Speeches and Public Events
Press Roundtable with Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone
14 August 2012
Ambassador Ricciardone: Welcome. My intention when I first arrived over a year and a half ago was to meet with all of you - collectively and individually - with great frequency. And instead, this is only the second time. But I hope we can accelerate the pace of our contacts. I want you to feel that I, personally, and our embassy is open to you. It’s part of our duty as I see it to be accessible to all of you, your colleagues and your subordinates in the media. It’s your responsibility - the role of the media in a democracy - to always seek to get the facts, the truth. What I will pledge to you is that we will always be available to you. If I cannot personally respond, one of our officers who knows the issue you are interested in will be available. We will never mislead you. We will respond as fully as we can - always truthfully. In certain subjects, we will not be able to tell you everything we know and that you want to know because, of course, in diplomacy we must protect certain confidences with your government, as in business. I think you will respect that. But we will always be available to respond to the facts, as we know them; to explain what we think we are doing; what U.S. policies are; what our objectives are; and we welcome this. We don’t see it as an antagonistic relationship. We think it’s important for the United States and Turkey to have a daily conversation, not only at the level of government, but at the level of our people, and you are the means for the Turkish people and the American people to have a conversation.
With that, I might just touch on one or two points that I know are of interest to you and then let’s have a conversation. I am very interested not to make this a press conference. I would actually prefer to be the one asking you the questions. You are opinion leaders. You strive to be objective in your reporting, I know, but Turks respect and admire what you have to say, what your newspapers have to say. So I am interested in what you think about the issues in Turkish-American relations; what you think about regional issues; questions of regional stability, Turkey’s relations with its neighbors, with us, and with the Europeans. So, if you’ll permit me and we have time maybe I’ll ask you not to hestitate and to suggest your opinion on these things.
Clearly, we just had an important set of meetings on Saturday. Your government leaders were kind enough on a Saturday in Ramazan to receive the Secretary of State. She came in recognition of the importance of Turkey at this moment. She put Turkey on at the end of a very long and tiring trip through Africa because it was so important for Turkey and the United States, at the level of our leadership, to make sure we’re comparing notes from our different perspectives on these important issues. Clearly, Syria was the lead topic of conversation and that topic is related to the primary national security concern of Turkey and the United States, which is our common effort against terrorism. Secretary Clinton made clear the United States’ continuing solidarity with Turkey in facing the PKK. Whether that threat comes from inside Syria or Iraq, whether they enjoy support in Europe or elsewhere, we stand with Turkey in confronting this issue globally. Right after the Secretary’s visit, of course, we had this dreadful incident of the abduction of your MP. We have condemed that in the strongest terms. We once again express our solidarity with Turkey, its people, its Government, the Parliament and, of course, the member of Parliament’s family members. We demand and pray for his immediate and safe release.
Let me not simply repeat everything you’ve heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey say and the Secretary of State said. You know the discussion was focused on how to increase not only our strategizing at the level of policy, but also our practical cooperation to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Not only the refugees who are here in Turkey, but also to relieve that suffering and the agony of that country, by moving forward to a transition that will occur in the leadership of that state. And by helping the Syrians, thereafter, themselves create a brighter future in a state of law and democracy. The United States and Turkey, of course, have been in discussions along those lines for many months, but I think the outcome of the Secretary’s conversations with the Prime Minister, the President and the Foreign Minister has been to accelerate our planning at the expert level across the disciplines of governement, not only at the level of diplomatic and political conversations but also at a more practical level regarding Syria’s future and the delivery of relief.
Why don’t I stop here and let you take this conversation where you’d like. I know for many of you your time is short.
Question: You said that you did not want to repeat the things that were said in the discussions carried out here by Mr. Secretary and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - the things that were announced to the public. Actually, I expect more detailed information from you. There was a matter they mentioned there, and you repeated it. Practically, there will be more cooperation. We know that there has already been cooperation for the past 17 months. There was also cooperation practically; in other words, in various areas there was cooperation in intelligence, in communication and in various other subjects. What will be different from now on? In other words, when we received background on the Turkish side, they are talking about [turning over] a new leaf. In the future, what will we see on this new leaf that is different from the past? I am curious about that. Thank you.
Ambassador Ricciardone: That’s a very fair and reasonable question. I think the answer has to do with Turkey’s emergence as a regional and world power that wishes in a very positive and a commendable way to influence events outside of Turkey. I have always admired the underlying premise of Turkish foreign policy since the founding of the Republic – “peace at home and peace abroad.” But until Turkey’s emergence in recent years, I think that was taken as a philosophy of looking inward. And in recent years, Turkey has begun to look outward with the idea that it should not only respond to events and defend against threats, but also try to do positive things to change the course of history.
