Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Mark Toner, September 29, 2011

[Reds asked by other reporters]

Cyprus Gas Drilling-UN Reunification
QUESTION:  Yes, I have a question on Cyprus.  Previously, you said, and I quote, that “The United States supports Cyprus’s right to explore for natural gas.”  You also said that the U.S. Government support the activities of Noble Energy and energy diversity in Europe.  Yesterday, Mrs. Nuland said something else.  Can you tell us exactly --

MR. TONER:  Well --

QUESTION:  -- the real U.S. position on the Cyprus drillings?

MR. TONER:  Sure, Michael.  Thank you, and I appreciate you actually asking the question, because I do want to be very clear, and I do believe that Toria was clear yesterday but perhaps some of her quotes were taken a bit out of context.  But let me just walk you through our position. The United States supports Cyprus’s right to explore for energy.  Having a U.S. company involved in developing the energy resources of Cyprus is also positive.  The United States continues to support strongly the Cypriot-led negotiation process, conducted under UN good offices, to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.  That has not changed.  We continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement.  And we don’t believe that developing offshore energy resources need hinder those reunification talks.

QUESTION:  Do you have any comment on the threats by the prime minister of Turkey against Cyprus?  He even implied that he’s ready to invade again in Cyprus.

MR. TONER:  Again, Michael, I just would say that there’s a very clear path forward here.  There’s a Cypriot-led negotiation process being conducted under the UN.  That’s the best way to resolve all of these issues. Go ahead.

QUESTION:  So you are saying that the exploration at this stage does not hinder the reunification talks at the UN.  Is this your position?

MR. TONER:  That’s our position.  

PM Erdogan's Visit to Refuge Camps-Sanctions against Assad
QUESTION:  Okay, I have one more.  Turkish prime minister is supposed to visit the border camps, refuge to the Syrian opposition figures.  And it is expected that he’s going to impose some sanctions.  Have you been coordinating with Turkish Government in terms of sanctions on the Syrian Government?

MR. TONER:  Well, I think we’ve been coordinating not just with Turkey, but with a variety of countries both in the region as well as their partners in the EU and elsewhere.  The idea being we’re trying build up – build momentum.  I think we’ve said before it’s been tough, but frankly, the Asad regime has been doing a pretty good job themselves in building up international consternation against their actions and then isolating themselves to a great extent.  But we continue to coordinate with Turkey.  We understand that they’re bearing a very real sacrifice with the refugee situation and we commend them for what they’ve done so far.  

US Ambassador Attacked-Syrian Opposition NFZ
QUESTION:  You said that the ambassador’s visit was supposed to be discrete; apparently somebody got the information.  Do you have any idea how?

MR. TONER:  No idea, and I just would say that he’s not trying to – by discrete, I mean he’s not trying to call attention to his actions, he’s simply trying to carry out what he believes are his basic and important duties as an ambassador in a country like Syria – to continue to meet with the opposition.

QUESTION:  Just to clarify, you just – I believe you said that you had – between your meetings with the Syrian opposition, you don’t see a kind of a united front in terms of asking, demanding for a no-fly zone?

MR. TONER:  Again, we have not – what we’ve seen – and what we’ve heard, to be more accurate, is a desire for this to be a nonviolent movement, and for it to be a Syrian-led movement.  And, frankly, it is a Syrian-led movement, and what we’ve seen so far on the part of Syrian opposition is tremendous courage in the face of violence. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Nuland, September 28, 2011

[Reds by other reporters on same topic]

Cyprus Gas Row-Noble Energy-UN Mediation
QUESTION: According to several news reports today, Turkish research – gas research ship and accompanying several Turkish ships as close as 80 kilometers from the American Noble Energy, where it is drilling in south of Cyprus. How do you view this tension? It’s – according to captain of the Turkish ship, is – he can see the – Noble Energy platform from where they stand. Have you raised this issue with Turkish Government recently? This just happened today.

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to this issue that may or may not have happened today. You know where we have been on this issue. We continue to support the UN-led mediation on Cyprus, and we discourage any rhetoric or action that could negatively affect a peaceful settlement. I would note that there has recently been a request for the UN to engage in some sort of mediation on a revenue-sharing agreement for natural gas developed off of Cyprus, and we understand that the UN is considering that request, and we would consider that it would be quite constructive if the two communities could begin to work on deescalating tensions in a way similar to that.

QUESTION: Turkish side sees these gas exploration plants of the south as blocked to the direct negotiations for unification of the island. You just cited as well or indirectly as – UN position. What’s the U.S. position on these – one side’s gas drilling projects? Do you think it helps for the reunification process or it hurts?

