The following is an extended transcript of an interview with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that aired on Sunday, September 26, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, thank you for making time.
PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOĞAN: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden has described the world as split between autocrats and Democrats. And he’s called you an autocrat. How do you describe your relationship with President Biden?
PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOĞAN: Well, as of now, Mr. President’s definition of an autocrat remains unknown to me, I don’t know what he meant, but my past is of a political past, and in my political past, which dates back to four decades — and I’ve always internalized democracy and I have dedicated these four decades to servicing my people. That’s the kind of a leader I am and this is how I came to be what I am today. And because of the fact that my people never complained of me, I’ve always accomplished and triumphed at the end of every election that I partook in the last 20 years. In 1994, I became the mayor of Metropolitan City of Istanbul. And then I became the prime minister, and then I became the president, and I still am the president of my country servicing my people. This is the process, and I really don’t know what Mr. President meant by saying autocrat.
MARGARET BRENNAN: He said you’re going to have to pay a price for some of your actions. He said this when he was a candidate and he talked about human rights abuses. Has he ever talked directly to you about what he meant?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, on the contrary, he never mentioned any of these issues to me. And, I know whenever we got together, he’s very respectful towards me. And ever since the days when he was the vice president, he was always very respectful– that’s how he approached me, and it is very difficult for me to understand why he’s using such a definition when he’s talking about me. And the last time we got together was in Brussels in June. We just discussed the situation vis-a-vis the Karzai airport in Afghanistan when they were preparing to withdraw from the airport. He proposed us to possibly run the airport, and this is a great demonstration of his confidence in us. So I would like to ask you, he trusts us enough to propose us to run the Karzai airport. This is his thoughts and impressions on us, and it is still very difficult for me to understand why he would deviate from that now. And he would call me an autocrat. I wished to have seen- Mr. President would talk to me about these issues directly and tête-à-tête.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you’re not meeting him during this visit.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, right now, under these circumstances– Well due to the pandemic level is only good as far as I’m concerned, he’s not having bilateral meetings with the leaders and we have invited him for a prospective bilateral, but he didn’t respond positively.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Afghanistan. The CIA already says that it is seeing members of al Qaeda potentially move back into Afghanistan. Do you think the US departure from Afghanistan makes the region less safe?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Of course. With the American footprints dating back to two decades, the region was not any safer. On the contrary, every day the region lost more blood and we used to have 1000 troops in Afghanistan and we executed our duties in order to protect the airport in Afghanistan. And finally, when we were asked to possibly run the airport, we got together in Brussels with President Biden where we discussed these issues, and we told him that we could possibly assume such a responsibility. But on the condition of three requests: one of them is logistical support. And of course, what would logistical support stand for? It’s including financial and equipment support, the ammunitions, the vehicles and the weapons there would have been transferred to us. But such things have unfolded that the exact opposite happened. The artillery, the ammunition, the weapons and the vehicles at the Karzai airport were all transferred over to Taliban, and Taliban is currently using all those weapons and all those vehicles, and we have to see all these facts for what they are. But we are actually accustomed to certain things because similarly, the terrorist organizations in and around Turkey are receiving logistical support from the United States at a very severe extent–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –What are you talking about?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: –and it was the case with the previous government, with the previous administration? And it’s exactly the same right now. (00:09:07) The terrorist organizations. Receiving this kind of support should be stopped once and for all: PKK, YPD, PYG, these are the terrorist organizations which have received significant artillery and weapons support.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They were US allies in the fight against ISIS, have you seen any evidence that weapons provided to them went back into Turkey? Is there any threat to you from any of these groups because of U.S. support?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: I’ve raised this issue personally with President Trump when he was in the office and currently, trucks full of artillery, ammunition and weapons are coming to the region, and we have provided this information to the administration through our intelligence agency.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you present it to President Biden?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: All of this was submitted to our interlocutors, and the current Turkish intelligence chief is talking to his counterpart on a continuous basis, and we will never shy away from sharing this information with our interlocutors because there are certain facts
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: that we have to admit to the United States is a NATO member. Similarly, Turkey is NATO member and we are in a position to be obliged to forge a solidarity under the roof of NATO. But so long as the terrorist organizations receive such logistical support that upset us and we would be vocal about this
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to come back to Afghanistan. But let me finish here because you took us to Syria. There are still nine hundred troops in Syria, and you had that moment with President Trump, where he moved U.S. troops out of the way and Turkey went into northern Syria. This was hugely controversial in the United States because it looked to many people like President Trump sold out America’s Kurdish allies. Did he promise you that he would pull all U.S. troops out of Syria? And have you asked President Biden to do that?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: The situation in Syria is of a different nature. Region by region, certain places had been entirely evacuated or abandoned. There is the western side and the eastern side of the Euphrates River. We have Russia there. We have the regime forces, Iran and us. The outstanding issue is to find a sustainable way to continue with this solidarity. We are always defending the idea to continue with this solidarity in a positive way—
MARGARET BRENNAN: But did you tell President Trump that Turkish troops would fire on American troops?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: –and we are currently leading this process.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Would you possibly repeat your question?