And so, for example, in the time I was away from Turkey you’ve established an International Development Assistance Agency. You didn’t have that in the past. The United States has had one for many years. In that very context, the United States has alot of experience and specialized agencies of our government whose purpose is to deliver immediate disaster relief after man-made or natural disasters beyond our borders. You have an excellent Kızılay and an excellent AFAD -- especially since the ‘99 earthquakes. You have the technical expertise to do this. But you do not quite have the machinery yet of helping take care of refugees on the other side of Turkish borders. Think of the Iraqi refugees who came here after ’91. The response was inside Turkey’s borders. We’re looking ahead to what we might be able to do in the future -- when it’s possible, when there’s security, when Syrians are somehow protected -- to help Syrians get access to food, water, sanitation, communications, inside their country so they don’t have to come into Turkey. We have experts who are good at that and we want to work with Turkey’s experts to see what we might do together. That’s one example.
Question: Based on your statements, is the goal a secure zone inside Syria solely for humanitarian aid or is this a buffer zone that will also include military assistance? Another issue: Will a joint work group be set up that will consist of intelligence and military?
Ambassador Ricciardone: We are not limited to humanitarian relief. That was the one example I gave. Our military officers on both sides have been working together, speaking with each other, for many months now about potential contengencies which we call “prudent planning” at the level of NATO, of course. And we are doing bi-lateral comparing of notes, comparing what we both know, what each side knows and what our capabilities are regarding the disposition of chemical weapons within Syria. And what things Turkey, the United States, the United Nations and other countries might be able to do under various scenarios, as well as what are the legal issues, what ware the diplomatic and military issues. Having these kinds of practical planning conversations is what allies do. It’s what the United States does with other countries quite routinely.
Turkey is in a special position with its long border with Syria, with its historical and even familial ties with Syria, and so it’s high time that we had these kinds of conversations about what we might do together in the future. As to intelligence cooperation, obviously I cannot speak about details of intelligence cooperation. I will say that again it’s a normal practice between us and any of our close allies, like Turkey, to exchange intelligence information about common threats of concern. And so we do have a good conversation going between the intelligence agencies of both countries. That’s quite natural and I don’t think that’s a matter of a state secret.
Question: Buffer zone?
Ambassador Ricciardone: That’s a good question. Issues like a buffer zone or no-fly zones are easy to talk about conceptually but very difficult to realize practically. There are not only legal issues involved but serious practical ones as well. So, I don’t wish to mislead you and suggest that we are heading in the direction of establishing those. So please don’t take anything I say as indicating that. But these are certainly the kinds of things that we must talk about at an expert level of detail, and we intend to have that talk going on between our two countries. Talking does not imply a commitment to a particular course of action; it means we are trying to prepare against every reasonable contingency that might arise.
[The Ambassador decided to take groups of questions on similar topics. This is the first series of questions.]
Question: Mr. Ambassador, it is pretty clear what Turkey’s capacity for refugees is right now and it seems to be at its limit. I suppose that from this point on there is an expectation for accommodation on Syrian soil; you probably spoke about that. Could refugee accommodation areas be set up there in regions controlled by the Free Syrian Army, such as an area set up with international organizations [inaudible] and so on? If such an area was set up, could their safety be ensured by imposing a no-fly zone there as well? Is there such an alternative or is a military force, a buffer zone, or a secure zone being planned?
Question: Now, the [different] parties are speaking very vaguely about this buffer zone. In the meeting between Mr. Davutoğlu and Clinton, Mr. Davutoğlu gave the impression that [inaudible]. He said, “We don’t absolutely have to call it a buffer zone. It does not mean that we will completely close down a strip [of land]. But if so many refugees come that we cannot handle it any more, we will form small pockets there and allow refuges to go inside.” In other words, the impression he gave there is that Turkey will do this even if the international community objects. If I am not mistaken, the spokesman for the U.S. State Department said today that a buffer zone is not on the table. Perhaps people shy away when that word is used, but for Turkey to accept refugees here – a large influx is possible, millions per day, it will reach a million – probably small areas could be formed for that. Has a reaction developed against this in America? Or does it appear that Turkey will be able to take this measure on its own?
Question: In the statements made by [inaudible], it was mentioned that an attitude was being assumed that would alleviate Turkey. Is there also an attitude to alleviate Turkey with regard to [inaudible]? That is the first one. With regard to the declaration of a no-fly zone, does America have an initiative based on a request from the United Nations Security Council?
