Monday, March 07, 2016

Painful Remarks on Turkey by US Spox J.Kirby

DPB # 37
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson 

Turkey portion:

QUESTION:  John, is it still – is it still the Administration or the United States position that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy?
MR KIRBY:  Is it still the feeling of the United States Government?
QUESTION:  Yeah.  That hasn’t changed, right?
MR KIRBY:  Right.
QUESTION:  Okay.  It’s still --
MR KIRBY:  I’m kind of wondering where this is going.
QUESTION:  It’s still – I know.  Well, you won’t.  You’ll know in a second.  It is still a criteria or a requirement that members of NATO are democracies; is it not?
MR KIRBY:  I’m not aware of any change to that. 
MR KIRBY:  Yeah.
QUESTION:  So given those two positions have not changed – stances, I’m wondering what you can – what you make of the seizure of Turkey’s largest newspaper, opposition newspaper --
MR KIRBY:  I talked about this --
QUESTION:  -- and what you have to say about the status of democracy there.
MR KIRBY:  I talked about this quite a bit on Friday.  I’d refer you to the transcript back then rather than have me go through all the same points.
QUESTION:  Okay.  Are you --
MR KIRBY:  I was very clear about our concern about the move to trusteeship over this – over Zaman, which is what I think you’re talking about.
MR KIRBY:  And the court case that led to that decision for trusteeship.  We were very, very explicit on that.  And as I said Friday and I’ll say it again today, Turkey’s democracy still matters to us and we want to see – for the sake of the Turkish people, we want to see the Turkish Government continue to live up to the values enshrined in its own constitution – its own constitution, not just ours – about press freedom. 

QUESTION:  So where I’m also going with this is there was over the weekend a lot of very harsh criticism lobbed at the ambassador.
MR KIRBY:  Yeah.
QUESTION:  Do you have anything to say about that?

Utmost Faith, trust and confidence in Ambassador Bass
MR KIRBY:  I would – I saw that criticism.  And let me just state unequivocally that – well, a couple of things.  First of all, the President and the Secretary have and have had the utmost faith, trust, and confidence in Ambassador Bass and the work that he’s doing out there, and he has the full support – the full support – of Secretary Kerry as he continues to engage the Turkish Government with respect to this particular issue – well, all issues, but this one in particular that you’re asking about.
Number two, I would say that the Turkish people have no better friend than the one they have in John Bass.  He really cares about Turkey and Turkey’s success and their future and the Turkish people.  And that’s why he speaks out on issues like this when it’s important to do so.  And again, I would just reiterate he continues to have the full support and confidence of Secretary Kerry and the President.
QUESTION:  So what do you make of this very harsh and vitriolic criticism?
MR KIRBY:  Well, it’s unwarranted.  It’s certainly undeserved.  And it is at the very least incredibly unfortunate given the fact that the ambassador is so dedicated to furthering the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
QUESTION:  And I wasn’t here on Friday, but did you speak then, when talking about the seizure of the – the takeover of the newspaper, about what this tells you about the state of democracy in Turkey?  Did you speak to that?  You say that it still matters and you still care about it.
MR KIRBY:  Well, as I said --
QUESTION:  But do you see this as an erosion?
MR KIRBY:  I’m not ready to say that we’ve got some sort of trend analysis here.  But – but --
QUESTION:  Really?  
QUESTION:  How is it not an erosion?
QUESTION:  Has the trend – the trend --
QUESTION:  You talked about the trend on Friday.
MR KIRBY:  I know.  See, when I --
QUESTION:  Only the --
MR KIRBY:  When I say “but,” that means I have more to say in my sentence --
QUESTION:  Go ahead.

Trend is not in a positive direction
MR KIRBY:  -- and you just have to let me finish it.  But we do continue to be concerned about these ongoing reports.  And I mean, I’m – obviously, the trend is not in a positive direction in terms of press freedoms in Turkey.  And that is worrisome, and that’s why we continue to talk about this.
QUESTION:  One of the things you said on Friday was that the administrative takeover shouldn’t lead to any newsroom changes.  Obviously, in the edition of Zaman that’s come out since then, you’re very prominent on the front page.  Oh, that’s an old picture.  But – you look very young.  Obviously, there has been a change in newsroom policy, so the – I mean, the trend since your Friday, it’s been downhill since then.

US: Certainly we are worried about where things are going 
MR KIRBY:  Yeah, yeah, as I said, I mean, we are certainly worried about where things are going with respect to press freedoms in Turkey.
QUESTION:  Are you also worried that Turkey is not paying any attention to your worries?
MR KIRBY:  I’m sorry?
QUESTION:  Are you also worried that Turkey is not paying attention to your worries?
QUESTION:  Well, they’re paying attention (inaudible).  (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY:  What I would --
QUESTION:  But they’re rejecting your worries.

