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Turkey

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

1. What assessment he has made of the recent presidential elections and other political developments in Turkey. (156123)

Turkey’s recent parliamentary and presidential elections have delivered a strong popular mandate to the AK party to continue with a programme of reform and economic development in that country. That has sent out a strong signal about Turkey’s commitment to democracy both in Turkey and elsewhere in the Muslim world. When I went to Turkey on 5 September I made it clear that the UK remains committed to supporting Turkey’s modernisation and its EU accession. I am confident that the new Turkish Government will be positive partners for the UK and the EU.

What are we doing on the soft power front? Is the British Council being upgraded, and will we do more school twinning and that sort of thing?

I am happy to confirm that the British Council is active in Ankara and across Turkey; when I was there, I participated in a seminar that it organised. I think that the school twinning is now supported by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which has a special website for international twinning operations. The increasing engagement of Turkish business with business across the EU and indeed globally is a positive sign. I might add in parentheses that Turkey’s commitment to helping to support the development of a stable and peaceful Iraq is also an important indication of the way in which Turkey wants to fulfil its international responsibilities.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that one of the many reasons for not invading southern Iraq was that it was likely to precipitate a Turkish invasion of the Kurdish north? As that may be imminent, are we strongly advising Turkey not to do it?

I find that a peculiar question, given that we have just been through a referendum—[Laughter.] That is the next question. We have just been through an election campaign in Turkey—[Interruption.] I do not want hon. Members to use their best lines before a later question. We have just been through an election campaign in Turkey, in which PKK terrorism was a serious threat to southern Turkey, and the governing party’s restraint in refusing to undertake the sort of activities to which the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) referred was a marked feature of that campaign. Although he talks about the imminence of some sort of Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, it would be better to commend the Turkish Government on their restraint and say that we want to work with them, and that we want the Iraqi Government to work with them and to make sure that we crack down on that dangerous terrorism in northern Iraq.

Does the Secretary of State share the concern felt by many people in the Republic of Cyprus about the fact that the new Turkish Government have still not kept to their undertaking that once they had secured the opening of EU accession negotiations, they would lift their embargo on ships from Cyprus entering Turkish ports?

Obviously, I discussed relations with Cyprus when I was in Turkey. The fairest thing to say is that there are responsibilities on both sides. My hon. Friend rightly refers to the embargo, but it is important that we emphasise that there are responsibilities on both sides. The 8 July UN process that has now been started needs to be followed through, with responsibilities on both the Turkish and Cypriot sides.

The Secretary of State will be aware that on the sixth anniversary of the 11 September bombing, a large bomb was intercepted in Ankara. It is likely that it was to be detonated with a device in Germany. Has he any comment to make on the political implications of that for Turkey?

When I was in Turkey I talked with the Turkish Government about the terrorism that they face; we all know about the Istanbul bombing, which claimed many lives. The political implications are twofold. First, we need enhanced security co-operation, including with the Turks, and that is taking place. Secondly, we need to send out a very strong message that those who would seek to plant bombs anywhere in Europe will affect people of all religions and none, and that is why it is in all our interests to make sure that we work together against them.