Question: First of all, from the viewpoint of the United States, what is the limit for accepting refugees coming to Turkey on Syrian soil, on the soil of another sovereign nation? 60,000; 100,000; 150,000? Thank you.
Question: If the formation of this buffer zone becomes a reality, what assistance will America give? Will that assistance extend to the military level because it will be necessary to ensure security there as well. Will it just be with Turkish soldiers or will the United States make such a contribution as well? Also, you mentioned certain legal problems. What are they, can you explain that more?
Question: The issue of the buffer zone is discussed in Article 53 of the United Nations. There are certain conditions there. When we look at it right now, this is actually a question that is related to the question of [inaudible]. Is there a situation here that meets the conditions in UN [inaudible]? Do you think that such a situation – because intervention without parliamentary approval is being discussed and debated – have you analyzed the need for approval to be issued by the Turkish Parliament?
Ambassador Ricciardone: I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you deeply unsatisfied on alot of these questions about the buffer zone. These are all excellent questions. You’re asking the questions that the Turkish people are asking and want to know the answers to. But anything I could say would be speculative and diplomats, of course, avoid speculating with the media.
On the question of getting relief inside - in general, you should know that there is a limited amount of relief getting, in fact, to the Syrian people now through various channels. The United Nations channels, that are quite overt, are insufficient and frustrating to all involved. The United States is donating a substantial amount of money. We can give you a fact sheet that breaks out the organizations to which we’re donating the money and which are able to get a certain amount of food, medicine, and medical equipment inside Syria now. It is not satisfactory; it is not sufficient. So, you should not take it that the only aid currently going to Syrians is to refugees outside Syria, whether in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, anywhere else. The World Food Program, UNHCR… The United States works with a lot of non-governmental organizations. That is our tradition and practice. The International Committee of the Red Cross --- remember there are Palestinian refugees involved in this too – and the United Nations Relief Agency for Palestine is also involved, and UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration -- these are all agencies that one way or another have a presence inside Syria and can get relief in. We are supporting them now. We don’t have American diplomats supporting them, but we are funding them. So there is a certain amount of machinery now existing, and when a more stable post-Assad environment structure is there we would hope to get more in then.
I don’t know what kind of parliamentary or legal requirements you have in your country for trans border operations. These are things, in fact, that we hear about from your diplomats and officials. We all would be happier if there were a United Nations Security Council resolution. We have pushed for it several times and had it vetoed several times by the Russians and Chinese. It’s a source of immense frustration. We thought we had an agreement in Geneva just last month, that clearly was not supported by the Russians as strongly as we had hoped to make it real. So we share Turkey’s view that we desire a United Nations framework within which to do this. But in the absence of that, we have concluded that too many people continue to suffer and die in Syria, and if there’s no United Nations Security Council resolution to do that, we’re going to have to find other ways to try to bring about the transition in Syria and relieve the suffering of those people.
The number required as a kind of a trip-wire to try to get the relief inside Syrian soil, I would say is long since past. I’m not sure what the number is. I would say anything above zero. Anything that drives Syrians out of their home country means there’s a problem that we all ought to try to address within Syria. I think that’s why we’re having the conversation we’ve been having with your government for well over a year now. We all agree the real solution here is not to merely give shelter to the Syrians here, but to create the conditions in Syria to let the people go back home and not to leave their homes in the first place. So that’s very much our strategic focus. I don’t think there’s a magic number we reach when we say okay it’s time to undertake some military action or something like that. Neither your government nor mine are speaking in those terms to my knowledge.
I think I’ve also touched on the legal issues regarding buffer zones when talking about the United Nations. People sometimes make comparisons to Libya or Iraq. Clearly, in those cases the United Nations Security Council resolutions were important to provide an international legal basis that was clear and that all could understand for an international effort, whether military or otherwise. We are a state of law, as Turkey is, so we will operate under international law in trying to promote this transition. We’ll keep working with the General Assembly and with the Security Council to try to get forthright resolutions by the world community to bring relief to Syria.
[The Ambassador took another batch of questions.]
Question: Have you determined that terrorism is being exported from Syria to Turkey due to the unrest in Syria? For example, to what degree have you identified the presence of the PKK in northern Syria? What kind of assistance are you providing Turkey in this regard? The second issue is that it has been claimed that Iran is providing significant support to Syria, to the current Assad regime. If I am not mistaken, U.S. Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton stated that there could be sanctions or measures taken against countries that provide such support – perhaps hinting at Iran. What kinds of discussions have been carried out in this regard? I would appreciate it if you would share that with us.
