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Nobel Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari on Turkey’s EU bid

Former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari has been hugely influential on a number of international issues during his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career. He helped secure independence for Namibia, inspected weapons of the Irish Republican Army, led peace negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement and the government of Indonesia, helped ...

peforms at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2008 at the Oslo Spektrum on December 11, 2008 in Oslo, Norway. The Norwegian Nobel Committee yesterday awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 to Martti Ahtisaari for his important efforts to resolve international conflicts. Actors Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson are hosting the gala event which features performances from Diana Ross, operatic quartet Il Divo and Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn.

Former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari has been hugely influential on a number of international issues during his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career. He helped secure independence for Namibia, inspected weapons of the Irish Republican Army, led peace negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement and the government of Indonesia, helped to secure an end to the Bosnian war, and served as U.N. Special Envoy for the Kosovo status process.

Ahtisaari’s latest cause is working toward the accession of Turkey to the European Union. He led the Independent Commission on Turkey, which issued its latest report on Sept. 7, entitled “Breaking the Vicious Circle,” and is embarking on a whirlwind tour of European capitals to promote the Turkey-EU agenda.

Ahtisaari will speak at the Brookings Institution later this afternoon about the report and his views on EU enlargement, but he sat down with The Cable for an exclusive interview to talk about the way forward for Turkey and the EU. Here are some excerpts:

The Cable: What is your main message to European leaders when discussing this report?

Martti Ahtisaari: We are not asking for any special favors, we are asking for Turkey to be treated in the same fashion that my country was treated when we applied for membership. We are convinced that Turkey would be a useful member of the European Union. Being a member of every other EU and transatlantic organization, we see that they would play an important role in the EU context as well. … If we don’t start negotiations then we are treating Turkey different. It’s our credibility that’s at stake.

We say two things basically: Let’s move all the chapters, no blockage of any of the chapters [of the negotiation process]. And secondly, please don’t talk of anything else except of full membership, at the moment. In the end, you have a national decision-making process where the parliaments have to approve, so let’s move forward. And it will take such a long time that some of the people who have been most vocally critical may not be in office anymore.

TC: What is your main criticism of the EU member states regarding this issue?

MA: We don’t treat Turkey as we are treating other applicant countries. And that is something we want to point out very candidly and say that this is no good for the EU because it undermines the EU as a reliable partner. We don’t want to forecast what the outcome of the negotiations is, but we ask to be fair to Turkey.

TC: Where has Turkey fallen short on its side of the bargain?

MA: Turkey was very active with reforms up until 2005; there were a lot of political things that we were predicting. … They have to start getting out the reforms. The constitution is still not reformed to the extent we would hope, some offenses took place, and major reform is still pending.

TC: What do you think about the feeling that there is an anti-Muslim, anti-immigration bias inherent in the opposition to Turkey’s membership?

MA: We may be suffering in some cases by the fact that in Europe we have not been terribly good at integrating immigrants who have come to our countries. … Look, I don’t think that we will see Turks flooding into Europe, because Turkey has had economic growth (except last year) of 7 percent. Private investment has favored Turkey well and Turkish firms can help European countries in the whole region. I don’t think the people will leave if they have opportunities at home.

There’s no need to utilize Turkey as an excuse for other ills in a society. If one has problems with immigrant communities in Europe, that should not be used against Turkey.

TC: How does the frozen conflict in Cyprus factor into the Turkey-EU accession issue?

MA: It’s not that it would prevent Turkey from becoming a member state. I’m more concerned that it undermines the credibility of the EU as a world player, if we can’t even solve our problems on our own continent. The mere fact that there’s going to be elections next year on the Turkish-Cypriot side means that we should use this opportunity because different personalities may emerge in those elections and that may complicate matters further.

TC: What should or could the United States government do to help advance Turkey’s EU membership?

MA: They can help by not saying too much. The position of the U.S. has always been clear, no matter what administration we have here: The U.S. will welcome Turkey’s accession to the European Union. That quiet support is perhaps the most effective way, not getting in the middle. Because you may start hearing reactions in Europe, where people say [of the U.S.], ‘they’re selling their neighbor’s house.’

TC: Are you concerned about Turkey’s relationships with adversaries such as Syria and Iran?

MA: I would regard that as a benefit, because I firmly believe that we have to have a dialogue. I’m concerned when certain movements or countries have been isolated from the international dialogue, because then you have no way of influencing them. No countries policies are eternal; they do vary. People are growing old and a new generation is coming to power. In a year’s time, a government can look different. You can’t influence them if you don’t talk to them.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

Tag: Europe