No turning back on Turkish ties with Gulf, says Erdogan adviser

Ilnur Cevik also called US condolences after Istanbul attack 'a joke'

Ilnur Cevik at the 9th Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate. Victor Besa / The National
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser says there is “no turning back” on the newly warmed relationship with the Gulf.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia will “see the benefits” of the improved relationship, Ilnur Cevik said in a wide-ranging interview with The National on the sidelines of the 9th Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate on Tuesday.

“The fact that these are our Muslim brothers and culturally old, old friends, the sky is the limit. There’s no turning back,” he said.

Relations with some Gulf states had been strained owing to claims that Turkey supported extremist groups.

“We attach a lot of importance to the security of the Gulf area because now they’re all our friends,” said Mr Cevik.

The adviser called for enhanced regional security.

“We should have our own mechanism in the Middle East and I think we’re working towards that,” he said.

His comments came days after Turkey appointed a new ambassador to Israel after a four-year freeze in relations.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar in Ankara last month. Reuters

“Our relationship with Israel is improving but we have to resolve the Palestinian issue,” Mr Cevik said. The situation is “complicated”, he added.

“As long as you don’t resolve the inter-Palestinian issue, it’s very hard to solve the Palestinian issue in the Middle East.”

Mr Cevik also called on regional allies to work together in times of crisis “and not rely on the US to help them out on a rainy day”.

The sharp tone towards the US comes days after Turkey rejected condolences from Washington for an attack in Istanbul that killed six people and injured at least 50 on Sunday.

Turkey said the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the country has designated a “terrorist organisation”, was behind the explosion in Istanbul’s popular Taksim Square.

The PKK has denied the accusation.

“We've been telling the Americans that in northern Syria, where they have been supporting the Kurdish terrorists … they're completely wrong,” Mr Cevik said.

“Now, giving us messages of condolences — that's what the Americans have done — is really a joke.”

Turkey views the PKK, the main Syrian-Kurdish faction Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as one. The US has supported Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria financially and militarily in the fight against ISIS, although Washington has designated the PKK as a terrorist group.

‘Honest broker’

Mr Cevik also said that Turkey’s actions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine have helped it be seen as an “honest broker” of peace between the two nations, but particularly by Russia.

At the beginning of the invasion, Turkey supplied domestically-made drones to Ukraine to counter Russian attacks.

“We have stopped the onslaught and helped the Ukrainians but also kept the channels open with the Russians and told them that what they did was wrong,” he said.

Commercial vessels, some involved in the Black Sea grain deal, wait to pass through the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul last month. Reuters

“But we also realised that the West was trying to throw the Ukrainians into an unmanageable situation.”

Turkey has warned the Ukrainians about “getting carried away by western encouragement”, he added.

Mr Cevik also highlighted the role his country played in convincing the Russian president to open a grain corridor to alleviate the global food security crisis.

Ukraine and Russia produce about 20 per cent of global grain exports, almost all of which has been withheld from market due to the conflict.

Vital fertiliser supplies have also been disrupted.

“We helped prisoner exchanges between the two sides and we’re working on bringing Russian fertilisers out of the country to the world so that the fertiliser crisis is overcome,” Mr Cevik said.

He said all these measures were helping to pave the way for an atmosphere for peace talks but one important step remained.

“Crucially, the West should stop encouraging and pouring fuel on the war and pushing Ukraine to continue the fighting,” he said.

Ukraine says that Russia's presence on its soil is an unacceptable violation of sovereignty and that it will continue fighting until Russian forces are expelled.

Asked whether there are talks between Ankara and the West on this front, Mr Cevik pointed to the recent meeting between CIA Director William Burns and Russian intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin in Ankara.

“Something is happening,” he said. “We’re on the right track.”

Updated: November 15, 2022, 6:39 PM