Question: An increase - a significant increase - has been observed in the PKK’s attacks on Turkey due to Turkey’s policy on Syria. In other words, as Turkey’s policy on Syria becomes clearer, we are seeing a proportional and very strong increase in the PKK’s activities in Turkey and on our borders. It appears that Iran as well as the al-Maliki government – in other words, the al-Maliki government in Iraq – as well as Syria and elements in the organization in Syria are making a very significant contribution, and it appears that Syria is currently using the PKK against Turkey by means of Shiite regimes in the Middle East. We know that the al-Maliki regime… the al-Maliki government …. has very good relations with the United States. The terrorist organization is experiencing the most freedom it has ever had in northern Iraq right now, and we know that Kandil has completely emptied out - that most of Kandil has emptied out - and moved to camps close to our border. We know that the United States is sharing special intelligence at a high level in the fight against terror. Based on these recent developments – in other words, the support from Iran, the support of the al-Maliki government – in view of all this, is there anything new between Turkey and the United States, any new step regarding the fight against terror? Because there has begun to be a global [inaudible], it has begun to be used on a global scale. Is there any new cooperation, a new opportunity, a new step other than sharing intelligence? Also, how do you view a large cross-border operation because most of the camps have moved from Kandil almost to the edge of the border. What is your view of a cross-border operation by Turkey? Thank you.
Question: In addition, three Cobra helicopters were going to come to Turkey. Has there been a problem with delays? Has it been delayed? When will they be delivered? Also, have you increased the time period for real-time intelligence due to the terrorist incidents because you are providing it to Turkey at specific time interval. Did you increase that time period? For example, is it 24 hours, is it 12 hours, like that?
Question: Also, in addition to the Cobras, is there any development regarding sending armed unmanned vehicles, armed unmanned aircraft?
Ambassador Ricciardone: So, we are on the question of this international support for the situation in Syria and confronting how that has led to increased PKK attacks on Turkey and a number of specific questions within that. Several references to Iranian support for what’s going on inside Syria, Iranian arms, et cetera going in.
This is a very difficult problem. We are trying to increase international cooperation against Iranian arms transfers. There are a number of sanctions on Iran that have helped us prevent or slow down Iranian arms transfers to Syria. Acting under that international law, acting under United Nations Security Council resolutions, for example, when there has been what we call actionable intelligence reporting specific enough to permit a state to act, Turkey has acted. For example, to compel Iranian flights with arms to land in Turkey for inspection. We have been urging the Government of Iraq to do the same and we will keep doing that as information becomes available. As you can imagine, we don’t always get information that is specific enough and in advance to permit either Iraq or Turkey to act. When we do, I have to say Turkey has been very effective in doing its part in preventing, whether truck convoys with dual-use equipment or arms, or transit flights, from Iran from getting into Syria, and enabling the régime to kill more of its people We would wish Iraq would do the same.
The same applies on aid that goes in and arms that go in, no doubt to the PKK, as the government of Turkey has reported. When those arms go into the regime in Syria, we have no doubt that it is sharing it with its supporters and that until now the PKK, we know, and the Syrian regime have been allies against the people of Syria. You may have noticed last Friday in Washington we announced sanctions against Lebanese Hezbollah, precisely because of Hezbollah’s role in transferring arms, logistic support, and intelligence to the Assad regime. That’s another way in which the United States through unilateral sanctions, not multi-lateral ones, is working to try to prevent that regime or its fellow travelers like the PKK from getting assistance.
As to the Iraqi role in all of this, and the question of sectarian affinities as you mentioned Maliki being a Shiite regime, the United States and Turkey have very much the same view, that sectarian instincts, intentions, must not be exacerbated, must not be exploited. This is an absolutely satanic, devilish, dangerous path to open. You know in my country it’s entirely against our traditions. For us freedom of religion, and secularism, means no religious sect is held above another, and people should not be politically organized on their religious or sectarian lines. It’s completely anathema to the American tradition and to our Constitution and we understand that the Government of Turkey likewise condemns any resort to sectarianism. Division of Iraq, division of Syria, divisions of people on the basis of their faith is something that Turkey opposes and we oppose.
On the question of intelligence sharing versus the PKK, I obviously cannot get into the operational details. I would not like to talk about what parts of the map, how many hours a day, which days. I don’t want to help the common enemy of Turkey and the United States. I would wish the people of Turkey to know because it is really impressive, but I would like our common enemies to know only by its results, so I really cannot get into the details of that for reasons I trust you will find are obvious.
On the questions of providing more UAVs, I think you are referring to the armed UAVs, the Reapers. There are issues in the U.S. export of any sensitive defense technologies to any country, even amongst NATO allies. The armed Reapers, if I am properly informed, a lot of you may know better than I am since you are experts in these things, I think we have exported them only to the British for use in Afghanistan. There are international missile technology control regimes to which Turkey and the United States and other allies are a party, that are part of the decision. There are other congressional concerns in the United States about the export of these materials that we have not succeeded in resolving yet and we must resolve before we can move forward on it.
