Saturday, January 16, 2016

Q to US State: What does your express of concern good for?

DPB #9
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson

QUESTION:  Yeah – you read at the top.  Have you raised this concern with the Turkish Government, first of all?
MR KIRBY:  I think you saw Ambassador Bass’ statement --
QUESTION:  Ambassador Bass tweeted about this, but it was a public statement.
MR KIRBY:  -- which was pretty clear, pretty concise, and pretty public.  Yes, of course, we always raise these issues with Turkish authorities, publicly and privately.
QUESTION:  What was – because he was blamed to be kind of enemy of the Turkish-U.S. relations.  When he tweeted on this, mayor of Ankara said that he is hurting the relations between the two.  So I’m wondering – of course, he’s not a part of the government, but I’m wondering if you with the same reaction for the government as well.
MR KIRBY:  Do I have the same reaction --
QUESTION:  Like the Ankara mayor said.  Do you believe that --
MR KIRBY:  What I can tell you is that Turkey has no better friend than the United States, and they certainly – and that’s certainly represented in Ambassador Bass.  Nobody is more committed to seeing Turkey succeed and to live up to its own constitution and democratic values.   Nobody is more committed to that than Ambassador Bass.  And it’s because he deeply cares about the Turkish people and the health of the Turkish democracy that he spoke the way he did, that he issued the statement of concern that he did. 
It wasn’t a – it wasn’t picking sides on the academics’ arguments or not.  That wasn’t the issue.  In fact, you can look at his statement and he makes that clear.  It was the idea of being able to express opinions freely and openly and to challenge – to challenge government in a peaceful, democratic way, which is enshrined in the Turkish constitution itself.  So to the mayor of Ankara – and I’ve seen those comments – I would say that Turkey has no better friend than Ambassador Bass, and that’s very much represented in his statement.
QUESTION:  Did you see the same reaction from the government?
MR KIRBY:  I’ve only seen the press reports from – the same ones that you’re alluding to.
QUESTION:  And have you discussed this issue with the government on the reaction?
MR KIRBY:  I’ve answered that question already.  Of course, we raise these issues all the time with Turkish authorities.
QUESTION:  No, the reaction of the mayor.  I mean, because --
MR KIRBY:  I don’t have an update for you.  The article just appeared a little bit ago.  I’ve seen it same time as you have.
QUESTION:  Okay.  And can I finish – and you said “a troubling trend.”  Are you concerned about the direction of Turkey in general?
MR KIRBY:  I think I’m going to leave it at my opening statement.  It’s a troubling trend that we’re concerned about.
QUESTION:  And the last one:  I know that you’re cautious about not to interfere with the domestic policy issue with other countries, and the government circles and pro-government circles, they say – criticize the Ambassador Bass comments to interfere with the domestic policy of Turkey.  Why you think that this is not an internal issue for Turkey, and why you made the statement at the top?
MR KIRBY:  We are uniformly and always expressly concerned about freedom of expression around the world, and I can’t tell you how many times in just the eight months I’ve been at the State Department that I’ve stood up here and I’ve talked about our concerns with respect to freedom of expression and freedom of the press from this very podium about places all over the world.  It’s one of our core values and it’s one of our key principles here in the United States.  It matters deeply to us. 
And we know that it matters deeply to the Turkish people because it’s in their constitution.  And so when we see express examples where those values are not being lived up to – values that, again, is enshrined in their own constitution – we believe we have an obligation to speak up about it.  And we’re going to continue to do that.
QUESTION:  Do you believe that these detentions are hurting the U.S.-Turkish relations?
MR KIRBY:  Turkey’s a NATO ally, a strong partner, and a friend.  And I’ve said this before:  Even allies and friends aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye on everything.  And good friends and allies – if you are a good friend and ally – should be able to discuss freely the concerns that you have with one another, and we do that with Turkey.  We’re not always going to see everything the same way that they do, but it doesn’t mean that the partnership is weaker.  It doesn’t mean that we’re not as strong an ally.  It means that it’s a healthy relationship, that you can speak freely and express – and express those same concerns, and we’re going to continue to do that when and where we see it’s appropriate.

QUESTION:  Same subject?
QUESTION:  The fight against ISIS?
MR KIRBY:  Sure.
QUESTION:  On the same subject?
MR KIRBY:  Sure.


QUESTION:  While you are talking about these concerns, right now dozens of academicians who signed that petition detained, some of them already fired and suspended.  So when we report about your concerns, usually the echo comes from Turkey is that these concerns have been displayed for a long time, but the trend is continuous.  Do you think these concerns that you have been expressing make any difference?  If no, then what is it good for, this expressing concerns, as long as this witch hunt is going on in Turkey?
MR KIRBY:  Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t speak up and express the concerns when we have them?

QUESTION:  I think many people think that U.S. should make necessary policy changes as many think this building has enough able diplomats to propose such policy recommendations.
MR KIRBY:  We want to see Turkey, as I’ve said before, live up to its own democratic values.  Ultimately, these are decisions that Turkish leaders have to make.  These are sovereign decisions that they have to make.  That’s what we want to see, and that’s why we express our concerns in real time when they happen.  We do that privately and we do it publicly, and we’re going to continue to do that.  But ultimately, we want to see Turkish leaders make the right decisions here and move in the right direction.  I won’t go beyond my opening statement in terms of characterizing a trend or not.  I said we call it a troubling trend, and that’s where I’ll leave it.  But we want to see those principles enshrined in the Turkish constitution to be valued and to be implemented.


QUESTION:  You, in the same opening statement, you said that Turkish democracy is strong enough to embrace this freedom of expression.  Can you tell us what aspect of Turkish democracy you see strong nowadays?
MR KIRBY:  It was a broad statement that I stand by.  We believe that it is a strong enough, resilient enough democracy.  We believe the Turkish people are strong enough and resilient enough to live up to these values, and that’s what we want to see them do.


QUESTION:  And finally, today one of the oldest mainstream newspaper, Cumhuriyet newspaper, it’s reported by the censorship watchdog that has been selectively blocked by some of the country’s largest service providers the day after President Erdogan fiercely attacked the newspaper.  Headline came yesterday.  Do you have any comment on this particular --
MR KIRBY:  I haven’t seen that report, but obviously, if it’s true, everything that I mentioned in the last few minutes and in my opening statement would still stand, that we want to see Turkey live up to its democratic values, and that includes freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  And we’ve been nothing but consistent about that particular matter over these many months, but I haven’t seen that report.

And finally, on Turkey – if I can keep this page from falling off.  We’ve seen reports of Turkish academics being investigated and detained for expressing their opinions about the conflict in southeast Turkey.  We see this action as part of a troubling trend in Turkey, whereby official bodies, law enforcement, and judicial authorities are being used to discourage legitimate political discourse.  As our ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, has already stated in a statement today, “Expressions of concern about violence do not equal support for terrorism.  Criticism of the government does not equal treason.  Turkish democracy is strong enough and resilient enough to embrace free expression of uncomfortable ideas.”  As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold the universal democratic values that are enshrined in their constitution including freedom of expression.

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