Remarks following meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem

Tel-Aviv, September 21, 2001

FM Shimon Peres: I want to thank Foreign Minister Cem as the first visitor in this new year [according to the Jewish calendar], on a day that Israel enjoyed sunshine without a "bomb-shine". We have had this morning, until now, a relatively quiet time. And I hope that if this will be continued, very soon we shall be able to meet with chairman Arafat, and go ahead in our attempt to bring a cease-fire and the beginning of the political negotiations.

The relations between Turkey and Israel are in very good shape. We know that Turkey is also maintaining very fair relations with the Palestinians and Arabs. We welcome it, because all of us would like to live in friendship and not in hostility. Having those sort of relations Turkey can sell very well the purpose of peace.

But for us, Turkey has an additional meaning. Turkey, to the best of my knowledge, is the most advanced, moderate, and democratic country in the Muslim world. Now, dealing with international terror we must be careful not to make nations or religions a target. Terror is not necessarily a matter of being a Muslim, or being a Palestinian, or being a Turk. We are not fighting any nation; we are not fighting any religion. We are fighting terror, all of us, it is an enemy of all of us.

Turkey is signaling a new leadership, and a very long tradition of the Muslim world, and I believe Turkey will be followed. Turkey and Israel, when beginning our relations, we defined that we are not in an alliance against any other nation. We are engaged in an attempt to fight dangers, not to fight people. The enemy is terror, not Islam, and not any other nation.

The world has changed, as it went from national economies to global economies. So, too, did it go over from national enemies to global dangers. Today we have armies without enemies, and we have dangers without armies. We have to face the new situation.

May I say, Mr. Foreign Minister, on your behalf as well as on mine that we are deeply concerned about the very tragic experience that the Americans went through. We have full sympathy with America. America sent her boys to guarantee freedom and security to so many people, over the last century and before. America helped save the world from Nazism, from Stalinism, from Japanese militarism, and this time she became a victim as the center of freedom.

I do believe that America has the capacity, intellectually and administratively, to help us organize, all of us, into a camp. While keeping our different languages, traditions and religions, we are united against murder, against violence, and against terrorism.

We had a very good and constructive conversation of the most open and friendly nature. This is another station in the long road of building understanding between our two people. It is in that spirit that I welcome you here. Thank you.

Turkish FM Cem: Thank you so much. I first want to say that I join in your analysis of the situation, and of course I join in all the thoughts that you had for the United States. It is a tragedy. It’s an assault, it’s terrorism not only against the United States and the American people, but it is terrorism against all of us – against human beings. We share the sorrow of the United States and we believe that we should all participate strongly in the war against terrorism that is being initiated.

When I say terrorism, of course I agree with you whole heartedly that terrorism cannot have an adjective, a definition, as to religion, or anything. There cannot be Christian terrorism, or Muslim terrorism, or Jewish terrorism. Terrorism does not have a religion, neither does it have a geography. We cannot say that if it is terrorism which happened in this part or in the other part of the world, then we will take it seriously. But if it is terrorism whose victims are in that corner of the world, we shall not take it that seriously.

The purpose of my meeting with my colleague Shimon Peres is first, of course, to talk about this general topic that we have – a very important one; but also to say how much we support his efforts to reach a cease-fire. We believe that he did a great job not only for Israel, but for us all. We support the cease-fire. And, if we can be of contribution to the cease-fire, we are happy and willing to do so.

The other motive that I had was to exchange views on how we can contribute to consolidate the cease-fire – and for this very reason I am going to meet with Chairman Arafat this afternoon – and how to build up on the cease-fire, to open the way for dialogue, for contacts, for negotiations which will eventually aim at a settlement. The consolidation of the cease-fire, and hopefully the positive developments that might follow are of at most importance for us all.

Of course, first and foremost, it’s about lives that we are talking. Cease-fire means an end to the death of innocent victims, to children, to women. But cease-fire in the context of our present day has another meaning. We believe that this coalition that we are trying to build against terrorism, one of the factors which might have a strong impact on that coalition is the cease-fire and positive developments that hopefully will be achieved here in our region, in your region. Because the composition of the coalition against terrorism and its effectiveness will be affected by the peaceful developments that His Excellency has so much contributed to. And therefore, I believe that it is a mutual responsibility, especially so for a country like Turkey, who has the unique position, who has the privilege and the responsibility of being a very good friend of Israel and of being a very good friend of Palestine.

We have as well discussed with His Excellency, as he has mentioned, that insensible terminology that is sometimes used. As I said, no adjective of religious meaning, religious connotation can and should be used for terror. We believe that at the present situation we should all be careful about it. This is something that I asked my colleagues in NATO, in the EU, the EU candidate countries, to be careful in terminology. And I have to say that, not because I have asked them, but because they are looking at the matter from the same optic, especially at governmental level, there is attention given and correct terminology used. But unfortunately in most of our media, in our civil societies there is still that wrong terminology, which does not make it easy for us all in our quest for a coalition to fight terrorists.