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve spoken to this many times. We want to see a peaceful settlement of this issue under UN mediation. We want to see the island’s resources shared between the communities. We are interested in this proposal for UN mediation of revenue-sharing. Overall, though, we would like to see a de-escalation of rhetoric and tension so that the UN process can move forward in a good environment.

QUESTION: Actually, European Union officials have suggested today that this issue can go to International Court, to The Hague. Can you support this idea?

MS. NULAND: Again, we would support some sort of mediation, but we – our fundamental issue is that the – we need a resolution of these longstanding Cyprus issues under the UN’s auspices.

QUESTION: Is there any difference between UN and – European Union and U.S. approach to the issue?..

MS. NULAND: I think if there is a dispute reconciliation resolution mechanism that could be agreed on by all concerned parties, that would ensure that the communities were able to share the resources. That would be something that we would be supportive of. But again, we’re pleased to see that people are talking about resolving this dispute peacefully, deescalating the rhetoric, and more generally, putting our energy into supporting the UN process for Cyprus reconciliation.

E. Jerusalem Settlements
QUESTION: Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, one of – in his interviews – I believe one of the major networks in the U.S. – stated that Israel has been building settlements in Jerusalem for decades, and the U.S. Administration has been – had been okay with this. And it is the U.S. Administration who changes its policy. Would you be able to tell us that, in fact, the U.S. Administration was okay with the building settlements in Jerusalem in recent decades?

MS. NULAND: I think you know where this Administration is at this time on this issue. Thanks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Qs and As w/Spox Nuland, also Turkey portion of the briefing September 12, 2011

[pragraphed portion asked by other reporters]

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up on the Egypt-Israel thing:  Prime Minister Erdogan just happens to be in Egypt tonight, and he’s giving a speech tomorrow mid-day, I believe, at the Arab League.  Within the original context you just described, is there anything in expectation from prime minister at this time?


MS. NULAND:  Well, we also were pleased to see that some of the more extreme statements on both the Turkish and Israeli side with regard to their relationship seemed to have been walked back in recent days.  We are gratified by that.  I think you know that we had been speaking to both sides on that situation.  So obviously, everybody in the region has a responsibility to be urging calm and to be promoting calm.

QUESTION:  You just stated that you view de-escalation in the relations between Turkey and Israel, and many disagree with that with new statements.  Would you be able to elaborate on that?  What kind of statements you have seen that can be signal to walk back?


MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to repeat here statements made by those two governments.  But there were statements made from Turkey with regard to security of the Mediterranean over the weekend.  There were statements made by Israel with regard to Turkey’s interests, particularly on its border, that were more reassuring than some of the more extreme ideas we’d heard previously.  


QUESTION:  Had there been any condemnation of the statement made by Foreign Minister Lieberman that they will – if Turkey maintains this kind of hostile posture towards Israel, they will support the PKK?


MS. NULAND:  Said, I think I’ve just gone as far on that one as I want to go.  You know where we have been on this subject, which is to urge Israel and Turkey to get back to a place where they can have a productive relationship. 


QUESTION:  Right.  But you consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization? 


MS. NULAND:  We do.


<QUESTION:  Did the issue of drones come up in that meeting? I know there was that report in The Washington Post yesterday about a supposed Turkish request for U.S. basing of drones in Turkish territory. 


MS. NULAND:  Well, Andy, I know you wouldn’t expect me to get into intelligence matters here.


QUESTION:  Hope springs eternal.  (Laughter.)


MS. NULAND:  Hope springs eternal.  You know where we are on the PKK.  We believe that Turkey has a right to defend itself, that the PKK is a terrorist organization, and we continue to urge and try to facilitate good dialogue between Turkey and Iraq. 


QUESTION:  One quick follow-up on PKK.  Just to give you opportunity to respond, Iran’s chief of land forces just stated today actually that U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq gave some ammunition to PKK, PJAK within this month. 


MS. NULAND:  I’m sorry.  This is an Iranian statement about U.S. action?


QUESTION:  Land forces, commander of land forces, just stated that U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq gave some ammunition to PKK and PJAK within this month.


MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to dignify an Iranian statement on our relations with either Turkey or Iraq with a comment.


QUESTION:  Yes.  Today, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, Mr. Ghodmani, I believe, stated that they should be announcing a Syrian National Council on Thursday.  Do you have any information about credibility or representation of this new council, and would it be any hope for international community to look to Syrian situation a little differently?


MS. NULAND:  Well, as you know, we have supported a coalescing of the Syrian opposition.  We have urged them to come up with their own roadmap for change.  So if, in fact, that is forthcoming, that will be a good thing and will be helpful to those inside Syria and those of us in the international community who support those inside Syria who want change. 


