that they're having difficulty in digesting.


[11:10:38] ANDERSON: You won in the rural heartland in places like Konya. You didn't win in the big cities like Ankara, Istanbul, where you cut your teeth as a politician way back when.

Does that worry you as you look to what is a deeply polarized country with a win, for sure, but in a deeply polarized country. Does it bother you that you have

lost the support of the urban centers?

ERDOGAN (through translator): I in my country there's no polarization. 51 percent, 51.2 percent brought a triumph to this country. Yes was chosen. And it is not polarization. It would be unjust to the 52 percent of the people who said yes. 52 percent of votes, don't you think it counts? Do you think only the votes of the 48 people, 48 percent count? This is something that we cannot defend in democracy.

We have said this over and over in my speeches. As I said, this will come before the parliament. And if it's passed from the parliament, I would approve of this. I would confirm. Why? Because we do not have the authority to forgive the murders of our marches.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about the relations with Europe. Since Sunday's referendum, you have repeatedly voiced your support for the reinstatement of the death penalty here in Turkey. In fact, you have offered to hold a referendum here if parliament here doesn't support your plans.

Europe has insisted that the death penalty is a red line in Turkey's bid for EU accession. Are you closing the door on further ties with Europe at this point?

ERDOGAN (through translator): For the last 54 years, we have been lingering at the doorstep of the EU. I am asking you, which country had been lingering at the doorstep of the EU for 40 years, 50 years, 60 years? Is there any other single country waiting at the threshold of the EU for five decades? But Turkey waited at the threshold of the EU for five decades.

In terms of the political relations, this is unsustainable. This is not tolerable. And until today, until this day, we had fulfilled the criteria, especially within the (inaudible). And we rose up to the occasion. And we did what we were supposed to.

But the European Union failed to keep the promises that were made to us.

There are 3 million refugees in Turkey right now. And last July, the EU echelons pledged 3 million euros to Turkey. And then a second 3 billion euros was pledged. But until so far, only through UNESCO we have received 725 million euros. And the United Nations and

the UNHCR allocated $550 million. What we have spent so far, along with contributions coming from the NGOs is around the region of $25 billion.

This is the EU that we're facing. The visa issue. The visas were going to be liberated. And that promise had not been made, had not been kept. The promises had not been kept. Not a single promise had been kept. Only 14 chapters have been concluded after the negotiations. And the number of chapters have been increasing up to 35 just because Turkey was on the verge of becoming an eventual number of the EU.

A country such as the UK decided on a Brexit. And as Turkey, we will try to solve this issue, solve this outstanding issue in the parliament. If not, we will resort to the people. And whatever people say, shall prevail.

ANDERSON: You said on Sunday night that European threats to effectively suspend EU accession talks don't bother you. In fact, to quote you, you said, let me tell you this is not important for us anyway. If you were to close the door on EU accession talks, would that affect

the arrangements to stem the refugee flow? Would you pull out of those arrangements?

ERDOGAN (through translator): These are issues that need to be tackled individually. Let's not worry. First, the EU will have to keep her promises. As Turkey we have kept all of our promises. If Turkey - if the EU keeps her promises, we'll sit down and we will decide accordingly as to what steps we will take mutually.

The EU closed the doors on Turkey.

ANDERSON: Two questions to you, then, do you - you say you have been insulted by European leaders? Indeed yourself used some pretty bold words against European leader last year talking about Naziism and the remnants of Naziism and fascism. Do you stand by those comments?

And let me ask you this, do you like doing business with somebody like Trump as opposed to these European leaders that you have a problem with?

ERDOGAN (through translator): I am not calling any European leader a Nazi remnant. But this system is Naziism, it's fascism. Let's not mix those together, let's not confuse them with one another.

While we are criticizing the ways of behaving a certain way, let's not be unclear, I am not going to compare Trump with the EU leaders. It would be wrong to do that. Right now we have not started working with President Trump yet. We are going to start working

together in the future. And we want to have the most successful commitments with Trump.

We are strategic allies with the United States. We couldn't achieve that with President Obama, unfortunately. But right now we have a different perspective that Trump administration's way of approaching things make us happy and hopeful. I hope and pray when we

get together and when we talk face-to-face, we can identify a road map and we can forge a closer solidarity and cooperation as Turkey and the United States as strategic partners, as strategic allies under the roof of NATO, as two fundamentally important countries, we can achieve many things. And we

can handle very significant issues.