US: Turkey making decisions contradict directly democratic principles
MR KIRBY:  Well, clearly they continue to make decisions – regardless of our pleas and the pleas of others in the international community, they continue to make decisions that are in – that contradict directly democratic principles that are enshrined in their own constitution, and press freedom is one of them.  And they continue to ignore their own obligations – again, under their own constitution.  So if you’re asking me, does that concern us, does that worry us, the answer is absolutely yes.  And that is why Ambassador Bass has been vocal about it and honest about it and candid about it, as he should be, with Turkish leaders.  And I think we’ll – we will continue to be so. 
As I said, yes, Turkey is a NATO ally, and Turkey is a key partner and a friend on many levels and on many issues, not the least of which is the fight against Daesh in Syria in particular.  And we’re not going to see eye to eye with them on everything.  We clearly don’t agree with the decisions that they’ve been making with respect to press freedoms.  And we believe it’s important, particularly with one’s friends, to be able to state honestly and baldly our concerns.

Turkish-US friendship over? 
QUESTION:  But with all friends there’s a point where the friendship’s over, and an alliance of democracies is only an alliance of democracies if the members --
MR KIRBY:  I don’t think that’s – I don’t think that’s in anybody’s interests; certainly not – it’s not in our --
QUESTION:  But is it --
MR KIRBY:  -- interests, it’s not in Turkey’s interests, and that’s not what we want to see as an outcome.  What we want to see --
QUESTION:  (Inaudible) --
MR KIRBY:  What Ambassador Bass wants to see is Turkey succeed and Turkey live up to those democratic principles.  I mean, this isn’t about – this isn’t about picking on them over one issue that we don’t like.  Yeah, we don’t like it when newspapers are shut down or reporters are muzzled or trusteeships are established which change clearly what will be or what could be the editorial content of what should be an independent journalist – arm of journalism in Turkey.  But that doesn’t mean that it has to tear asunder an entire bilateral relationship, nor do we think it will.  And though we absolutely don’t agree with what’s going on there with respect to press freedoms, we still are able and want to be able to continue to have conversations with the Turks not just about this, but about a whole range of other issues.
QUESTION:  And you don’t regard the latest in the long series of troubling attacks on the press – I may not have gotten the phrasing exactly right, but steps against the press that took place on Friday in the takeover of Zaman – as constituting an erosion of democracy in Turkey?

US: Trend is going in the wrong direction
MR KIRBY:  Let me put it this way, Arshad:  As I said, it is a trend that is going in the wrong direction, no doubt about that.  I mean, how many times do I get up here and have to say the same thing about press freedoms in Turkey?  So it’s certainly not going in the right direction.  But what I would say is the trend as it is now, the actions as they are being taken, are doing nothing to contribute to free, democratic principles in Turkey – the same free, democratic principles that, as I said before, are enshrined in their constitution.  None of this is contributing to that goal.
QUESTION:  But that does not --
MR KIRBY:  Go ahead.

US: critical opinion should be encouraged, not silenced
QUESTION:  Follow-up on same issue.  Thank you.  First, would you – after a couple of days later, would you condemn this act of the government taking over the paper?  And second, would you call on Turkish Government to return the newspaper to the journalists?
MR KIRBY:  I said it last week; I’ll say it again.  We remain deeply troubled by the government’s use of appointed trustees to shut down or interfere with the editorial operations of media outlets that are critical of the government.  Court-ordered supervision of a media company’s finances and operations should not prompt changes to the newsroom or editorial policy, and we call, as we’ve called on before, the Turkish Government to ensure the full respect for due process and equal treatment under the law.  In a democratic society, critical opinion should be encouraged, not silenced.  We urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values, as I said, enshrined in their own constitution, which includes freedom of speech, assembly, and of course, the press.

US: Magnitsky Act for Turkey?
QUESTION:  If the government has not returned, like the other groups that you mentioned on Friday – basically, they run the media groups to the ground and shut down – would you consider taking actions such as Magnitsky Act, like against Russia, seizure of these media groups being run by other pro-government journalists?  And actually a year or later, even U.S. Government forgets about it and the officials go on and give interviews, as we have seen from the current U.S. ambassador in Ankara recently, last year.  So my question again:  Would you consider taking action that kind of sanctions against those who involved with this seizure of the media groups?
MR KIRBY:  I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made one way or the other with respect to that.  I just won’t get ahead of it.

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