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Is Erdoğan the new Nasser?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hurriyet Daily News

Gamal Abdel Nasser’s remarkable string of successes propelled him to dominate Arab world throughout the 1950s thanks to the power of long-distance audio broadcasting, as well as the spread of affordable transistor radios, says Eugene Rogan in his notable “The Arabs.” His anti-imperial credentials while nationalizing the Suez Canal and defending it against the French, British and Israeli forces in 1956, successfully ending British rule, coupled with his emphasis on Arab solidarity, made him a peerless leader. “Nasserism” became the dominant expression of Arab nationalism which promised the unification of the Arab people.

Since the U.N. Palmer Report was released last Friday, a rougher era of ties between Turkey and Israel has begun. First, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu decreed a “Plan B,” which included diplomatic, military and legal sanctions against Israel.

This week Ankara decided to ratchet up the pressure. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly threatened that Turkish gunboats would escort aid vessels (some say work is already in progress) the next time they set sail. Erdoğan also said Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean.

Ankara then leaked a “Plan C” to pro-government media on Thursday. According to this plan, following Turkey’s decision to campaign actively for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, which the State Department considered a “a matter of concern,” Turkey plans to sign an “Exclusive Economic Zone” agreement with the “newly born” state of Palestine even though the latter’s proposed U.N. initiative is still very much up in the air. Turkey also plans to sign the same type of agreement with Turkish Cyprus for gas and oil exploration as well as to ink strategic and economic agreements with Egypt, which is said to contain similar exclusive economic zone and exploration plans. Considering the U.S. firm Noble Energy plans to start drilling in the eastern Mediterranean next month, things appear to be moving rather quickly.

Erdoğan, on the other hand, is gearing up for an Arab Spring tour, in which he will visit Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, countries who have successfully overthrown their dictators. Erdoğan will be the first head of government to visit Libya since rebels forced Col. Moammar Gadhafi to leave Tripoli, just as Davutoğlu was the first to visit Benghazi following the march of the rebel forces into Tripoli. It is clear that Ankara is trying hard to close the gap between itself and the French-British coalition which gave the earliest support to the Libyan National Transitional Council.

The visit and the messages that will be given during the tour will be watched by Washington and Tel Aviv with deep curiosity. Israel’s undisclosed nuclear arsenal is said to be another part of the Turkish assault strategy on Israel in this trip.

A well-positioned Washington source stated that following the release of the Palmer report, a meeting was held at the U.S. Defense Department in which it was posited that Davutoğlu’s tough rhetoric was meant for domestic consumption and was expected to fade away slowly. However, as the week progressed and alternative plans were announced (in addition to the direct threats from Erdoğan), the mood in Washington started changing. By week’s end, the relative comfort earlier in the week in Washington had disappeared, replaced by a worry that “things might actually spiral out” of control in the eastern Mediterranean.

Nasser’s remarkable run of successes came to an end when the union with Syria unraveled in 1961, the Egyptian army got mired in Yemen’s civil war and he led his nation and its Arab allies into a disastrous war with Israel in 1967. The liberation of Palestine was set back by Israel’s occupation of the remaining Palestinian territories, as well as Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights.

Needless to say, Erdoğan is not Nasser, and neither is Turkey Egypt. The Middle East has changed enormously, even in just the last few months. Still, history holds lessons dear for ambitious leaders, particularly when it comes to the Middle East.

Friday, September 09, 2011

My Qs and As w/Spox Nuland, Turkey portion of the briefing September 09, 2011

[Red Colors questions asked by other reporters on Turkey related matters]

Turkey-Israel Rel., Turkish Gunboats/Aid vessels, possible NATO involvement, Cyprus/Israel natural sources
QUESTION: What do you have to say about the latest disagreement between your two allies, Israel and Turkey? Turkey, as you, I’m sure, know – Prime Minister Erdogan has said that Turkish ships would – Turkish naval vessels would escort any Gaza relief flotillas in the future and an Israeli official described this as harsh and serious. Any comment? Are you doing anything to try to ease tensions between your allies?
MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Arshad. We are quite concerned, as I said yesterday. We are talking to both the Israelis and the Turks. We are urging both sides to refrain from rhetoric or actions that could be provocative, that could contribute to tensions. Assistant Secretary Gordon is going to meet with Turkish Ambassador Tan today. We’ve also been talking to the Israelis. Obviously, we would like to see both sides cool it and get back to a place where they can have a productive relationship.