Did you tell President Trump that if U.S. troops didn’t get out of the way, that Turkish troops would fire on them? And have you asked President Biden to pull out American troops?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Such a thing never happened. We are not using such definitions because they would be insincere and these would be just allegations and lies. Turkey has never used such remarks talking to President Trump, and we never talked about these issues with President Biden back in Brussels.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to go back to Afghanistan. Turkey is helping the Taliban to run the airport right now, providing technical support. It’s one of their few lifelines to the rest of the world. What do you think of this new Taliban government?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Currently, there’s not an issue upon which we have reached an agreement, a consensus with Taliban. Taliban is currently moving jointly with Qatar and we have withdrawn our troops and our civilians were evicted–evacuated–excuse me. So, It’s meaningless to talk about these things where we are not present because we’re not currently at the airport and we don’t have a cooperation outstanding with Taliban right now. But I need to be very frank and very clear in my following remarks. We have historic relations with the Afghan people, and we’ve always been very supportive of Afghan in an unprecedented fashion, unlike any other. And in terms of infrastructure, in terms of superstructure, we were involved in major investments, which we will continue for the future. But because of the mistakes made in the field, we had to withdraw our troops and evacuate our civilians. And right now, we are not present in Afghanistan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You won’t help to run the airports?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: it will entirely depend on possible agreements and caution, because here, if we can reach a reciprocal understanding, if we can expect for some certain concrete steps and positive steps to be taken forward, we can do something right now. The government in Afghanistan is not inclusive, is not embracing all different factions. So long as that will be the question we won’t be present in Afghanistan, but if the government shall be more inclusive, we can be there, present, as Turkey.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You said, it back in August, for sure, the Taliban’s views won’t be the same as they were 20 years ago. But the Taliban is only letting boys go back to school, not girls. They’ve told women not to show up for work in government positions. It doesn’t look like the Taliban has evolved. Can you do business with a government like this?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Madam, Turkey’s approach to women’s issues is quite well known. Women are present in every aspect of life, in education, in health, in justice, in judiciary. Women are present in every aspect of life, so long as this is the situation in our country, why would we have a different stance in Afghanistan? (00:16:40) Our views would apply to Afghanistan as well as we would expect all women to be involved in every aspect of life in Afghanistan in a very active way. And whenever women become more active in every aspect of life, we can support them. If they would need us in health care and security and in other walks of life and if they need, we could support them in terms of education in our country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you don’t want to do business with the Taliban at this point?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: About the issues that I’ve just listed, if they shall be agreed on, if they will be accepted and recognized, we can do business, but if not, we won’t do business with them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have Afghan refugees now fleeing the country. Some of them headed towards your country of Turkey. You said last month Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be a refugee warehouse. Whose obligation is it? Is it America’s obligation to take in these refugees?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Right now… the United States failed to meet its obligations. Both registered and non-registered, we have more than 300,000 Afghan refugees- and- we will no longer be able to afford to welcome any more Afghan refugees in Turkey. However, the United States is- if the United States is willing to accept the Afghan refugees here, that’s something they would know. I think they will understand my refugee politics and nobody would actually get intertwined.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What does that mean? Are you closing your borders to all refugees?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Currently, we are the ones housing 300,000 Afghan refugees, but I’m very clear in my remarks that our doors are not going to be the kind of doors that everybody can freely walk in and out of.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Does the U.S. need to do more?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Of course, the United States should do a lot and should invest a lot because the United States has been there for the last 20 years. But why? Why? First, these questions should be answered by the United States. The United States is not Turkey, it’s a very powerful country, and this powerful country is feeding on this power and should have been capable of assessing the issue sociologically in Afghanistan, but why fail to do that? The armament in Afghanistan, for example, why was it made in the way it was made? Why so many bodyguards mobilized in Afghanistan? Why were they getting paid the amounts they were getting paid? Because we are not talking about peanuts here and all of these issues should be questioned by all of the Americans. And why did you enter the United States, why did you withd- why did you enter Afghanistan? Why did you withdraw from Afghanistan? And these are questions that should be posed by the Americans.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you pose these questions to President Biden back in June when you met face-to-face? Did you warn him (SOUND OFF CAM AND MB LOOKS AWAY BRIEFLY) that you saw potential problems?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: The issues we discussed were mainly revolving around the airport,
