Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Toner, October 19, 2011, Press Briefing

[Reds by other reporters]

PKK Attacks/Turkish incursion into N.Iraq/Turkey-US cooperation

QUESTION:  Today, in southeast of Turkey, there was a terror attack, and according to latest numbers, 24 Turkish soldiers got killed, and wondered what’s your reaction to that, first of all?

MR. TONER:  Well, you saw the White House statement – the statement from the President that strongly condemned this morning’s outrageous terrorist attack against Turkey.  We stand in solidarity with the Turkish people and condemn in the strongest possible terms these attacks in Turkey’s Hakkari province.  They demonstrate a disturbing uptick in violence comparable to the level of the 1990s, and again, we express our deepest condolences, and we stand with our NATO ally Turkey and its fight against the PKK and in solidarity with the Turkish people.

QUESTION:  President Obama also wants to cooperate with Turkey.  Is there any specific steps that the U.S. Government is ready to do?

MR. TONER:  Well, as you know, we’ve cooperated in the past on counterterrorism against the PKK.  We do condemn them as a terrorist organization and demand that they cease their terrorist activities, and we’re going to continue to cooperate with Turkey in combating the scourge of the PKK.

QUESTION:  Do you think you are going to –

MR. TONER:  I don’t have anything concrete to point to, but our existing cooperation will certainly continue.

QUESTION:  Turkish Government has been seeking to get some drones and other new arms to fight against PKK.  Do you think –

MR. TONER:  I don’t have anything on that for you.

QUESTION:  On this issue, Mark, in the past, Turkey has pursued the PKK into Iraqi-Kurdistan territory and other places.  Would you support Turkey if it conducts such operations?

MR. TONER:  Well, I think we would – we look to both Turkish and Iraqi authorities to cooperate and coordinate and work together to combat the PKK.  There’s certainly – they certainly have a shared interest.  We encourage always Iraq’s neighbors to respect its sovereignty by cooperating closely with the Government of Iraq in combating these terrorist groups that operate along the border region.  And indeed, these are a common enemy to both Turkey and Iraq.

QUESTION:  Is it, to the best of your knowledge, there is no, let’s say, safe haven for the PKK in any Syrian territory?

MR. TONER:  In any Syrian?

QUESTION:  Syrian territory.

MR. TONER:  I’m sorry.  Look, as I said, we’re going to continue to work with Turkey to combat the PKK.  I don’t know about safe havens in Syria, but we’re certainly going to try to increase our counterterrorism cooperation to go after the PKK.

QUESTION:  Okay, but --

QUESTION:  Do you if these – what (inaudible) calls have been made from here to Turkey in raising this issue?

MR. TONER:  Not yet.  No. 

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER:  Not that I’m aware of.  No.

QUESTION:  One more question.  Even though U.S. Government has been helping in terms of intelligence as the public statements we know since 2009, there is this anti-American sentiment in Turkey again today as well.

MR. TONER:  Anti-American –

QUESTION:  Anti-American sentiment over this new terror attack.  Some argue that still it’s some kind of link between these attacks and the U.S. presence in Iraq.  How do you explain to these differing opinions, and it is growing actually?

MR. TONER:  How do you speak to – look, I can’t be any clearer, Ilhan, that we view the PKK as a terrorist organization, as an enemy of both the U.S. and Turkey.  And we’ve been cooperating, as you said, for many years now in combating them.

QUESTION:  You don’t have any update on Predators issue and the Cobra helicopters?
QUESTION:  And this second question:  Do you think that the withdrawal process of U.S. troops from the region, from the northern Iraq and all over the Iraq, will cause any void of authority in the region? MR. TONER:  We have confidence in Iraq’s security forces to maintain both external and internal security, and – otherwise, we wouldn’t be moving forward with our withdrawal.
QUESTION:  What is the role of U.S. presence in the region?  I mean, you are providing the air security now in northern Iraq?  What is the exact role of U.S. presence in the – for – in terms of Iraq – northern Iraq security?
MR. TONER:  Well, again, we’ve been – as we’ve been moving towards the January 1st withdrawal date, we have been ceding more and more areas to the control of Iraqi security forces as they’ve grown in the strength of their own capabilities.  I’m not sure what the situation right now is in northern Iraq.  I’d have to get those details, or I just would encourage you to contact the Department of Defense.
QUESTION:  Are you considering a kind of trilateral security agreement between Iraq, U.S., and Turkey?  MR. TONER:  I missed that.  I – Arshad, just – sorry, but I missed the – sorry.  (Laughter.)  You’re not distracting.  Sorry, I just missed the question.  
QUESTION:  Are you considering a kind of trilateral security agreement --   
MR. TONER:  A trilateral security agreement?
QUESTION:  Trilateral security agreement between Iraq, Turkey, and U.S. –
MR. TONER:  Again, I would just say that we’re working to have better coordination and cooperation both between the U.S. and Turkey against the PKK, but also, importantly, between Iraq and Turkey. QUESTION:  On this very issue, Mark, are you having separate talks with the Government of – the governor of Kurdistan, the President Barzani of the northern province of Kurdistan or his prime minister, Nechervan Barzani?
MR. TONER:  On this specific issue?
QUESTION:  On this specific issue, because in the past, there has been a great deal of animosity between Turkey and the government in northern Iraq and Kurdistan.  So are you sort of gearing talks or seeing – overseeing talks between Turkey and Kurdistan independent of Iraq?
MR. TONER:  Yeah.  I’ll take that question.  Certainly, our aim is to – as I said is to enhance cooperation between Iraq and Turkey and to focus both countries’ efforts on ending the scourge of the PKK. 

QUESTION:  This final clarification.  In the past, you stated clear stance and support for Turkey to cross-border operation, just a month ago actually, and there are different reports now.  It is your stance still to support Turkish military operation?  Some say already some of them inside – 
MR. TONER:  I would just say that we certainly recognize Turkey’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks.  We also certainly encourage Turkey to work closely with the Government of Iraq to combat this threat. 


Davutoglu-SyrianNC meeting/US-SNC meeting?

QUESTION:  On Syria, Turkish foreign minister just yesterday met with Syrian National Council that was formed in Turkey.
MR. TONER:  Right.

QUESTION:  Some argue that this is the right step in the recognition of the SNC?  First of all, are you considering to take similar steps to meet with the Syrian National Council anytime soon?
MR. TONER:  Well, again, I – we’ve – we have met with and will continue to meet with members of the Syrian opposition and – going forward.  And we’re also seeing this Syrian opposition and this – and in part, the Syrian Transitional National – Transitional National Council, is that right – the Syrian National Council, I think, is what it’s called – continue to coalesce and grow.  We believe it’s one of the major voices within the Syrian opposition.  We’re still seeing the Syrian opposition coalesce.  We maintain contacts both within Syria and outside with Syrian activists and expatriates as we move forward.  It’s an important element of our strategy. 

QUESTION:  So you are saying you met with this particular council?  
MR. TONER:  I don't know if we’ve had meetings with the council that’s in Turkey now.  I’ll take your question.

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