QUESTION: And – but can you tell us just what were the – what have been the level of contacts with the Israeli side? Has that been with the Israeli ambassador here or has that been done in Israel? And if so, by whom?
MS. NULAND: Well, first and foremost, the Hale and Ross team did broach the subject in their meetings, but there has been follow-up, as I understand it, by our ambassador in Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: Would Turkish warships escorting Turkish ships – in this case, in international water – be deemed as provocative?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we support the right of free navigation, obviously. But we are concerned about any action that could be perceived as provocative, that could escalate tensions. We want to see these two strong allies of the United States get along with each other and work together in support of regional peace and security. So that’s the message we’re giving both.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up on that: One of the biggest issue that Turkey has been taking is these exploration plans, which an American energy firm is going to start next month, I believe. What’s your understanding of the situation?
MS. NULAND: Are you talking about the drilling for oil --
QUESTION: Right, and gas.
MS. NULAND: -- off the coast of Cyprus? Is that what you’re referring to?
QUESTION: Cyprus, and also Israel has some plans as well. It’s – the same company is doing it. And Turkey – actually the prime minister said Turkey’s not going to let Israel to exploit sources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously aware of the Turkish Government position on this issue. With regard to the U.S. Government position on this issue, we strongly support efforts by both Cypriot parties to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. We believe that securing energy supplies through better energy diversity is of value to all of the people of Cyprus and of value to the region. We have a U.S. company involved, Noble Energy. And we believe this a positive thing, and that energy diversity in Europe, including increased energy supply from Cyprus, would be a positive.
MS. NULAND: We’ve made those views clear to the Turkish Government.
QUESTION: You said that – all people of Cyprus, but the problem is the separatist de facto separated. So the Turkish argument is these deals only work for the Greek Cyprus, is the --
MS. NULAND: Again, this is why we have so strongly supported the efforts led by the United Nations to try to settle these issues. We’ve also made clear that we believe that the energy resources ought to be equally shared.

QUESTION: While we’re still on the topic, Israel?
QUESTION: No. We’re staying on Turkey and the naval ships. Does this have any – are there any NATO implications to this?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what you would be thinking about there, Matt. Can you clarify?
QUESTION: Yeah. If, in the – in keeping with your answering of hypothetical questions over the last several days, if Turkish warships do accompany Turkish civilian ships in a flotilla to Gaza, and if there is some kind of confrontation with the Israelis, are there NATO implications for that?
 MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’re into three levels of hypotheticals, so I think I will decline to speculate.
 QUESTION: Have you talked to the Turks about what – about any possible NATO implications should their ships be involved in some kind of an incident with the Israelis?

MS. NULAND: As I said, we are talking to the Turks today. We’ve been talking to the Turks for many weeks --

MS. NULAND: -- about avoiding provocative action or rhetoric.
QUESTION: Right. And would the – so have you told them that having warships accompany flotillas, Gaza-bound flotillas, would be provocative?
MS. NULAND: I think you know where we’ve been on Gaza-bound flotillas.
QUESTION: Please, enlighten me again.
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we have anything new to say about that.
QUESTION: Have you told the Turks that it would be provocative for them to send warships with flotillas that are headed to Gaza?
MS. NULAND: Meetings that are happening today, that have been happening over the last few days, have made clear that we are concerned about provocative action, about provocative rhetoric.
QUESTION: I’m asking if you think that that is a provocative action or provocative --
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve said about as much as I want to say about our diplomacy with the parties.
QUESTION: I realize that you have said as much as you want to say, but that’s not answering the question. The question is: Have you told the Turks that it is – that this would be a provocative action?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to go any further into our diplomacy than to say that we’re urging both sides to refrain from provocative action.
QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether you told the Turks – I understand there have been meetings that are ongoing about this – do you think that would be provocative?
MS. NULAND: As I said, we are concerned, and we are sending this signal privately and publicly that we do not want to see either side engage in provocative action or action that raises tension.
QUESTION: And one other one, just to take Matt’s double or triple hypothetical to a single hypothetical. If Israeli forces were to come into – were to engage Turkish forces, would that not then not have implications for NATO, given that Turkey is a member of the alliance?