the possible operation of the airport. We posed the relevant questions about the airport to President Biden–
MARGARET BRENNAN: and that’s it?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: –I said, if you want us to be present at the airport, we need logistical support from you, and administrative, financial support would be most welcome. And as a NATO partner, as an ally, we would jointly work with you in the field. That’s what we said.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about that relationship. You’re part of NATO, as is the United States. The Russian government says that Turkey plans to continue buying their missile defense systems, the S400s. The U.S. says it’s a threat to this country, to the entire Western alliance. Why do you continue to go through with this? Did President Biden ask you to stop?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: I explained everything to President Biden and through you, I would like to once again state the following: We were acquiring F-35 aircraftS and we’ve paid $1.4 billion. But the $1.4 billion of payments which were delivered in return for the F-35s, led us to such a situation that we never got the F-35s and we requested to acquire Patriots, but we were never given Patriots. And when we were talking to President Trump about these issues way back when he said the following: “Well, Turkey has paid $1.4 billion for 35s and why are we not giving them F-35s?” And he said this right in front of the entire world press.And why the five aircrafts are not still being delivered? I paid my–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –they’re not being delivered because you purchased the S-400s, and the United States has said that this would be a risk.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, nobody can- nobody can interfere with that. You’re not going to give me Patriots. (00:23:41) And in terms of the defense–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –but, can you–
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: I’m- I’m going to possibly acquire defense systems from another country and nobody can get involved in this. Stoltenberg, of the NATO, secretary general, came up with the best statement. And he said, quote, “We can’t do anything about what our partners or where our partners are going to buy their defense systems and they could never interfere with,” that was what he said. This is NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But after the United States government says to you that this is a security risk for the United States and for the entire Western alliance, can’t you understand that America has a hard time trusting you after that?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, sorry, then. This is what I’m going to say in return: who is going to share our security risks? It can be said to me, how are we going to take the necessary measures for security risks? Are we going to keep on expecting delivery of weapons from other countries that didn’t give us those weapons?
MARGARET BRENNAN: But don’t you trust your own air force?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: It’s not about the air force, it’s not just Air Force. Defense systems are one thing, Air Force is another thing. Because right now in terms of Air Force, maybe the United States, won’t- won’t maintain the F-16 program. I don’t have such a guarantee that the Americans will continue with the F-16 provision. If that will be interrupted, then we will be forced to take other measures.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So it sounds like you still intend to buy another round of these S-400s, of these Russian missile systems.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country at what level. Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions. We are a country–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the sanctions will stay on?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: –with 84 million inhabitants and we are very resolute in terms of our defence systems and the necessary measures to be taken, and nobody can interfere with that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That sounds like a yes.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Of course, of course, yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When we started this conversation, you talked about your political career and support for you. President Biden is a constant critic of human rights abuses. You said in your private conversations with him that he didn’t bring them up in June. Has he ever asked you to improve your treatment of journalists, or anything specific?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: No he didn’t. And because we don’t have any problems of that nature in terms of freedoms, Turkey is incomparably free.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that Committee to Protect Journalists says that you rank second only to China when it comes to jailing journalists. Worse than Iran. Worse than Saudi Arabia.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, sorry, then I won’t accept this. And these associations, these unions–uh, statements, and disclosures are not shared by me, because Turkey doesn’t have such a situation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, human rights lawyers say you have a hundred thousand Turkish citizens who have been investigating just for insulting you.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Do you believe these?