The need for peace and how to consolidate a cease-fire is, of course, a subject that is for the parties to decide upon. We don’t feel we have a right to have very strong opinions. But I believe that we can all help this development if we try to talk with each other. Everything begins by talking with one another. And so, we firmly support the contacts that hopefully will take place, and if I may say so, we really do ask our friends from both sides to get together. We look forward to that meeting between His Excellency Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat. We believe that we can all initiate something new, something hopeful, and to this end we ready as a friend to bring all our support.

Q & A

Q: Mr. Peres, are you going to set any conditions for your meeting with Mr. Arafat? Or will the meeting go forward even if the violence does continue? And also, has Mr. Arafat arrested any of the people on the list of wanted terrorists that you sent him?

FM Peres: Our meetings are without any prior conditions. I think that putting conditions is contrary to the spirit of negotiations. I don’t know for the moment if he did arrest people or not, but I appreciate the fact that we have had another half day with a real cease-fire. And if this will be continued through another sunrise, another sunset, then we shall meet.

Q: Mr. Peres are you going to send any message to Mr. Arafat through Foreign Minister Cem?

FM Cem: No, I am not a messenger, sorry.

FM Peres: We are not sending a message with Ismail Cem, but a full package of information. I think Mr. Cem will be able to report fully the Israeli concepts and hopes, and I am sure he will do it in the best possible way.

Q: Your meeting with Mr. Arafat, you said it’s a special request of the United States. You said it was the first time United asked for something from Israel. Can you comment on that?

FM Peres: It is actually the second time, the first time was during Desert Storm. The United States then asked us to sit quietly aside, and Israel concurred, I think we did it rightly. This time the United States is asking from Israel a rather minor contribution, namely, that we shall sit down and open up a conversation, a negotiation with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Not to create the impression that this is a war against Islam or a war against the Arabs. We don’t think that it is a war against the Arabs or Islam, but against terror. They didn’t put any conditions, they didn’t ask Israel to give away anything; they didn’t ask Israel to compromise her self-defense policies. I think that, considering the very generous response of the United States of America, Israel should really react favorably and immediately to the request of the United States. I do not see any danger, I think it is fair and reasonable, and it is the interest of Israel to keep the best relations possible with the United States of America.

Q: (inaudible)

FM Peres: The Turkish government is in a very special position. On one hand, they are Muslims; on the other hand, they are democratic. On one hand, they have a national vision; on the other hand, they have a world view. On one hand, they belong to our world; on the other hand, they are also a bridge to another world. We are very glad that the relations between Turkey and Israel are in excellent shape – not aimed against anybody, but really aimed against common dangers, and against common potentials. We are very careful not to misrepresent these relations, which are going naturally and politically in the right direction.

Q: (inaudible)

FM Peres: We think the world is facing a grave danger. As I have said, we have gone over from a world of enemies to a world of dangers. Enemies are national, dangers are global. Enemies are earthly, dangers are floating in the air. I think that although America is the who was hurt, the danger is for everybody, for every people, for the entire world. I think that it is natural for the United to become the leader, to confront this new challenge, and always, we will willingly participate, as we did participate in a coalition to bring down Hitler, or the Japanese militarism, or even the Stalinist doctrine. All of us are in the same boat, with the same need. We appreciate that we have such a mighty country like the United States that is intellectually capable and administratively able to run the confrontation of this new danger.

Q: This is question is to the Turkish Foreign Minister. Have you been invited to join the coalition against terror? And would you be ready to join even if yours is eventually the only Muslim country that joins the coalition?

FM Cem: There haven’t been invitations extended to join the coalition against terrorism. Turkey by its unfortunate experience in fighting against terrorism, of course, is very much affected by this sickness. We are the forefront of that coalition, which is going to and which is fighting terrorism. There is no question about it.

For the second part of you question, we don’t take up matters on criteria based on religion. Therefore, of course we will be there. Whether the coalition is made up of all Muslim countries or whether there are no other Muslim countries, it doesn’t make a difference.

Q: (inaudible)

FM Cem: I reject making geographical definitions and descriptions. This is to say, if there is a terror group in any country – I don’t mean to say only Middle Eastern countries, only countries in our region, but in any country where there is a terrorist group or a terrorist center, they should be taken very seriously. If we are going to fight terrorism seriously, we have to deal with it all over the world. We cannot only deal with terrorists in certain areas of the world. So I think if something serious is going to be done, it should encompass all countries, whatever the geographic continental location.

Also, sometimes there are definitions of mass terrorism, or mass victims. Of course this is very important. But each individual, when he or she is dying, dies for himself or herself alone. So there isn’t much difference when it is one single person being killed or hundred persons. Yes, there is a difference, a quantitative difference, but qualitatively there is no difference. This should all be taken into consideration. There were two young policemen in Turkey about a week ago, and a poor young girl passing on the street who were killed because of a terrorist suicide bombing. For them and for their families it is the same pain as to those victims who die in mass numbers. We should take this very seriously, and in order to be successful we have to be evenhanded and objective in our dealings with terrorists.