MS. NULAND: Again, you’re taking us to hypothetical places that we don’t want this situation to get to, which is why we are talking to both sides now.
QUESTION: Well, when you say that you don’t want either side to take provocative actions, are you – is there something out there that the Israelis have said that they would do that you think might be provocative as well?
 MS. NULAND: As I said, we are urging both sides to keep the rhetoric and keep the actions in a constructive and productive tone and channel.
QUESTION: Egypt. There is still no clear date for the parliamentary election. What’s your view on that? Have you received any satisfying answer why this process is dragging?
MS. NULAND: I think the Egyptians are trying to work this out themselves. And we are encouraging that and we are standing by for them to make their own internal decisions.
QUESTION: You just described the type of UN Security Council resolution you have been seeking. What is the latest update on that? I think you have been working on it for a while. Do you see anything happening anytime soon?
MS. NULAND: We are consulting in New York. Those consultations will continue. I would refer you up there for more detail, but I think we are looking at accelerating that work next week, if we can.
QUESTION: On Turkey, the prime – the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is going to start his trip to Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya starting Monday. First of all, are you coordinating with Ankara on this trip, or is there any expectation from Prime Minister Erdogan of messages that you want to be coordinated, or anything on the?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary, as you know, saw Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu – it was a week and some ago in Paris. He mentioned this trip, and obviously we talked in that meeting and talk in all meetings about the full range of issues in the region that we work on. I think the conversation between Assistant Secretary Gordon and Ambassador Tan today will be another opportunity to hear from the Turkish side what the goals of the trip are, but we are both supporting good, strong democratic transitions in Egypt and Libya, and trying to do what we can to play our role in the international support function.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Gordon and Ambassador Tan is having a meeting today?
MS. NULAND: Yes. I think I said that earlier. Yeah. They – I think their meeting is completed now.
QUESTION: Yeah. Today, the State announced formation of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which has 30 countries in it. And since this is a U.S. initiative, I didn’t find the name of Afghanistan in this. Has Afghanistan not been invited or Afghanistan hasn’t shown interest in this forum?
MS. NULAND: Did we release all of the 30 names?
QUESTION: Yes, yeah.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I can’t speak to our conversation with Afghanistan on this, but this is something that, as you know, the Secretary announced in her speech today. It’s designed to be a place to share best practices, information sharing, particularly on the civilian side of counterterrorism. It’ll be formally inaugurated in New York at the UN General Assembly, with U.S. and Turkey chairing that meeting.
This organization is based on individual countries saying that they want to join. I frankly can’t speak to whether Afghanistan has been consulted, but we’re obviously interested in more members if they want to join.


September 8, 2011, Foreign Policy Center, Washington, DC

Obama Administration's low approval ratings, Turkey-Israel relations
QUESTION: Hi. This is Ilhan Tanir from the Turkish dailies Vatan and Hurriyet [Daily News]. Thank you for doing this. My first question is: Obama Administration, it has been more than two and a half years, and when we look at Middle East approval ratings of the Obama Administration, it’s even far below than the previous Administration, which is very interesting to many people. My question is: Why do you think that your Administration could not change this dismal picture?

And the second question is: Turkey and Israel, both close allies of the United States, but as you know, the relationship is going down the hill. At this point, Turkey expelled the ambassador and is saying that it’s going to dispatch the fleet, eastern Mediterranean. What’s your plan going forward to bring these two allies of yours on the table? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Thanks for the questions. I’ll take the first one first. Since the President came into office, since you cited polling data, you’re correct in that what we’ve seen is very dramatic improvements in the view of the United States and the view of American leadership in many parts of the world – in Africa, in Latin America, in Europe, and Asia. However, in the Middle East and North Africa, we continue to see a very difficult situation in terms of public opinion associated with the United States.

On the one hand, we believe that can be attributed to what the President actually spoke about in Cairo in his speech, which is that there has been a mistrust that has developed over many, many years, if not decades, between the United States and the peoples of the region. And that can be attributed to a whole host of political and security issues which have been sources of tension in the region and between the United States and the people of the region. So we always anticipated that it was going to take a long time, frankly, to repair those relationships and to, again, improve the standing of the United States in the eyes of the people of the region.

We believe we’ve done a number of important steps in service of that goal. For instance, we are on track in terms of our efforts to remove, thus far, a hundred thousand troops from Iraq, end our combat mission there, and to go down to, again, concluding our efforts in Iraq by the end of the year with regard to our troop presence.

We similarly launched a number of programs in the region that are aimed at developing ties between the people of the region and the United States. Of course, the political and security issues dominate the agenda, but we believe that by investing now in educational programs, entrepreneurship programs, science and technological exchanges, that you can lay the groundwork for a deeper relationship in the future. And, in fact, Turkey has very usefully expressed interest in some of those programs, particularly the entrepreneurship program, which I know Prime Minister Erdogan has expressed an interest in as well.

At the same time, I think people are frustrated by a lack of progress on some issues, particularly the Arab-Israeli issue. And I think it is only natural to expect that when people don’t see progress on an issue that they care deeply about, that that engenders frustration. But what I think the President has shown is he’s persistent in his pursuit of a two-state solution and an Arab-Israeli peace, and he’s going to continue to be persistent in those efforts going forward. But I think a lack of progress, particularly on that issue, has continued to be a point of contention.