On the Cobras, our previous Secretary of Defense took a very forward-leaning and strong decision in recognition of our alliance and partnership with Turkey, and that was to take three of these very advanced machines out of the United States Marines’ inventory, when we need them in Afghanistan and use them in Afghanistan, and make them available for purchase by the Government of Turkey. The technical requirements have long since been met. These have been renewed and made like new, ready for service months ago. The Turkish side had some additional technical requirements, as I understand it, modifications you desired that led to additional delays. I understand there were other issues regarding the price. But as far as the United States is concerned, we were ready to deliver these some time ago, and there are concerns by the Turkish side that we have been trying to meet that have led to the delay in the delivery of these helicopters. Once we can satisfy the concerns, the technical or price concerns of the Turkish side, I believe these helicopters can be delivered rather quickly. They could have been here by now, in terms of the readiness, the availability of the machinery.
Is there anyone who has not had a chance to ask a question yet? Would you like to start a new line of questioning?
Question: If you allow, I would like to delve into the PKK issue a bit more. I would like to delve into whether there are any reports that weapons have been sent from Iran to Syria, that the Assad regime in Syria has shared some of the weapons with PKK, who supports the regime. Also, with regard to Iraq and the United States preventing this, is there a strong cooperation between Iraq and America, as it has with Turkey? Despite the withdrawal of American soldiers, U.S. is still very influential in Iraq both in terms of military and politics.
Ambassador Ricciardone: You know, Iraq is a sovereign country. It is a sovereign country that is a new state that is seeking to grow stronger as a state and to get full control of its own territory and its own borders. When U.S. forces were there, we were able to help in a direct way the Government of Iraq to have a degree of control of its borders. But even then, we were not in charge of Iraq’s borders. Neither we, nor the new government -- the new state of Iraq -- were able fully to control its borders. It has improved its capabilities, but it has a long way to go and I think the Government of Iraq would be the first to say so. There’s a complicated situation within Iraq between the Kurdistan Regional Government in the north and the center. As a new republic, Iraq is trying to work out its internal and external security arrangements. It has not yet fully worked those out. It does not even have a Minister of Defense yet.
Question: Ministry of Defense?
Ambassador Ricciardone: Right, it has a Ministry but the Minister’s portfolio, so far, is being held by the Prime Minister because of the internal politics of Iraq they have not been able to assign that. The division of responsibilities between the KRG security forces and the National Security forces, with respect to border security, remain to be determined.
The United States is external to this now. We provide a certain amount of training for Iraq’s military and police forces. We provide a certain amount of equipment. We certainly encourage Iraq, both Iraq and the KRG, to get control of its borders and prevent the PKK from not only crossing the border into Turkey but also from travelling internationally from Erbil to Europe, the Gulf or anywhere else.
There are tools of international law and law enforcement that we urge the Government of Iraq to adhere to. And we try on the Turkish side to strengthen Turkey’s international law enforcement collaboration as well; for example, regarding international air travel. So we’re working hard on these things, but there is no easy answer. The sad fact of the matter is that the border between Iraq and Turkey, and for that matter Iraq and other countries, is not fully under the control either of the central government or the KRG. And another fact is that the United States is no longer present in Iraq with military forces to be able to assist in that. Even when we were, we were not able to overcome the border control problems. So we are trying to help with the intelligence cooperation, for example, but it is not enough. We recognize that. Did you have a follow-up also?
Question: I didn’t get an answer to one of my questions regarding PKK cooperation with Syria.
Ambassador Ricciardone: We have seen the same reports you have. We do not have independent corroboration of that, [but] we certainly have no reason to doubt it. It’s an established historical fact that the Assad regime has always had good relations with the PKK going back to the time when I was in Turkey before and Assad, the father, was sheltering Öcalan. So, we have no reason to doubt that Assad, the son, continues the tradition of trying to divide his own people, trying to divide the Kurdish people, and is playing this nasty game versus Turkey in a desperate effort to save himself. Did you also have a follow-up on that?
Question: My question is: If the Kurds in Syria request a federal structure within Syria’s borders like the Kurds in northern Iraq, how would your country view that? Also, on what you explained a few minutes ago, you said that the Iraq government, Barzani cannot control Turkey’s borders with Iraq, but for example, Barzani is able to control movements from Erbil to Qandil. But there are doubts I have mentioned about whether or not this has been done. Do you think that Barzani is using all of his capacity in the fight against terror; if he is not, why does such a situation exist?
