TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2011 AT 3:00 P.M. EST THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up to Egypt question: So it should be our understanding that the U.S. Government is not reconsidering its aid to Egyptian military who has been basically cracking down on the peaceful protestors in Tahrir? According to reports, there are 20-30 people got killed and hundreds of injured. Doesn’t this trigger any kind of reconsideration?
My main question is on Turkey. We know that the U.S. and Turkey has been closely working on set of issues on – regarding Arab Spring. Particularly on Iran, going forward, you just released new set of sanctions. I asked this question yesterday too, but I am hoping get in more detail. How are you planning to work with Turkey, given past disagreements, especially on 1929, even though Turkey imposes, but Turkey said no. Are you expecting from Turkey to go forward the other sanctions that EU and U.S. did?
And also Syria, things are getting harsher in Syria. What is your expectation in next one to two weeks in terms of Arab League or Turkey? They still have not taken any steps on the economic sanctions side. Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Well, first as a general matter, we’ve been in very close contact with the Turkish Government about each of the issues that you discussed. The President and Prime Minister Erdogan have developed, I think, a very close partnership and friendship, really, and it has allowed them to have very frequent and candid discussions about these issues. We, frankly, see Turkey as playing a very important role in support for democratic aspirations in the region, as well as a security ally in the region.
On each of these countries, just to take them one by one – on Syria, I think we have – we were able to consult with Prime Minister Erdogan in advance of the President making the decision to call for Bashar Asad to leave power, and in advance of the very robust sanctions that we put on the Syrian regime. And we felt that was important, given Turkey’s role as a neighbor and given Turkey’s relationship with Syria, that we be very transparent about the steps that we’re going to take.
We believe that it’s very important for Turkey to play a strong role in applying pressure on the Asad regime. To that end, what we see happening is a mounting tide of opinion in the region and in the world against Bashar Asad. And frankly, we see time running out for him, that there’s no way that he’s going to be able to take the types of actions he has against his people and remain in power. And I think the Arab League showed real leadership in reducing its relations with Syria, and it’s important for the Arab League to continue to follow through in that respect.
Similarly, Turkey has made very strong statements in recent days about the need for there to be change in Syria, and has indicated a willingness to move towards sanctions. And again, we believe that that’s going to be critical, because the U.S. and our European allies have essentially thrown the book at the Asad regime. And that’s had an impact. That’s cut them off from sources of revenue. That’s cut their petroleum sector off from sources of revenue.
That’s isolated their banking sector, and that, we believe, is being felt very much in Damascus. But insofar as regional partners like Turkey and the Arab League are increasing their own pressure, that can hasten the democratic transition that needs to take place within Syria. So as a general matter, we believe Turkey is playing a very constructive role, and continue to do so going forward. With respect to Iran, Turkey obviously differed on the vote on 1929.
They have, however, not impeded but rather have abided by the multilateral sanctions framework that’s been in place since then. Now, what we have also seen is additional steps have been taken by a range of nations that go above and beyond the basic framework established by 1929. The U.S., a number of European allies, Asian allies, have dramatically increased the sanctions that we’ve applied on the Iranian Government. We announced a whole new set of sanctions yesterday that address the petroleum industry, the banking sector, the petro-chemical industry.
It’s not our expectation that every single country is going to take the same steps that we do. We’d, of course, like there to be as broad a front against the Iranian Government as possible, so we welcome any nation that wants to take it – that joins us in taking additional punitive actions. But similarly, we wouldn’t have an expectation that Turkey’s going to do everything that we do. We do want Turkey to be aware of the – what we believe are the risks of doing business with the Iranian Government. Given its proliferation activities, its support for terrorism, and the IRGC’s increasing role in the Iranian economy. So we believe that Turkey needs to be vigilant in understanding that business that is done with Iran could potentially be corrupted by those practices by the Iranian Government. So that’s the type of dialogue we’re going to have with Turkey and with many other nations.
With respect to Egypt, it’s obviously a very fluid situation. I think our focus right now is on sending a very strong signal that we believe this violence is absolutely deplorable, that it has to come to an end, that that’s something we’re going to be saying in public and in private.
I wouldn’t get into any particular assistance questions at this point. It’s, again, a very fluid situation. But we believe the most important thing that the Egyptian military council can do is stop violence against peaceful protesters, to respect the rights of peaceful protesters, and to, again, continue to lay out a clear path to a civilian government that is responsive to the people.
So that’s the message we’re sending and will continue to do so going forward. And of course, we’ll be closely monitoring events because they have taken a dramatic turn in recent days.