And I don't think we will experience any problems with the Trump administration whatsoever.

ANDERSON: Do you really believe the former CIA chief John Brennan, Senator Chuck Schumer and other U.S. officials are guilty of fomenting the coup here last July, because Turkey has started an investigation, which includes the officials that I just name-checked.

And have you spoken to President Trump about this investigation and about the possible extradition of your foe, Fetullah Gulen.

ERDOGAN (through translator): Of course the extradition requests were shared with the relevant echelons in the government. And detailed documents have already been amassed and submitted. And we have renewed our extradition requests.

And when we visit the United States, we are going to sit down and talk about these issues tete-a-tete, so that we are going to ask for the extradition of this genius (inaudible) leader. The evidence is there. The documents have been amassed pointing out to the number one perpetrator of this failed coup as Fetullah Gulen. Of course, the greater wisdom behind all this failed cool will be identified throughout a prosecution process.

I don't know who will be liable. I don't know who the perpetrators are. And I'm not going to say a word, because I don't want to manipulate the judiciary. But when the time is right, those names will be clearly identified and disclosed.

I think the perpetrators will be clearly identified once after the prosecution is initiated.

ANDERSON: Very briefty, has President Trump given you any indication that it is more likely than less that Fetullah Gulen would be extradited from the United States under his administration?

[11:20:05] ERDOGAN (through translator): Well, this is a process. We are working on this progress. And we are going to sit down with him. We're going to talk about these aspects in a very detailed fashion. We have not been made a promise yet. I am hopeful - I'm hopeful and I'm going to preserve that hope.


ANDERSON: You have argued during this referendum campaign that the Turkish system here needs to be reformed, a new style presidential system with sweeping powers for the executive, for the sake, you say, of stability and progress. But is this more about one man? About Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

ERDOGAN (through translator): This is something I have been repeating throughout my rallies all around Turkey, this system is not tailored for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I am a mortal. I may die any minute. As a mortal who is prone to death any minute, such a system cannot be forged. Right at the moment, I should say that this system will bring about a transformation, a change in the entire history of the Turkish Republic.

Everyone's referring to the single man, one man, but I'm saying that the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, he was the leader of his political party and he was the president. And he was followed by Inonu. He was the leader of the political party, and then he was also the president then.

The leader of the main opposition, who is referring to me as the one man, is not aware of history, of the history of his party. We are eliminating a two head administration. A president is going to be the leader of the party, and the head of the government. And we don't want to have a prime minister just for the sake of having a prime minister. We are going to have an executive president so that the country can governed in a much stronger fashion.

This is a want we have achieved and this is what we are going to do.

ANDERSON: And with the deepest of respect, your greatest critics will say that this is the march towards dictatorship. What is your response?

ERDOGAN (through translator): For the last 14 years, for the last 15 years, those words had been associated with me again. The executive presidency system was not there, it was not in place, OK.

For such a system, stating the very same fact would be unjust. In a country where a second presidency is prevailing, do you have to have a dictator in place? It

is not a precondition for a dictator to rule to have an executive president system in place or a

parliamentary system. If you claim that a dictator will emerge out of a ballot box, it would be unjust to the people who are casting their votes. It will tie any to those names who have been elected as the rulers.

And the choices of the people will be insulted if you say such things.

Democracy gets power from the people. This is what we call a national will, the nation's will. However, the nation's will shall prevail, we all have to respect that. What would happen if the answer is no in the aftermath of this referendum? And I wouldn't use such

words in the face of such a choice, because it would be the choice of my people. It would be the will of the people. But the answer is yes. Then the main opposition went through the higher election board to complain and ask for the annulment of the referendum.

And then there are going to the constitutional court. And the constitutional court jurisprudence is not embedded in there. They have lost for seven times throughout the elections and this is the eighth time they have lost in any election.

In any western country, a person losing the general elections would quit or just resign and that is the morality of the political life in those countries.

In this country, in the main opposition, this does not prevail. We respect the will of the people and throughout 14 years and 15 years, we haven't been dictators. I haven't been a dictator. Everyone is free in their thinking, free in their expressions.

But those who are actually asking for dictatorship are being supported by the west. These people have have previously shared with you, these people are protecting those terrorist organizations, and behind those terrorist organizations you will find these strong media outlets of the western world. This is something that we have to admit to.

ANDERSON: I very much appreciate your time. Thank you.