At the same time, we see enormous opportunity in the changes that are taking place across the region, and I think this is something that President Obama shares with Prime Minister Erdogan, which is a belief that as nations transition to democracy, it actually can help bring about deeper and healthier relationships between the United States and the governments and peoples of the region. So right now, we’re deeply invested in supporting democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt. We’ve obviously played a pivotal role in the efforts to support the aspirations of the Libyan people. And we’re, again, pressing for change in different countries across the region in different ways, whether it be Syria or Bahrain or other countries that are wrestling with the issues associated with the Arab Spring.

So we believe that even as there are still challenges, that we are laying the groundwork for a much stronger and deeper relationship between the United States and the people of the region, one that resolves a lot of the political and security issues that have been points of contention, that invest in democratic transitions that are successful for the people of the region and that will also allow deeper friendships between the United States and the people of the region. At the same time, we want to lay the groundwork through those people-to-people efforts, whether it be in entrepreneurship or education, so that we have a long-term foundation for a healthy relationship between the United States and the people of the region.

On your second question, we have – we believe that the relationship between Israel and Turkey in the past has been beneficial to both countries. It’s been beneficial to the stability of the region as well. They’re both very close U.S. allies who we work with on a range of issues. They’re both strong democracies and set a positive example through their democracies. So we’ve encouraged both Turkey and Israel to pursue the type of reconciliation that can reestablish those close ties. Obviously, those issues continue to be outstanding between the two governments, but I think the United States is going to continue to try to work with both countries to support efforts to rebuild those ties because, again, we believe that those are ultimately beneficial to both Israel and Turkey and to the region more broadly.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

September 7, 11, My Qs and As with the State Dpt. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland

Erdogan's Visit to Gaza
QUESTION: First, going back to Palestine, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan plans to go to Egypt next week and also his plans include to visit Gaza from Egypt. Do you have any objections to this plan?
MS. NULAND: I think Turkey knows very well where we are on these issues. It’s obviously a Turkish sovereign decision how it conducts its relationship with the Palestinian authorities.
Press Freedom Issues in Turkey
QUESTION: Had one with Turkey. Reporters Without Borders just published an article about a couple of investigative journalists, Turkish journalists, that arrested six months ago, among others. At the time, I asked question and it was stated that U.S. Government worries about intimidation of Turkey – on the Turkish media. I’m just wondering, within the six months and this – in light of this latest publishing, what’s your view on Turkey in terms of press freedom issues?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, you know that the United States is a strong defender of freedom of expression around the world, including in Turkey. As recently as mid-July, when the Secretary was in Istanbul, she made clear that we have concerns about press freedom in Turkey, particularly with regard to restrictions on journalists, on bloggers, on the free flow of information on the internet. And as she put it, Turkey is strong enough and vibrant enough as a democracy to allow differences of opinion in the public square, whether online or offline. So we will continue to make our views known to officials in Turkey and to monitor the situation.
QUESTION: Do you have any view on these ongoing trials without starting any kind of trial, actually, just going on – the (inaudible) is going on?
MS. NULAND: Just to say here what we have said to Turkish officials, which is that we believe that any investigations or prosecutions need to proceed in a transparent manner so that all defendants are assured due process in accordance with international standards.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

September 6, 11, My Qs and As with the State Dpt. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland

[Reds are Turkey-Israel-Gaza siege related conversation asked by other reporters]

Palmer Report, TR-ISR Relations, What US is doing About it
QUESTION:  On Palmer report, it was released on Friday – the UN Commission’s report.  What’s your understanding about the findings of the report so far?

MS. NULAND:  First let me say that, as you know, the U.S. strongly supported the establishment of the UN Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Palmer.  And at the time, we called for the commission to conduct an independent, credible, and transparent investigation.  We very much appreciate the thorough and professional work of the commission.  And we particularly note some of the recommendations at the end of the report with regard to how similar situations could be avoided in the future, and we call on all relevant parties to take note of those and to use them well.  So that’s our essential assessment there.

QUESTION:  So to Turkish Government, I am sure you are aware how the reaction came from that.  Basically, the Turkish president called it null and void, and it seems biased, and now the Turkish prime minister explained further sanctions.  Do you think – are you going to – able to find some kind of solution, these two allies of yours?  Things are – looks escalating as the hours go by. 

MS. NULAND:  Well, we are concerned.  We have, over many months, tried to work with our ally Turkey and our ally Israel to strengthen and improve their bilateral relationship.  We still believe that getting back to a good partnership between them is in each of their interests, and we will continue to work for that goal with both of them.  But we are concerned about the state of the relationship today.

