BY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST
Aboard Air Force One
March 11, 2016
March 11, 2016
En Route Austin, Texas
Q I want to ask about two different things in the story. The first is President Erdogan. President Obama’s opinion of him is -- President Obama reportedly believes that he is a failure, authoritarian, and hadn’t done enough militarily to intervene in their neighbor, Syria. Is that an accurate kind of representation of the President’s view and what he conveyed in those interviews?
MR. EARNEST: Let me just say that what our view of Turkey has been is that we did spend some period of time urging the Turks to engage more effectively with our counter-ISIL coalition. And over the last nine months or so, that’s what they’ve done. We have seen the Turks give access to the United States and our partners to military facilities inside of Turkey that has made military operations against ISIL in Syria more efficient and more effective. We have seen the Turks take specific steps to more effectively seal off their border between Turkey and Syria. Now, there’s more work that we’d like to see them do, but there’s no denying that they have made important progress in sealing off the border.
Turkey has also borne a significant burden when it comes to Syrian migrants fleeing violence in their country. And we have certainly been appreciative of all that the Turks have done to try to meet the needs of those people. And the United States has provided the Turks significant financial assistance to do that. And we have made the case that Turkey should take these steps because of the obvious national security consequences for Turkey. All this instability along their border is destabilizing and not good for the country.
So they had their own interests for intervening, and we made clear that we would stand by our NATO ally as they did it. We have done that. And that has served the interests of Turkey, it’s served the interests of the United States, and it served the interests of our counter-ISIL coalition quite effectively.
Q So is it fair to read from your silence that you don’t dispute the notion that President Obama sees President Erdogan as a failed authoritarian?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what is also true is, even though we had been able to effectively cooperate with the Turks when it comes to Syria and a whole host of areas, we also have expressed our concern with some aspects of the political climate inside of Turkey. There are some ways in which we feel the Turkey government has not been sufficiently supportive of universal human rights -- the kind of human rights that we obviously deeply value here in the United States and that we advocate for around the world.
Let me give you one example. Recently, the Turkish government announced essentially the takeover of Zaman newspaper in Turkey. This is one of the largest media outlets inside of Turkey and it has essentially been taken over by the government. Here in the United States, we deeply value the freedom of the press -- in fact, that’s one of the main reasons we’re having this conversation right now -- and we are concerned when we see those kinds of values be so obviously trampled upon. And we have not hesitated to speak out when we see it, and we have not hesitated to speak out in those instances in Turkey where it’s clear it’s happening.