New Delhi: Turkey is willing to mediate for peace between India and Pakistan if both sides consent to a third-party intervention and approach Ankara, said Turkish Ambassador to India Sakir Ozkan Torunlar.
Speaking to ThePrint in an exclusive interview, Torunlar talked about ties with the sub-continental neighbours, the S-400 missile system, imports from Iran and bilateral ties with India.
“We can mediate between India and Pakistan if both of our friends agree on that and approach us. For mediation, the advance consent of parties is essential,” he said.
Ambassador Torunlar’s comments come months after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to de-escalate the situation in the wake of the Balakot strikes in February.
At the time, Turkey, a key NATO ally, had also lauded Khan’s decision to return the captured Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India.
“We are good friends with Pakistan and we will remain their good friend. This is given. There is no discussion on that. Our relationship with India is also very valuable. We do not hyphenate both countries,” Torunlar said.
While Turkey and India continue to share cordial relations, it is Ankara’s proximity to Islamabad that concerns New Delhi. Pakistan considers Turkey to be one of its main strategic allies after China.
Besides, Turkey’s stand on Kashmir is also a sore point between New Delhi and Ankara. During the visit of Pakistani PM Khan to Turkey in January, President Erdogan had said that the Kashmir issue should be settled according to UN resolutions.
On US pressure over S-400 missile system, imports from Iran
Of late, Turkey, like India, has come under pressure from the US over the issue of procuring the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system from Russia.
According to Torunlar, Turkey waited for a decade to procure the American Patriot long-range air-defence system manufactured by US defence major Raytheon. However, the deal didn’t fructify mainly due to issues over transfer of technology.
“We waited for the Patriot from US for 10 years, but they refused to give us transfer of technology and put in other conditions. So we are now buying it from Russia. The deal has already been signed. But that does not mean we will not buy Patriot from the US at a later stage,” said Tornular.
The main contention of US is that S-400s may negatively impact the operation of US-made F-35 fighters. Turkey is not a customer of F-35, but a partner in its production, the envoy said.
“It is not logical to say that Turkey will deploy systems on its own land which may harm the F-35s in its own inventory. We have seen in Syria that S-400 does not interfere with the operations of F-35 fighters,” he added.
On the issue of US sanctions on imports from Iran, Torunlar said in Tehran the private sector buys crude while the government procures gas.
The envoy added that Turkey will continue to buy gas from Iran.
While the US sanctions push for a complete ban on imports from Iran, Turkey’s longstanding position has been that it will only adhere to UN sanctions.
‘Bilateral trade with India can reach $20 billion’
Speaking about Turkey’s bilateral trade with India, Ambassador Torunlar said the target of $10 billion by 2020 is “highly achievable”, but both sides should aim at taking two-way merchandise trade up to the level of $20-$30 billion in order to realise the full potential of the ties.
When President Erdogan last visited India in 2017, both sides had agreed to take bilateral trade between both countries to $10 billion by 2020.
Turkey has even proposed a particular payment mechanism system to enhance bilateral trade for which talks are on.
“We have proposed to India to set up a payment mechanism wherein both sides will be buying each other’s products in their own currency and trading in their national currencies in addition to the existing one. A mechanism can be found. So we can spend those dollars in trading with other countries,” Torunlar said.