QUESTION:  I just have one more.  Turkish B plan – they call Turkey as a B plan sanctions or B plan towards Israel.  One of the issue is Turkey decides to send its – dispatch its fleet to eastern Mediterranean.  Do you have any objections to this decision?

MS. NULAND:  Well, you’re taking me into hypothetical situations.  Our emphasis with both the Government of Turkey and the Government of Israel is to hope that we can deescalate, we can defuse, and we can get them back to talking about improving their relationship.  There are freedom of navigation issues for both Turkey and for Israel, but we want to avoid future confrontations and we want both of these strong allies of the United States to get back to a place where they have a good working relationship with each other.

QUESTION:  Does that mean you agree with the premise of the report, that while maybe the attack on Marmara was excessive, the siege itself is legitimate, correct?  The siege on Gaza is legitimate?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to parse the report.  I’m not going to comment on one aspect or the other aspect back to the report.  I would simply say that we favored having this report, and we believe that they did a thorough and professional job.

QUESTION:  But you are satisfied that the report does answer all the issues involved in this?

MS. NULAND:  I think I’ve said what I have to say on the Palmer report.


QUESTION:  Madam, on Pakistan? 

QUESTION:  No, no, no.  I’d like to stay on this for a second.  When you say that you’re concerned and that you’d like to see these two allies get back together, how – what kind of talks have you had with – what kind of conversations have there been between U.S. officials and those in Turkey and in Israel?

MS. NULAND:  Well, first with regard to Turkey, as you know, Secretary Clinton had a long bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Davutoglu in Paris, and those conversations have been followed up in recent days in Ankara by our ambassador.  We’ve had a number of conversations with Israel on this and on other matters over the last few days.  And as you may know, we have Ambassador Hale and Dennis Ross in Tel Aviv today.

QUESTION:  And they’re talking about this?

MS. NULAND:  I think they’re talking about the full range of issues.  The primary reason for their visit, obviously, is to talk about getting the parties back to the negotiating table and avoiding bad scenarios in – at the end of the month in New York.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  But as it relates to Turkey – we’ll get into the Israel-Palestinian thing, I’m sure, in a second, but what – as it relates to the situation with Israel and Turkey, what are the – what are you telling them?

MS. NULAND:  Our view remains that these countries need to have a relationship with each other, and I think we’re continuing to try to work on how that can happen.

Turkey's Campaigning for PA Statehood Bid

QUESTION:  Turkey also decided to actively campaign for the Palestine statehood recognition at the UN.  Is it concern for you?

MS. NULAND:  Of course, it’s a matter of concern.  Our position is well known.  We think that this taking action at the UN in September is not going to lead to lasting peace, two states side by side.  Only negotiations can do that.

Turkey-NATO Misille System Intelligence Sharing

QUESTION:  Turkey also agreed on this NATO missile system over the weekend while it was also stating its sanctions against Israel.  My question is, one of the conditions Turkey put forward was to – not to share the intelligence with Israel.  Is this condition met? 

MS. NULAND:  I think you saw that we, along with NATO, welcomed Turkey’s decision to participate in the Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense.  This is a NATO system, and it is designed to protect NATO. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

For Ankara, it’s time for deeds not words on Syria

Ankara at a point of no return on Syria?

Friday, August 26, 2011

This week, among all the other developments going on around the world, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser at the White House, gave an important interview in which he laid down two “core principals” for the United States in terms of the preferred model for any future military interventions. While talking to Foreign Policy Magazine, Rhodes said that in order for the U.S. to intervene militarily, the drive first had to come from an indigenous political movement as it is “far more legitimate and effective [in allowing] regime change to be pursued.”

“Secondly,” he said, “we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. won’t be bearing the brunt of the burden” and so that there won’t just be international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contribution.

We just witnessed how these two principals were met during the Libyan intervention. First the Libyan people, starting from Benghazi, revolted and showed impeccable defiance toward dictator Moammar Gadhafi for weeks until Gadhafi threatened to start an all-out war against rebels in Benghazi and wipe them all out. The valuable contribution was provided primarily by the French and British before NATO took over the entire operation. In an unprecedented development, some other Muslim countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar also took part in the operation with their fighter jets and other sizable military contributions.

Turkey, following initial bafflement and delay, became one of the leading international actors supporting the rebels’ transition government. Fast forward to this week and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Benghazi, just one day after the rebel forces swept into Tripoli; hosting the latest Libyan contact meeting in Istanbul also boosted Turkey’s image further.

Can, then, the template elaborated by Rhodes and confirmed by Victoria Nuland, spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, be implemented for Syria? Even though the West has started calling on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down, there is no one talking about any manner of military operation yet. U.S. administration officials have so far repeated the line, “Everything is on the table,” whenever I’ve asked about it.