Ambassador Ricciardone: On the question of Barzani’s capacities and whether he is fully using them, I don’t know, but I do know we want better results just as the Government of Turkey does, in terms of blocking the PKK’s ability to operate from northern Iraq into Turkey or anywhere else. So we are, I think, precisely in the same position as the Government of Turkey with respect to Mr. Barzani. We consider him a friend, an important figure in building modern Iraq. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him personally, including in Turkey actually in the 1990’s. So we urge him and the other leaders of the Kurdish Regional Government to do everything they can to prevent their territory from being used as a safe haven for terrorists. We will do whatever we can, if it’s a matter of helping to increase their capacity, but we are not satisfied and we know the government of Turkey is not satisfied.
On the question of an Iraqi-like arrangement for the people of Syria, again I think we are; we have identical views with the Government of Turkey. Your Foreign Minister said again the other day that the future of Syria is going to be for the people of Syria to decide, but he said Turkey strongly supports the integrity of Syria. Secretary Clinton has said the same thing. We want to see a transition to a new Syria, not a Syria that is a former Syria that’s composed of separate smaller states, divided on ethnic or sectarian lines. We don’t think that there are many Syrians who would choose that, if there are any Syrians who would choose that. At the end of the day, as your Foreign Minister has said, the choice has got to be up to the people of Syria. Certainly the United States will support the people of Syria in choosing their future direction. But we will urge them, we will support them in doing what we believe a huge majority of Syrians want and that is to keep their country together in a way that protects the rights of all religious sects, all ethnic groups, Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Shiites, Nusayris, Sunnis, the various Christians; a way that allows all Syrians to live as Syrians in peace and in brotherhood and to resolve their differences within the rule of law. That’s our ideal, but we think it’s not one that we need to impose from the outside. We think that all the Syrians we are in touch with want that kind of outcome. We, the United States, are not in contact with nor working with any Syrians who say we want a separate territory for a religious group or for an ethnic group. , Maybe you know some, but I’ve not met any.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, in our culture (inaudible) – by asking a question I want to make a statement – we have a saying about “asking a question from the middle of the book” – it’s related to asking a direct question. Now there is something you said at the beginning – you insist on using the phrase “post-Assad”. Now, seventeen months have passed, and we still have refugees, people dying and occupied cities. As a result, everyone has a question about why there is a delay in intervening in Syria, or, as was the case with other countries, such as in Libya and Yemen. I mention those because they are nearby examples. The public has a very serious question about how many more people need to die before intervening. What is your comment?
Also, can I ask a complementary question?
Ambassador Ricciardone: Go ahead.
Question continues: How accurate is it to say that the United States is remaining hesitant about Syria because of the presidential elections in November? Also, if this transition period lingers on, is a solution similar to NATO in Libya without UN Security Council approval a part of the proposal plans you mentioned a moment ago? In other words, an intervention?
Ambassador Ricciardone: I would be extremely careful about comparing the situation in Libya and Syria. Yes, of course, we can learn things about comparing different situations, but the differences in these two situations are striking in many ways. And the differences have everything to do with the ability of the outside world, and for that matter, the willingness of the outside world, to intervene directly, whether with military force or any other kind of presence. It’s hard to talk about a humanitarian relief presence, for example, if there isn’t a secure environment.
The fact is, in Libya, early on, the opposition was able to secure parts of territory for itself. The Arab League came out with a very strong resolution; the United Nations Security Council came out with a very strong Chapter Seven resolution. Those things don’t apply in Syria right now. And to the extent that the U.S. political calendar and domestic politics in my country or yours have anything to do with it, first of all, I think that can be overstated. I think it would be a mistake to imagine there are some cynical calculations in Washington and that the President of the United States will act one way before the elections and a different way after. As in your country, as the leader of a democracy, what our people think really matters, and not only what they think as understood from public opinion polls, but also what our people think through our Congress, just as what your people think through your Parliament and your debates in your Parliament and in your the media matters to you.
The fact is, in your country and in mine, the Turkish people and the American people, are peace-loving people. We don’t like to resort to military solutions except as a last resort, an absolute last resort. We much prefer to find political solutions, economic solutions, and diplomatic solutions. So we’re extremely reluctant to get involved militarily. And on this I’d say that Turks and Americans feel exactly the same way.
