Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turkey portion of the State Dpt. Press Briefing, August 17, 2011


12:53 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Sorry to be a little late.  I understand we had some audio problems today.  I have a brief statement at the top with regard to the killing of more Turkish soldiers by the PKK.

We are deeply saddened by the death of Turkish soldiers who were killed in Hakkari Province.  We express our condolences to the families and the friends of the victims.  We stand with Turkey in its fight against the PKK, a designated terrorist organization which has claimed tens of thousands of Turkish lives.  We support Turkey in its fight against terror and we will continue to work with the Government of Turkey to combat terrorism in all forms.

Now let’s go to your questions.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us what the substance was of the call last night between the Secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MS. NULAND:  The Secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu did speak yesterday, but we are not going to be going into the substance of the call.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.  Well, you just let the Israelis [inaudible]?

MS. NULAND:  We’ve seen the same press reporting that you have seen, I assume.  Let me simply say that we consider that reporting not to be accurate, not to reflect either the tenor or the substance of the conversation that they had.

QUESTION:  Can you be more – what was not accurate and what did not – what doesn’t reflect the tenor of the --

MS. NULAND:  There was some reporting with regard to Turkish-Israeli relations.  I think you know that the U.S. has long supported an improved relationship between Turkey and Israel.  This is a subject that the Secretary herself has been engaged with.  She has worked with Turkish counterparts, with Israeli counterparts.  We believe that an improved relationship is not only in their interest, but in the interest of the region, in the interest of the United States.  Our understanding is that discussions between Turkey and Israel continue, and we very much support those.

QUESTION:  But – so she didn’t talk about Turkish-Israeli relations?

MS. NULAND:  Again, I’m not going to get into the substance of the phone call; just to say that some of the press reporting that we have seen with regard to it is inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the tenor or the tone.

QUESTION:  Well, which reports?

MS. NULAND:  Again, I’m – there have been some press reporting.  I’m sure you’ve seen it.

QUESTION:  I’m trying to get at – without me or anyone else in this room bringing up what’s inaccurate, you telling me what’s inaccurate about the reports.

MS. NULAND:  There were some inaccurate reflections with regard to our views on Turkish-Israeli relations, our views on Turkish --

QUESTION:  What specifically was inaccurate in these reports?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to cite inaccurate press reporting here.  I’m simply going to say that our view here --

QUESTION:  That’s not particularly helpful for us.  I’m trying to find out exactly what is inaccurate about the reports.  Nor is it helpful for the people who wrote these reports in the first place to know what specifically is wrong with them.

MS. NULAND:  I think I’ve said what we’re prepared to say.  The Secretary did speak to Netanyahu.  It was the latest in a series of phone calls that they’ve had.  And it’s important that the diplomatic confidentiality of that relationship continue.

QUESTION:  Well, would  the Israelis agreed with you, because they’re blabbing all over the place about this.  Did they discuss Turkish relations with Israel?  Did she discuss Israel’s relationship with Turkey in the phone call?

MS. NULAND:  Again --

QUESTION:  Did she talk about the Quartet statement?  Did she talk about efforts to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table?

MS. NULAND:  I know it’s frustrating.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of that.

QUESTION:  But she called the Prime Minister of Israel, and you’re not prepared to say that she talked about restarting the peace process?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not prepared to discuss, any more than I already have, the substance of the phone call.  I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  Okay.  That’s – so they talked about what?

MS. NULAND:  Again, I --

QUESTION:  Australia?  Come on.  The Secretary of State of the United States and the prime minister of Israel have a phone call.  The Israeli press writes all sorts of things about it based on Israeli officials’ account.  You say those accounts are inaccurate.  You won’t say what’s wrong with them, what is inaccurate about them.  And you also won’t even say whether they talked about the most obvious issue that they would have talked about, or that they could have talked about.  I mean, that just doesn’t strike me as being honest.

MS. NULAND:  I am simply not going to get into the substance of the discussion that they had, other than to say that some of the press reporting has been inaccurate, doesn’t reflect either the tenor or the tone.