Ankara has not called on al-Assad to leave because it believes that, just like U.S. administration officials stated a couple of weeks ago in background talks, if it makes such a call and Damascus doesn’t take heed, Turkey will lose its leverage and room for diplomacy.

In reality, Ankara may have already passed the point of no return. Ankara either realized or is about to realize that it cannot keep issuing denunciations everyday while al-Assad responds by saying “mind your business.”

Copying the Libyan template, it can be safely argued that in Syria, too, “the buck stops with the Syrian people” before anything else. Syrians have to secure an ever-higher number of people to fill the streets so that this overwhelming majority will lead to wider international condemnation and isolation for al-Assad but also, hopefully, defections from his security and Cabinet team.

While all these upheavals are ongoing, Ankara’s friendship appears the most valuable in Washington, one that reminds us almost of the Cold War.

Cross-border operations into northern Iraq, once a source of great contention between Ankara and Washington, are now strongly backed by Washington. The U.S. administration also leaves the problems with Turkey’s freedom of press issues to its NGOs to handle.

During the Cold War, Washington backed the powerful Turkish military and bureaucracy elite for decades while Turkey was strongly pushing back the Soviets.

Now, Washington supports Turkey’s powerful Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and conservative establishment, because it knows that there is no viable opposition in sight and the Turkish military is completely under civilian control.

Washington appears to be favoring Turkey’s stability and seeking to promote its ties with the AKP while rushing to shape several transitions in other parts of the Middle East.

Taking the side of the mighty is just some of the smart politics Washington pursues. And there is nothing wrong with that

Thursday, September 01, 2011

September 1, 2011, My Qs and As with State Dpt. Spox. Mark Toner

QUESTION: You mentioned that the sanctions on the Syrian regime is increased – increasing. Turkey so far has – Turkey has not taken any steps on the sanctions piece of it. What’s your assessment? I know that Clinton – Secretary Clinton had a meeting today with Davutoglu.
MR. TONER: She did meet with Davutolgu, yes, in Paris (inaudible).
QUESTION: Is there anything that you can update us whether Turkey is moving on this direction? If not, then why?
MR. TONER: Well, frankly, if you want to – I mean, this is a question better directed to the Government of Turkey.
QUESTION: Right. Correct.
MR. TONER: I can only speak about what we’re trying to do in terms of applying pressure and speak also to the fact that we want to see other countries and other organizations, if you will, like the EU and the Arab League, take additional steps. The EU has obviously been a strong partner in doing so, but she did meet with – indeed, met with Foreign Minister Davutoglu earlier today in Paris. Certainly they did discuss – I don't have a full readout of their bilat, but obviously they discussed Libya and the way forward there, but I’m certain that they also addressed the ongoing challenge of Syria.
QUESTION: This time around in Paris, this conference, Friends of Libya conference, is kind of a theater version of the, I believe, Contact Group conference. Why do you think the number of the countries this time around is too many or many more than the previous Contact Group meetings?
MR. TONER: There’s a, as I said, a turning of the page, a moving forward. This Contact Group has grown each time it’s met, and there’s clearly a sense, both within Libya obviously – anyone who has read press reports from there can see that – but also outside of Libya that the country has turned the page and is now moving towards a post-Qadhafi era, even though he does remain at large.
QUESTION: And many experts actually argue that it’s because of the Libyan oil and natural resources that the people – the countries are competing to get access. Do you –
MR. TONER: I can only speak for the U.S. Government, and we are there to listen to the Transitional National Council’s needs and to figure out ways that we can be supportive in what is clearly a Libyan-led process and a Libyan – it’s – from the very beginning, this has been a Libyan-led struggle. They’ve shown remarkable courage. And I would say one reason so many countries are there is to pay tribute to that courage. They see the events of the last week certainly, the very dramatic events, as a sign that this country has made a remarkable evolution in a relatively short time, but that it’s paid a tremendous price for it.

QUESTION: One more. Palmer report, UN report on the flotilla, is about to be released tomorrow, and it’s already leaked in New York Times as far as I understand. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu yesterday gave a warning, ultimatum, that either Israel is going to apologize or is going to be some sanctions that are going to face from Turkey. Going forward, it looks like this relationship is going down. What would you suggest either side, or do you have any view on this?
MR. TONER: Well, you – the beginning of your question, in fact, holds my answer, which is that the report has not been released yet. I know – I can’t speak to any leaked copies of it or what those leaked copies may or may not say. I would just say that we continue to believe that this is a – this can be a constructive mechanism to help bring these two countries back to closer relations. But beyond that, I’m not going to comment.