Saturday, November 14, 2015

US Spox: human rights issues, fundamental freedom issues are always on the agenda and always possible for discussion.

DPB # 189
Briefer: Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson 

My Qs & As w/Mark Toner re Turkey, Press Freedom, G20 etc. reds by other reporters

QUESTION: On Turkey and G20.
QUESTION: Is there any way you can tell us what will be the ideal outcome for the U.S. side in terms of Syrian situation there, things – is there a specific plan or strategy you have in your mind when you’re talking to Turks or other --
MR TONER: Sure. I refer you to the Secretary’s speech yesterday at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
MR TONER: I’m slightly joking, but seriously, he laid out our strategy, and among which – actually, I think Josh Earnest over at the White House spoke to the fact that certainly, coming out of Vienna, hopefully the Secretary will be able to report on progress that’s been made in our pursuit of this dual track, but more importantly this political process or political transition that we’re looking to put in play or put in process to lead to a political transition in Syria.
The other really pressing need that will be discussed at the G20 – and the Secretary spoke a little bit about our efforts – is to address the humanitarian crisis that all this conflict in Syria has wrought: the refugee crisis that now is reaching into Europe, but certainly countries like Turkey, Jordan, and others – Lebanon – as well have been dealing with for years; as well as this crisis within Syria itself, and so how can all the nations of the G20 pull together to address this crisis – ongoing crisis. Even in our most optimistic days, I think none of us see this as the conflict in Syria ending any day soon, and we’re certainly going to be dealing with internally displaced as well as externally displaced people going forward for a long time to come, so we need to all do our utmost to address their needs.
QUESTION: Since the G20’s going to be in Turkey, is there any thought to any inclusion in the statement concerning freedom of the press?
MR TONER: I can’t speak to what may or may not go into the statement. That’s obviously something that we – a principle, if I could put it that way, that we always value and – yeah, I mean --
QUESTION: Well, you just said you’re going – it’s – a major focus will be on the things that are negatively affecting Turkey, like the humanitarian crisis --
MR TONER: Right. I was speaking about Syria and the overflow of refugees, but you’re talking about freedom of the press now in Turkey or --
QUESTION: No, freedom of the press anywhere.
MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I totally misunderstood.
QUESTION: Is that going to be in – is that going to be referenced in any way at the summit – fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press – given your criticism of Turkey recently and actually long term for its freedom of the press?
MR TONER: Well, the second part of your question first. We continue to have discussions all the time with Turkey, and we’re very public in our viewpoint that we want to see and urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, and that includes freedom of the press. I can’t speak to whether or what is going to actually be contained in the final statement coming out of the G20, but we consider freedom of the press, broadly speaking, to be one of the fundamental rights around the world.
QUESTION: Same question, Mark.
QUESTION: On the G20 and on the press, even for this summit, worldwide summit, there will be media from Turkey being excluded to follow the event. So how do you handle such a challenge that you are going to country and going to speak to people, and the press – but part of the press, opposition press, will not be there? And as you know, the bigger part of the opposition media in Turkey under the crackdown – it looks like increasing since the elections.
MR TONER: Well, a couple points. We’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: We’re concerned by a troubling pattern in Turkey of targeting media outlets and their organizations that are critical of the government. In a democratic society, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced. Look at this room right now or on any given day as we get a wide swath of opinions and questions from all sides, and we take seriously all of the viewpoints of the journalists in the room and try to answer their questions as best we can. That’s part of a democratic society and it’s part of any government’s responsibility.
Just to pivot back to what I said to Brad, we want to see and urge Turkish authorities to uphold democratic values that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.
QUESTION: Since many of the Westerns leaders will be also in Antalya and speaking to Turkish leaders, would you call on your allies, especially Western allies who claim to value the universal values, should they raise these issues when they talk to their Turkishcounterparts?
MR TONER: Many of our Western allies don’t need us necessarily to call on them to raise these issues. They raise them themselves. Many of our democratic allies around the world will raise these issues. Look, NATO is – or Turkey is a valued partner, it’s a NATO ally, it’s a longstanding democracy. We want to see it live up to its democratic values.
QUESTION: Final question.
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. President raise these issues when he’s in Turkey?
MR TONER: I would not attempt to preview what the President may or may not raise in his meetings in Turkey, simply to say that human rights issues, fundamental freedom issues are always on the agenda and always possible for discussion.

MR TONER: Let’s stay on Turkey, and then I swear I’ll get back to you.
MR TONER: Okay? I apologize. I just want to finish out the --
QUESTION: And just a quick clarification. Are you asking the Turkish Government from this podium or have you reached out to them after the events when the TV station was raided and the opposition’s media is being --
MR TONER: I’d just say we – whether it’s within our dealings or – within our dealings with the – or conversations, rather, with the Turkish Government through our embassy in Ankara, we convey these same messages that we convey from the podium. So I would say it’s a dual-tracked approach.
MR TONER: Turkey? Okay.
MR TONER: And TurkeyTurkey, and then --
QUESTION: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Mark, since this is – the Turkish Government is preparing the areas for the G20, and it seems that also in that stage is just so focusing on the G20 and nothing else in Turkey because there is conflict in Silvan for seven – more than seven days, like, it’s been eight days. It’s been curfew and conflict, fighting, killing civilians, and media completely banned from those conflict areas in the southeast of Turkey. So there’s nothing, no statement, no word from the United States Government what’s going on there. But there were some pictures by some leaked from there that it showed it is – it was --
MR TONER: Well, we --
QUESTION: It seemed like Syria, not Turkey.
MR TONER: Well, we are aware about the – and have seen reports of the curfews – about the curfews in effect in Diyarbakir, which is the Silvan area. We understand that Turkey needs to take security measures, but it should also take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and act consistently with its legal obligations. As to the specifics about the curfews, I’d refer you to the Turkish authorities.
QUESTION: Do you have any way, any mechanism – and you have your diplomats there, but is there any way that United States Government can make sure that there were no war crimes conducted in those places?
MR TONER: No what? War crimes within --
QUESTION: In the conflict areas by Turkish forces or by guerillas, whatever. But do you have any way that – to confirm there were no war crimes, any kind of a targeting civilian – what do you – how can you confirm this --
MR TONER: Sure. I don’t know specifically if we have eyes on the ground in the Silvan area, and I’m not going to address your questions about whether there’s war crimes or anything like that. This is obviously Turkish security forces operating in the interest of their national security. They have a right to defend themselves against – and the country and Turkish citizens against violence that’s carried out by the PKK. Our concern is that they take, in conducting these security measures, into full consideration and take every feasible precaution to avoid hurting, injuring civilians, and act consistently within their legal obligations.

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