QUESTION:  Has some of it been --

MS. NULAND:  I think we’ve --

QUESTION:  -- inaccurate?  I mean, has some of it been accurate?

MS. NULAND:  I can’t – I haven’t seen every press report that supposedly has been written about this phone call, but we are not going to get into the substance of it.  It’s not helpful to the diplomacy that we are trying to do with Israel and in the region on a broad variety of topics to – for her to have a conversation with the prime minister of an allied country and to be discussing it here.  I’m sorry.  I know that makes your job harder, but that’s where we are.

QUESTION:  No, it doesn’t make our job harder.  It makes it just – it kind of reeks of hypocrisy.  We need to know what exactly is inaccurate about these reports.  What is it that you take issue with in the reports?

MS. NULAND:  I have said here that with regard to Israel’s relationship with Turkey, the United States supports an improved relationship between them.  This is something that the Secretary has worked on with both countries.  We will continue to do it.  That’s as far as I’m going to go on the substance of this phone call or anything else.

QUESTION:  So it’s inaccurate to say that the Secretary suggested to the Prime Minister that Israel should apologize to Turkey for the flotilla raid?

MS. NULAND:  It is inaccurate and does not reflect the tenor or the substance of the conversation.


QUESTION:  That bit is inaccurate and does not reflect --

MS. NULAND:  The press reporting on this phone call --

QUESTION:  But specifically that report?

MS. NULAND:  Yes.  That report is inaccurate.


QUESTION:  Is it accurate that Mr. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel will not apologize?

MS. NULAND:  I am not going to do any more on this phone call than we have just done.  I’m sorry.


QUESTION:  So you won’t characterize the tenor of it?  I mean, you’re saying that their characterizations are wrong.  How would you --

MS. NULAND:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- characterize the tenor?

MS. NULAND:  They have a strong and businesslike relationship.  They had a warm phone call.  It went fine.

QUESTION:  Is there any way you can characterize the relationship between Turkey and Israel going forward?  The Palmer report, UN report will be released next week.  What’s your expectation now?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to predict the future; simply to say that we are encouraged that Turkey and Israel continue to talk to each other.  We think that’s important.  We think an improved relationship between them would not only benefit both of them, but would also benefit the region and would benefit the United States.

QUESTION:  Going back to your announcement – PKK attacks – there are major signs that the Turkish military is about to undertake some major operation against the PKK.  Are you worried or what’s your view on this?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to get into hypothetical operations one way or the other.  As you know, we stand with Turkey in its fight against the PKK and we have very close counterterrorism cooperation.

QUESTION:  I mean, what is your view on a cross-border operation which will be conducted by Turkey in northern Iraq?  Because it’s on the table.  It’s obvious.  The prime minister said today that Turkey has come off the fence and there will be obvious and kind of cross-border operation.  What is your view on such a thing?

MS. NULAND:  Again, I think you’re asking me to comment on hypothetical operations, and I’m not prepared to go there.

Anything – any other issues?

QUESTION:  Mr. Ambassador Ricciardone met yesterday with some people, some ministers from the office of prime minister.  Do you have some details on --

MS. NULAND:  Ambassador --

QUESTION:  Ambassador Ricciardone met with two ministers in – from the prime minister’s office yesterday in Ankara.  Do you have an update on that?

MS. NULAND:  No, but perhaps our Embassy in Ankara can help you more fully on Ambassador Ricciardone’s meetings.  



QUESTION:  Yeah.  So I’m sure you’ve seen – I’m sure you had an advance notice of, you may have even recommended, that the Tunisians remove or recall their ambassador to Syria.  I presume that this is part of the growing chorus that you and the Secretary have been talking about.  So my question is:  When is this chorus become the full-on Tabernacle Choir that allows you to go ahead and start taking additional steps, including calling for Asad to step down?

MS. NULAND:  In addition to the message that the Tunisians sent, you may have seen that in the context of opening remarks or closing remarks at the Somali Donors Conference in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan also had sharp words for Syria.  This speaks to the point the Secretary made a couple of days ago about the President’s effort, her effort, to put together a careful set of actions and statements that will make our views clear and to coordinate those with others.  That process continues.