MARGARET BRENNAN: International organizations, credible ones are coming out with these statements.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, I know those credible international organizations that have no credit for me—
MARGARET BRENNAN: The United States government has said these things, or at least they say them to us. You said President Biden never said this to you.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, you’re being deceived actually, and you’re led to believe. Are you looking at the source of these allegations? Are you researching these claims? Please do, if you’re not.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You think the U.S. State Department is not credible when it criticizes human rights abuses in Turkey?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, I don’t, because in order for me to believe that it’s a credible claim or a statement, my country’s organizations, actual findings are important, because everything is political, everything has become political and this political approach can never be shared or accepted by us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m told we are running out of time, but I do want to ask you: Turkey needs to improve its relations with the West and with the United States. When you came to Washington in 2017, you were on camera when you were watching those protesters get beaten. Those American protesters. There were Secret Service officers who were injured as a result. Do you understand that in the eyes of the American public, that’s completely unacceptable?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, sorry, but, they’re- not the Secret Service. On the contrary, the Turkish citizens living in Turkey were attacked by the federalized terrorist organization members and they were supported by the American police. And I talked about this to the American authorities, and I just wanted them to see things for what they are. And as press members, please consider the attacks against the Turkish citizens.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But I’m talking about the video that was shown in households around this country when they turned on the evening news, they saw you stand there while those protesters were being beaten. Do you understand why that hurt Turkey?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: I wasn’t standing there. I wasn’t standing there. (00:30:44)
I was just following the incidents, but I wasn’t standing there. We need to be honest, we need to speak the truth.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you approve of it?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: –And I was not inside that crowd.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Was that appropriate?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: On the contrary, our citizens were attacked and the American security forces, aggressively attacked the Turkish citizens and I told this to the American authorities.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think what happened that day is appropriate?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: It’s impossible for me to say it was because my citizens were being attacked. And some of them were detained or were arrested here. How are we going to explain this?
MARGARET BRENNAN: More than a dozen and the U.S. government won’t sell weapons to some of your personal security because of what happened that day.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Let me remind you of something. We need to be honest about many things, but there’s no honesty here. The approach against my security forces are misleading steps of the administration here in the United States. And these security forces are not being brought to the United States anymore because this is not a fair approach. The holders of the power if they demonstrate an unjust and unfair approach, of course, our approach will be different in nature.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Lastly, the American public has decided it doesn’t have the political will to be involved militarily in the Middle East anymore. What does that mean for you and your country?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Well, this is the approach of the Americans- of the American people. And there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not going to just determine what will be done and we can decide what we are going to do in the Middle East and the United States will, in her lonesome, decide what they’re going to do in the Middle East. But I’m just stating one fact. The United States is a NATO member, and Turkey is as well. And the United States will it be moving forward with the terrorist organizations or will it be moving forward with the friend and ally under the NATO roof. (00:34:05) I would prefer the second one, actually.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What does that mean?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Let me repeat. We are allies under the roof of NATO with the United States, and it has to decide whether it’s going to move forward with Turkey or move (00:34:23)
forward with PKK, PYD, and YPG and other terrorist organizations as such. This is the main decision to be made.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Has the Biden administration told you that it has any intention of changing its policy towards its Kurdish allies in Syria and in Iraq?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: We didn’t have the opportunity to talk about these issues because we mainly focused on the Afghan- Afghani question. But, when I was speaking to my leader friend in the United States, I told them about the terrorist organizations such as PKK, PYD, YPG, including the Trump administration, and the thousands of weapons and our artillery and the ammunition. What are you going to do about this? And I never got a positive response about that issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So to be clear, do you want U.S. troops, the nine hundred that are left in Syria to stay or to go?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Of course, if I have the choice I would, I would want them to get out of Syria and Iraq. Just like the way they have withdrawn from Afghanistan. Because if we are going to service peace around the world, it’s not– it’s no longer meaningful to remain in those parts of the world. We can just leave those people, leave those administrations to make up their own minds.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And leave it to Turkey to intercede into Syria? Can you guarantee that would happen without human rights abuses?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: Let me be very clear, and frank: we will never remain where we are not wanted. We will never be present where we are not welcome. In Syria, we are currently building 100,000 units of brick homes. People and families were displaced and they were kicked out of their motherland and we are building these units for them there. And I wonder what the other countries are doing, and it’s very important to see it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And is that what you’re going to talk to Vladimir Putin about?
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: We are talking about these facts with Putin.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m being told we have to wrap the interview, but thank you for your time, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: And I would like to thank you. I hope that the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, both in Syria and Iraq, we can work together collectively for the peace of the people in those parts of the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Insha’Allah.