And another thing, another aspect of this problem, is that we feel the same way, we both share a sense of moral outrage. It’s hard for Americans and it’s hard for Turks to sit back and watch the Government of Syria kill its own people and say that this does not concern us. That there is nothing we can do, there’s nothing we should do. So your Government and mine have both said we must find a way to help the Syrian people be saved from this terrible suffering. We tried through the United Nations with the Annan plan, and that didn’t work. We’re trying now, in the existing situation, to get such relief as we can to the opposition and to the refugees. We continue to work with the United Nations because our people demand that we do something on the one hand; on the other hand, no one’s eager to send our soldiers to a foreign country and get involved in a civil war. None of us are satisfied with the answers so far. The killing goes on, and we’re unable to stop it. We all would like to stop it; not today, not yesterday, but a year ago and we couldn’t. This is the discomfort that both peoples have and both Governments have. All I can pledge to you is that we are going to keep working as closely as we can to try to find that answer. How are we doing on time, are we alright?
Question: I would like to ask a question about (inaudible). I would like to ask questions on two different subjects. The first is that you just said that you could not give details about intelligence sharing but that it was going very well. I have a question I would like to ask with regard to that (inaudible). But even though I’m not sure whether or not it would fall within the scope of what you mentioned, I still want to ask it. Does the scope of this intelligence sharing include the work being carried out by Turkish authorities with regard to the abducted parliamentary representative? That is my first question. The second is that for a long time it has been mentioned or said that there is an American base in Adana where extensive armed or unarmed support is being provided to the opposition in Syria. Can you provide information about that? Are they referring to Incirlik or another location? Or is there such a place?
And as a follow-up, can I ask a quick question? Turkey has been dispatching troops to the border region since the Turkish [aircraft] has been downed. So do you, because you made it clear, that’s how I read that America is against the security zone because you give us list of how. You give a message that Turkey doesn’t need to go into Syria to meet the refugees there I guess but…. The question is, Turkey has been dispatching troops, arms, vehicles to the region to date continued. Have you warned Turkey against any entry into the region or do you have any such concerns about Turkish military deployment in the region?
Ambassador Ricciardone: Okay, working on her question first and then sort of back to other question. It’s not a matter of the United States warning Turkey, that’s not the nature of our conversation. We are allies as you saw this past weekend. The tenor of our conversation, the way we speak with each other is the way partners and allies speak with each other. We don’t warn each other. When we’re concerned… I’ll go back to Iraq (for example), we’re concerned about Turkish-Iraqi relations. We express those concerns. We think part of the answer to the question of getting more effective Iraqi support against the PKK, more effective, more positive Iraqi behavior with respect to Syria is to improve Turkish-Iraqi relations. Not just to the KRG but with Baghdad. So sure, when we have a concern, we speak as friends and partners, the same way that Turkey brings its concerns to us. More than respect, it is friendship, and a point of departure from a common strategic goal, set of goals. So Turkey’s movement of its troops within its borders, that’s a sovereign issue for Turkey, Those are military decisions, as well as political ones. I’m not aware that we have ever had any conversation with Turkey about that, nor would we. I mean in the 30 odd years I’ve been doing business with Turkey, I don’t think we have ever spoken about Turkish troop positions within Turkey.
As to what might be required in the future, again I want to stay away from speculative questions on Syria, but soldiers plan, civilians plan, we look at contingencies, we do prudent planning, we discuss what capabilities Turkey has, what capabilities we have, what capabilities others may have, what intelligence we may have. We haven’t gone beyond that kind of conversation with respect to military capabilities or requirements for Turkey and the United States. No amount of discussion or planning we’re doing now should imply a policy decision with respect to security zones or buffer zones or no-fly zones. Okay, there is no, as far as I know, neither your Government nor mine have taken any decisions to establish such zones.
On the question of intelligence sharing, I can say, fairly categorically, that the intelligence sharing we are doing now is not the kind of intelligence that would have been germane to the kidnapping of the MP. Which is to say, our focus is not on real-time intelligence sharing within Turkey. We don’t have such intelligence. Your side has that intelligence; we do not. We help more across the borders. Turkey has not requested us to develop capabilities internally, so we do not collect or provide intelligence having to do with what happens inside Turkey. I think it’s fair to say that without giving comfort to your enemies.
On the question of U.S. bases, no, Incirlik is not being used to my knowledge in the Syrian context. It’s not to say we couldn’t in some overt way, if your government decided it was necessary to use it, but as far as I’m aware of there has been no discussion about that. I’m not sure it’s been necessary, you’ve got other means of getting, let’s say, refugee relief into Turkey. So I’m not aware that there is any use of Incirlik. In terms of other locations, et cetera about U.S. sort of presence and the forms of our intelligence cooperation, I really cannot go there. I would rather let your Government speak to whatever it wishes to on the question of international intelligence cooperation on Syria. I just need to do that out of respect for your Government and your intelligence services and the degree of cooperation between us.