As you know, her view, the President’s view, is that political steps, economic steps are strongest when they are together.  Words and sanctions should go together, and ideally, they should go in concert with others.  Those conversations continue --


MS. NULAND:  -- and that work continues.

QUESTION:  Following on that, just as a point.  In Prime Minister Erdogan’s comments, he also drew a direct parallel between the situation in Syria and the situation in Libya.  He said essentially, “Now we are in the same position with Syria that we were with Libya before.”  Given that you have repeatedly stressed that the U.S. and Turkey are on the same page with regards to next steps with Syria, is that an assessment you agree with that this is now a similar or the same situation in Syria that we were facing before with Libya?  And if so, what does that tell you about what happens next?

MS. NULAND:  I think if you look carefully at what Prime Minister Erdogan said this morning, he was referring to the fact that the international community called for a long time for reform, for transition.  These leaders not only didn’t listen, but increased the violence, increased the brutality vis-à-vis their own people, and that was the situation that he was describing, as I read his statement.  Obviously, he speaks for himself.

So in response to that, as the Secretary made clear, we have been working with allies and partners and particularly with regional players on how we tighten the noose, how we tighten the political and the economic noose.  We are also looking at how we do that here in the United States with regard to our own relationship with Syria, and we are working on a careful set of actions and statements, as she said, and working with our partners on the same.

QUESTION:  So withdrawing of the ambassador is not on the table, right?  I mean, in terms of Turkey and the U.S.

MS. NULAND:  The withdrawing of --

QUESTION:  -- of ambassadors to Damascus for both countries, for both Turkey and U.S., you are not considering to withdraw Ambassador Ford, right?

MS. NULAND:    You know where we’ve been.  We believe that the presence of Ambassador Ford has been absolutely vital, that his actions have been courageous in standing with the Syrian people, in standing with the Syrian opposition.  And the contacts that he’s been able to have, that his team have been able to have, have encouraged us in terms of our understanding about the growing cohesiveness of that opposition and have enabled us to have a real feel for what it is that they want.  And what they want is what we want, which is for the violence to end and a democratic transition to begin.

QUESTION:  Since the buffer zone is not on the table anymore because some officials from Turkish foreign minister stated that clearly we are not considering the buffer zone options.  So since the – also the buffer zone is not on the table, the only option – the only tool in Syria is sanctions, economic sanctions probably.  What is the level of your negotiation with Turkey on this issue?  Because it’s the critical ally in the region is Turkey in terms of the trade going on in Syria.  And what’s your level of negotiation of this issue with Turkish officials?

MS. NULAND:  Again, we’ve said for many days, many weeks that our collaboration, our coordination with Turkey has been excellent on this issue, and it continues to be excellent.  The Secretary has made clear that there are still countries that are trading with Syria, particularly in oil and gas.  There are countries, like Russia, that are still open to selling arms to Syria.  So part of the conversation with partners and allies is on the steps that – further steps that they can take to tighten the economic noose as we have been trying to take those steps here as well.


QUESTION:  A couple minutes ago, you described Turkish-U.S. cooperation as excellent in terms of – on Syria.  Looking back a few months now, how much do you think these excellent relations effective in terms of stopping Asad killing his own people, and how much hope you should have going forward?

MS. NULAND:  I think that the Turkish concern, the Turkish frustration, is the same as the American concern and the American frustration, that this is a guy, as the noose gets tighter, as more and more countries condemn him, isn’t stopping, and more and more Syrians are dying.  So I think from that perspective, we’re both frustrated and we’re both looking at ways that we can tighten the noose.


QUESTION:  Have you ever discussed buffer zone with Turkish Government?

MS. NULAND:  I think we had this conversation yesterday.  We had it last week.  Our focus with the Turkish Government has been on tightening the political and economic noose.  Thanks.

QUESTION:  Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)RWISE NOTED)

12:53 p.m. ED

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