Final one? Okay. Is there anyone who has been cheated and not had…..
Question: [missing text to effect: You have been advocating freedom of expression since you arrived in Turkey, drawing reaction from the Prime Minister. Have you changed in your views on this subject? Did Secretary Clinton raise this issue with Turkish leaders? And another question: how do you see the meaning of the abduction of MP Huseyin Aygun? How does this affect the prospects for negotiations with the PKK, and what do you think about the BDP offering to serve as an intermediary?]
Question: The aircraft incident. An aircraft incident occurred. A Turkish aircraft was downed, so [the issue is] was it was downed within the borders, outside the border, or in international waters? You made a statement, you said: “What is important is not where it was downed but how it was downed.” Do you have information about how the Turkish aircraft was downed and would you share that information with us?
Ambassador Ricciardone: I really have nothing new to offer you on this. You know for us the fact of the incident was painful. Turkey lost two pilots. They’re NATO allies; we deeply regret the loss of those pilots in that aircraft. We did what we could to help recover the remains and the aircraft parts. I just learned from the news, I believe that the aircraft has been fully recovered and your experts are looking at it. On the question of how it was brought down, the facts as we know them are all out there. We know the Syrians boasted of it having shot at them. It came down certainly without any warning, or was brought down without any warning. We’ve condemned that action by the Government of Syria. We do not have independent intelligence that lets us say, one way or the other.
On freedom of expression, certainly my own views and interests and advocacy for that are not diminished. I hope you don’t feel it’s diminished or any way changed. I continue to believe it’s one of the fundamental areas where Turkey needs to pay attention if it’s to emerge absolutely where Turks want the country to emerge -- as a 100 percent, first-class, world standard democracy. And I have heard Turkish leaders in the Government and in the opposition express their own concerns about what needs to be done, whether in terms of access to justice, transparency of justice, timeliness of justice or regarding freedom of expression.
The Secretary of State deeply cares about this, and has said so publicly during her visits to Turkey. It didn’t come up this time in public. [But] I think without betraying any confidences, I can assure you that the Secretary did indeed speak about her concerns on freedom of expression and access to justice in her conversations with Turkish leaders last Saturday. I would, of course, protect that confidence and do not want to get into detail, but I can tell you that she did it in a very respectful and positive and supportive way, but spoke very much from the heart and spoke very clearly on this issue because I know she believes it’s something very important to Turkey, to all Turks. So that remains an issue for Turkey and one in which we support Turkey’s efforts to improve the protection of thinking and expression in this country. There should be no thought crimes in this country. No one should be behind bars for what she or he thinks or says.
On the question of the abducted MP Mr. Huseyin Aygun, this is something that strikes us, not only officially but personally. I, as an American, felt like Turks, all Turks, that I had to let someone know how strongly we felt about it. I’m not betraying a confidence here. I privately phoned Chairman Kılıçdaroğlu - he was kind enough to mention that today - to express my deep official and personal concern and outrage over what had happened. I wrote modestly to the Speaker of Parliament to let him know that the United States stands with the Turkish Parliament and people in all of this. And again, I reaffirm our absolutely strongest condemnation of this outrage and our prayer to God and our demand to the enemy that they release Huseyin Aygun safely and immediately. Apart from the criminality of this and the unacceptability, it seems so stupid, it seems so contrary to advancing any interest of the people of Turkey, Kurdish people or other people of Turkey. I do not understand how this advances anyone’s interest in freedom and justice for all in Turkey.
As to your question about the BDP and a political solution and negotiations, you know it’s up to the parties in the conflict to decide how they’re going to achieve a political resolution of this. It’s awfully hard to have negotiations when just as a political way forward comes into sight, someone conducts a terrorist attack, someone conducts a kidnapping and seems to set back the possibility of any sort of negotiation. We support the Government of Turkey. We support the political parties of Turkey, all of them, Government and the opposition, in their calls for a political solution to this within Turkey’s democracy. We think that is a responsible and promising way ahead. And whenever someone conducts a terrorist attack they seem to wish to prevent any such talks from happening. I can’t tell you who should be the interlocutors; that’s for Turkey to decide. But we think there needs to be a political solution not just to this conflict; a political solution so that all Turks, including Kurdish Turks feel that they are treated as first-class citizens. It seems to me that’s what will drain the swamp that the terrorists work in, those feelings of injustice or other grievances, and I think the Government of Turkey is working hard on that and has made great progress.
I think you all have to leave, and I have to conduct a retirement ceremony in a few minutes…Thank you very much, let’s continue the conversation soon.